You know those photos of white sandy beaches with really crystal clear water that make you want to jump on a plane and head to the Maldives? What if I told you there is a place like that and much closer to home? The islands of the Maddalena Archipelago fulfil every beach dream you could possibly have. The best way to explore these beautiful beaches is by doing a day boat tour to the Maddalena National Park. This guide covers everything you need to know about discovering these beautiful islands, including the best place to stay to visit them, how to get there, what to expect from the islands and more.
About the Maddalena Archipelago
The Archipelago della Maddalena is composed by seven main islands. The bigger ones; Maddalena and Santo Stefano are inhabited. The remaining ones; Caprera, Spargi, Budelli, Santa Maria and Razzoli are not. When you do a boat day trip to the islands, this will usually take you to beaches in the uninhabited islands. There used to be military bases on these islands so you will still be able to see abandoned buildings and lighthouses, which adds to the rugged atmosphere of the location. The Archipelago della Maddalena today is a protected marine park, with a guardian living on Budelli island. It’s not everyday that you get to visit islands where there are no cities, towns or traces of civilisation, combined to the beautiful crystal clear water and white sandy beaches, it makes for quite a magical day trip.
When is the best time to visit the Maddalena Archipelago?
Despite popular belief, it’s not summer. Whilst in the months of July and August the weather will be fantastic with hot and sunny days, the crowds of people will be unbearable. Ok unbearable is a strong word, but you get what I mean. Tourists from both Italy and all over the world come to Sardinia in summer to enjoy these beautiful beaches, which makes your experience on a pristine white sandy beach not quite as enjoyable when there is no space for you on the beach to lie down. Also, when it comes to visiting the islands you often won’t be able to visit the most beautiful beaches during your boat tour, as there are too many other boats around to dock close to the beach.
My personal recommendation is to visit in June, the weather is already warm, the days are still long and even if the water might be a little chilly, the beaches will be considerably less busy. In September the weather is still similar and the water will be warmer, however the days are much shorter and you will have to end your days at the beach too early in my opinion.
Our boat trip in the Maddalena Archipelago
We went on a boat day trip with the catamaran of Sport Outdoor Viaggi. We set off around 10:30AM and headed straight for Cala Soraja, in the island of Spargi. This beach is a personal favourite of mine, since it’s one of the closest from Palau to get to and you will feel like you’re swimming in a natural pool. We spent about an hour relaxing on the beach and when we got back on the boat our crew Alberto and Giorgio had a cheese and salami aperitif ready for us. There’s nothing like swimming around in the beautiful sea to make you hungry! There is another bay in Spargi island which I personally really like, called Cala Corsara. The beach isn’t as pretty as that of Cala Soraja but there are rocks that you can climb and dive off from.
The boat set off again while we were still nibbling on our aperitif, cruising past the island of Budelli. We cruised past a beach called “Spiaggia Rosa”, which means Pink Beach. This because back in the day the sand used to be pink thanks to corals present in it, but due to tourists taking away he pink sand with them as a souvenir, access to it has been closed since 1994. Boats can only cruise past it beyond the line of buoys, 70 metres away from the shore. Nobody is allowed to walk on the beach or swim there, in the hope that over time the pink sand will regenerate itself.
The Natural Pools of the Maddalena National Park
On the island of Budelli you can also find the main beach of the Maddalena Archipelago; “il Cavaliere”. The area in front of this beach is often also called the “Manto della Madonna”, the natural pools or “Madonna’s Harbour”. This because this area is sheltered between the islands of Budelli, Santa Maria and Razzoli, and the water is always calm. Even on very rough windy days you can find calm and crystal water in the natural pools. It’s referred to as multiple pools because due to the variety of the seabed (algae, sand, rocks etc) when you look at it from above it looks like lots of little pools. In my opinion, this area is the most beautiful, but if you’re visiting Sardinia in July or August it is so overrun with boats as to not be enjoyable anymore.
Which is why we only did a short stop in Budelli and then went on to Cala Lunga in the island of Razzoli. In Razzoli we did a longer stop. While we spent an hour or so swimming around in the crystal clear water and exploring the island, Alberto and Giorgino prepared an awesome pasta lunch for us. We stayed in Cala Lunga for lunch and a bit of post lunch break before moving on to our next beach destination. We cruised past the abandoned lighthouse of Razzoli, and then stopped in a beautiful little lagoon, where we were the only boat there.
The fourth island, Santa Maria, we didn’t visit on this trip as we didn’t have enough time. The Sport Outdoor Viaggi catamaran usually does three stops, and these always change depending on the wind and boat traffic. Generally speaking these are usually first Spargi, then the natural pools and as final stop either Santa Maria or Razzoli, but this can change from day to day. Towards 4pm we started heading back to Palau. The journey back is a bit long, especially if you do it by sail, maybe an hour or so, but you can relax and sunbathe on the nets of the catamaran as it sails along.
Where to stay
As previously mentioned the Archipelago della Maddalena is a national protected park and most of the islands are uninhabited. You are better off staying the nearby towns of Palau or Maddalena. While Maddalena is a bit more lively you will be stuck on a small island with only one main town, if in the evening you wanted to go out somewhere you would have to get the ferry. The ferry from Palau, on the mainland of Sardinia, to Maddalena costs 10 EUR per person return, if you add a car or scooter it’s even more expensive.
I personally prefer Palau even if it’s smaller as a town because you can easily drive around to other beaches or towns. In Palau I would recommend staying in this lovely AirBnb (Click here to get $30 off your first AirBnb booking!) close to the town centre, and not just because my mum is the one that rents it (lol). Seriously though, it depends if you will have a car or not, because you can get villas in “Palau Alta” with stunning views over the Archipelago but you will need to drive to the beach which is a pain. If you get a place on the beach will then be a bit far from the town if you want to have dinner out in the evening. I like being central because you get a bit of the best of both worlds.
Where to eat
During the day boat tour of the islands you will usually have lunch provided for by your boat crew. Before booking a tour make sure to check if lunch is included, if it isn’t you will have to bring something with you as there are no restaurants or cafes in the islands you will visit. However once you get back to Palau after your board tour there are some amazing restaurants where you can have dinner. Some of the best restaurants in town in my opinion are:
- “Il Porticciolo” is my personal favourite. It’s not the fanciest of restaurants, however the portions are huge and the final bill is always cheap. It’s also easily accessible as it’s just along the harbour in the town centre.
- If you want an ice cream while you’re in Palau the only place you should get one if from “La Gelateria dell’Angolo“. I’m Italian, I have eaten my fair share of gelato in my life so trust me when I say this is one of the best artisanal ice cream places in Italy.
The islands of the Arcipelago della Maddalena are really an extraordinary place to visit, and if you get the opportunity I highly recommend you do a boat trip there. It is the perfect destination for someone looking for a Maldive-like holiday, without actually going all the way there! What do you think? Have you been here and loved it as much as me? Let me know in the comments below! Need help packing for your next beach trip? Check out this ultimate packing list for the beach.
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