SARDINIA
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Sardina apartments: Sardinia (Sardegna in Italian) is a rural island that offers Italy's wildest, most rugged coastal areas. The second-largest island in the Mediterranean, Sardinia is known for its old-fashioned charm and lack of large-scale tourist development. Sleepy Sardinia draws visitors who long to do little more than relax by the sea, explore the rural interior and enjoy the island's delicious cuisine.

Set 120km offshore from Tuscany, Sardinia is home to long stretches of wild, deserted coastline and, in the interior, lush forestland and rolling green hills. Quiet fishing villages and picturesque medieval towns are dotted around the island, providing idyllic spots to visit in both summer and winter.

Sardinia's main city is Cagliari, a picturesque place with a historic centre (called the "castello district") and a harbour. The marshy shores surrounding the city are great places for bird watching and are home to a large population of flamingos. As the largest city and the home of Sardinia's main airport, Cagliari will be your likely point of entry to the island.

Sardinia's beaches are outstanding and are the main attraction here. The totally unspoilt Sinis peninsula, a protected marine area, is a great place for bird watching or beach strolling. For a resort atmosphere head to the Costa Semeralda, where beautiful marinas and quaint towns draw beach lovers from all over Europe.

The Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Arabs, Byzantines and Catalans all invaded Sardinia at one time or another, leaving the island with a fascinating and battle-filled history. The conquerors' influences are felt in countless ways, from the many ancient ruins on the island to Sardinia's richly varied cuisine. Dig into Sardinia's long history with trips to places like Nora, a Phoenician city founded in the 9th century BC where you can visit the ruins of temples, Roman baths and a theatre, and Bithia, ancient ruins near the tiny town of Chia. Also make sure to stop at some of the countless "nuraghi" which are dotted across Sardinia. These stone towers were built by the Nurghic people some 1500 years before Christ. The best-known is Su Nuraxi, north of Cagliari.

Other Sardinian towns worth visiting include Nuoro, Sassari, Oristano, Alghero, Teulada, and Pula.

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Sardinia enjoys a mild climate year-round, with summer highs ranging from 25-30?C and winter lows staying well above freezing, rarely even dipping below 10?C. It's not uncommon to have spots of spring-like weather in the middle of winter, with mid-day highs occasionally reaching 20?C even in December.

The island is drenched in sun, with an average of 10 hours of daily sunlight in summer and five hours of daily sunlight in winter. Though the climate is more than pleasant, expect it to feel a little bit damp because of high humidity, especially in the autumn and winter months.

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Sardinia's main airport is in Cagliari. In summer, British Airways has occasional direct flights to Cagliari from the UK, though the rest of the year you'll probably have to make a stop-over in Rome, meaning that the total travel time will be about five hours from London.

Once on Sardinia, you'll need to hire your own vehicle to be able to really explore Sardinia's enchanting towns and natural areas. Traffic is light and the limited number of roads here means that getting lost is a challenge.

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Most visitors to Sardinia head straight to the beach, where swimming and sunbathing are the activities of choice. Yet Sardinia's beautiful interior offers a wealth of activity options too. Countless trails are strung across the island, providing excellent places for hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking or driving in a 4x4 vehicle, and you'll find several island companies that rent bikes and jeeps. Some trails give good views of the coast and the glistening Mediterranean beyond, while others offer great bird-watching opportunities; on Sardinia there are large populations of flamingos, purple heron and egrets.

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