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Definitely one of the sexiest destinations in Italy, Sardinia has a bit of a split personality. On one hand it's a Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous-type exclusive location with billionaire's yachts moored at the marinas along the Costa Esmeralda. On the other hand it's a rustic island with a long sea-faring history and simple traditions.

You can reach Sardinia by ferry from numerous mainland ports including Civitavecchia and Fiumicino (near Rome), Livorno, Genoa, Naples and Piombino, or from Palermo on the island of Sicily. Various websites sell ferry tickets online including www.aferry.to, www.cemar.it and www.ferrytravel.com. The trip on the newer high-speed ferries is around six hours.

Alternatively there are frequent and relatively inexpensive flights from the mainland to Cagliari, the island's capital, or Olbia in the north. Whilst there, I would recommend renting a car for easy access around the island and a chance to travel to more remote locations. Ideally you should reserve your car via a major car rental company here to secure a better rate as renting in Italy is far more expensive.

While most of Italy is synonymous with ancient Roman or even Greek remains, Sardinia is home to the oldest stone structures in the country and date back to the Early Bronze Age. The Losa Nuraghe near Oristano is one of Sardinia's best preserved megalithic monuments and is a kind of stone defensive tower with a truncated cone shape, built in the Cyclopean style, using huge basalt blocks piled on top of each other without mortar or other binding materials. Functioning like a castle, the structure originally had three floors, towers enclosed in an imposing triangular curtain and was fortified by defensive walls. The ancient inhabitants of Sardinia usually erected these buildings (about 6,500 on the island) in dominant hill top positions or by rivers.

Other Megalithic architectural remains include the Coddu Vecchiu Giant's tomb, a massive structure with an entrance featuring a carved stone slab, a horizontal lintel with an arch above and a small opening at the base blocked by a stone. Built in 2300 BC the chamber itself is almost 33 feet long. Anghelu Ruju Cemetery (approximately six miles form the town of Alghero) is the best known burial place in Sardinia. Thirty-six tombs are cut from sandstone, sharing design features like a series of steps down from the entrance and a descending passage to a large burial chamber with smaller connecting chambers. The site is famous for long-horned bulls' heads carvings in and around three of the tombs. These red ochre painted symbols may have been linked with the Great Goddess or with the later Sun cult. Many of the human bones found lay beneath a sheet of white shells. The grave goods dating from 2200 to 1700 BC included an axe and an awl from Ireland, a copper ring from eastern Europe, obsidian, flint arrowheads, small marble statuettes, spiral wire beads, copper-tanged daggers from Spain and Beaker pottery indicating a wide area of international trade.

One town not really on the tourist radar but definitely well worth the visit is Orgosolo, a small municipality in Nuoro about 65 miles north of Cagliari in the Barbagia region. The town is famous for its cubist-style ornate murals (murales) depicting political and social themes. These murals adorn the walls of most houses and public buildings and reflect different aspects of Sardinian and international political struggles. Orgosolo's mural tradition started in the late 1960s when student protest was beginning to question decades of social oppression and injustice. Later in the 1980s the murals changed to depict traditional Sardinian life, which was slowly disappearing. There are two hotels in Orgosolo, the two-star Sa Â?e Jana (tel. +39/784-402-437) priced from $76 per double room per night or $66 per person per night including half board (breakfast and dinner) and the two-star Petit Hotel (+39/784-402-009) priced from $51 per double room per night or the same for a single room but based on complete board (three meals).

Motus in Sardinia (tel. +39/792-005-082; www.motus.sardinia.it) specializes in culture and leisure vacations for groups or individuals. Their "Weekend of Wine Pleasures" package is based in the small village of Luras, in the region of Gallura, within one hour's drive of at least six major wine producers, dozens of archaeological sites, 30 typical villages and the only wine museum in Sardinia, in Berchidda. This package includes two-nights in a charming 19th century guesthouse in the town's center, car rental for two days, two breakfasts at the local café, wine tasting at a local wine cellar with a large collection of the best Sardinian vintages, a tray of sausages and cheese, entry to the local museum and insurance. The price per person during spring 2007 is $184.

The "Painting Holiday in Sardinia" trip is for all levels of budding artists. Instruction will include direction using acrylics, watercolors and "carboncino" chalk. During the course, visit the most beautiful settings in the area -- medieval villages, fishing ports, olive and grape fields, coastal towns and more. The course is based in the Middle Ages town of Bosa known for its inspiring landscapes, cobble stone streets and proximity to the beautiful coastline. Included in the price are six nights' accommodations at a local three-star hotel, six dinners, six breakfasts, one meditation and discovery day, four painting days, five picnic lunches including wine, four dinners in hotel/local restaurant including, a tutor/guide and full use of an easel, brushes, acrylic/water colors and carboncino. Highlights include a visit to the small town Orani and its Costantino Nivola Museum, Nuoro and the contemporary painting collection at the M.A.N. Museum, San Pietro Extramuros, one of Sardinia's finest Romanesque church, an artists' studio and private collection in Banari -- a tiny, picturesque village in the countryside and wine tasting in a local wine cellar. Participants will require their own transportation during the workshop. This six-night package during spring, summer and autumn 2007 is priced at $3,276 with a single supplement of $526.

Their one-day practical cooking class in Italian/Sardinian Cuisine is run by Signora Silvana and her husband in a typical farm in Santadi, in the southwest of the Island, about one hour from Cagliari. The lessons will be held in Italian with full translation in English. The class is completely "hands-on" and will include the preparation of one or more antipasti, a first course, a main course, one or more side dishes and one dessert. Fresh pasta, extra virgin olive oil, herbs, spices, wines, meats or fish and the freshest ingredients will be used. After lunch visit and go wine-tasting at Santadi's Cellars, one of the best winemakers in Sardinia and go to "Is Zuddas" caves known for its stalactites and stalagmites. The one-day course includes transportation to/from the cooking site, the course itself, a souvenir apron, insurance, the winery and cave visits, lunch, dinner and wine at meals. The course is run throughout the year and is priced at $158 per person. International airfare is additional for all these packages.

Sardegne.com (tel. +39/704-522-055; www.sardegne.com) offer a selection of deals, hotels, car rental services and special offers. Spend Easter in Sardinia at a spa in Sardara, located in the southwest of the island less than 20 miles from Cagliari. The package includes accommodation at the three-star Hotel Eucalipti located at Santa Maria de is Acquas, a thermal area on Costa Verde Beach known for its healing properties since Roman times. The package also includes all meals (drinks extra), use of two thermal pools (indoor and outdoor) with hydromassage and water games, the Aretusa cave with thermal fumes, a fully equipped gym, pool bed and bath robe, one oil hydromassage, one Botoskin therapy and one paraffin treatment. The offer is valid for a three-night stay from April 6 to 9, 2007 and is priced at $451.

Or spend Easter in Monte Maccione in Oliena as part of its experience program. The program is based at the three-star hotel Tourist Coop Enis, located in Monte Maccione in the Gennargentu Natural Park area, a designated eco-tourism area. The hotel is set in an old oak forest on the lower slopes of Monte Corrasi and makes an ideal starting point for exploring the surrounding supramonte with its canyons, caves and breathtaking views. The package includes accommodation in a double room for three-nights, all meals including four course dinners with drinks, a full breakfast daily and packed lunches, SUV transfers, entrance fees and professional guides. Highlights include Lanaihto Valley, a guided walking excursion to the Nuraghic village of Tiscali and to the springs of Su Cologone, lunch in a restaurant in Maccione, the Easter Sunday traditional religious ceremony of "S'Incontru" and a walking excursion to Monte Corrasi. Rates do not include transfer to/from Monte Maccione (Oliena), so it is recommended to rent a car. The nearest Airport and port is Olbia, 60 miles away. The package is priced at $382 and a single supplement is $39.

Great Travels (tel. 800/411-3728; www.great-travels.com) has a specialized "Sardinia and the Cinque Terre" trip from May 14 to 26, 2007. For the first eight days, experience Sardinia in detail as a private bus takes participants from Cagliari, the island's capital in the south, to the Emerald Coast in the north. Along the way sample local wine and culinary specialties and visit prehistoric stone towers and dwellings. Highlights include a dinner at the 14th century Castle of Elenora d'Arborea, a cooking class to learn how to make malloreddus (Sardinian pasta of semolina dumplings infused with saffron), swimming in the translucent waters of the Costa Smeralda, and the island of San Pietro with its spectacular sea caves and geological formations. Following Sardinia, the tour continues to Livorno, Cinque Terre and the Ligurian Coast. The tour includes private bus transportation with driver, group airport transfers (Cagliari and Pisa), ferries and excursion boats per itinerary, eleven nights' accommodations in four and three-star hotels -- Hotel Tarthesh in Guspini (www.tartheshotel.com), Hotel Su Gologone in Oliena (www.sugologone.it), Hotel Balocco in Porto Cervo (www.hotelbalocco.it) and Hotel Doria Park in Lerici (www.doriaparkhotel.it). Air travel is not included. The tour begins in Cagliari and costs $3,395 based on double occupancy or $4,090 for single occupancy.

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