The Province of Olbia-Tempio opens up to the Sea of Sardegna (a narrow channel that separates the island from Corsica) to the north, and to the Tyrrhenian Sea to the east; it borders with Sassari Province to the west and with the Province of Nuoro to the south. The province was established recently, thanks to a 2001 regional law that included a new subdivision of the Sardinian territory, doubling the number of provinces from four to eight.
The area has a surface of 2,111 sq mi (14.1% of the total) and includes 26 municipalities - Olbia and Tempio Pausania among them - as well as the Maddalena Archipelago, now a geo-marine national park.
Part of the historic Gallura territory, on the island's northeastern side, composes a section of the province, from the Coghinas River to Monte Nieddu in San Teodoro (with the exception of Viddalba and Erula), maintaining the Limbara range as a border on its south.
The land expresses itself via several different environments - sea, plains, hills, mountains, cultivated fields and desert areas. One of the unique elements rather evident in Gallura are the granite rocks, sculpted into extraordinary natural sculptures by the wind and the rain. Several oak forests fill out the landscape; from them cork (locally named ‘soft gold’) is extracted and used in a number of ways.
And for the archaeology enthusiasts, traces of the pre-Nuragic, Nuragic, Punic, Roman and Medieval civilizations still remain today. Another distinctive feature is the presence of scattered rural settlements called ‘stazzi’, small family-owned, agro-pastoral activities originally established by shepherds in the 17th-18th Centuries. Flourishing until very recently, the stazzi were progressively abandoned as people moved to the cities due to increased tourism over the last few decades. This phenomenon hit the area surrounding Arzachena in particular, inhabited only by a few farmers and shepherds even up until the mid-20th Century.
In 1962, the Arab Prince Aga Khan IV decided to embark on an exceptional touristic and real estate endeavor with the creation of the ‘Costa Smeralda Consortium’, taking advantage of the natural beauty of the area to make it a paradise for high-budget tourism. Today, this part of Sardinia is one of the most exclusive destinations not only in the country, but in the whole world.
The center of Olbia holds many interesting monuments: among them, the 1747 Church of San Paolo, the Palazzetto Umbertino, home to the Municipal Library and of a collection of finds from the Nuragic period, and the Church of San Simplicio, one of the most fascinating examples of Romanesque architecture on the island, erected in the 1000s to 1100s using only granite.
Just a short distance from the town is the Cabu Abbas Nuragic Complex and the Sacred Well of Sa Testa from the 8th-6th century B.C., one of Sardinia’s most intriguing monuments.
In the Bay of Olbia lies the Island of Tavolara, essentially a huge slab of limestone that remains in pristine condition, thanks to the building ban imposed by the Municipality of Olbia. Regarded as one of the busiest summer destinations, the island is included in the Marine Protected Area of Tavolara-Punta Coda Cavallo.
Moving inland from Olbia, one arrives in Arzachena, a town that has experienced extraordinary success since the latter half of the 20th Century. The area around Arzachena features many archaeological sites of great interest, such as the Lu Coddhu ‘Ecchiuj and Li Lolghi (giant funeral monuments), the Li Muri Necropolis, the temple of Malchittu and the Ladas Dolmen, a monument from the 3rd-2nd millennium BC.
In the nearby village of Luras is the Ethnographic Museum of Galluras-Frammenti, reproducing the characteristic environment of the ancient Galluran civilization.
Then, Tempio Pausania is 25 miles from Olbia; the town is located on a granite plateau with the peaks of the majestic Monte Limbara Range in the background. This is a trekker’s dream, and also boasts an important cork and wine production center. Not only, but it is also a vacation destination famous for the therapeutic properties of the oligo-mineral waters of the Rinaggiu Springs and its thermal spa.
Although the province's interior is charming, undoubtedly it is the coast that gets most of the attention. Moving north from Olbia northward, past the luxurious village of Porto Rotondo and the Bay of Cugnano, the visitor arrives at the legendary Costa Smeralda (the name refers to the beautiful emerald, green and turquoise shades of the sea). The heart of the Costa Smeralda is Porto Cervo, nestled in a secluded cove and offering exquisite touristic accommodations, in addition to a well-equipped marina with space for over 700 boats. Life in Porto Cervo revolves around its piazzetta and the Church of Stella Maris.
Many a beach is worth visiting in Sardinia: Cala di Volpe, Poltu Quatu, Bajia Sardinia, Cannigione, the magnificent Capriccioli and Liscia Ruia beaches.
Still heading north past Porto Rafael, a sophisticated tourist village set in a small bay, one drives through Palau, another very popular destination with its famous Capo d’Orso Rock, to finally arrive in Santa Teresa di Gallura, the point on the island closest to Corsica, possessing a unique white limestone of the Bonifacio Coast.
Other remarkable features of the area around Santa Teresa di Gallura are Capo Testa, a massive granite promontory connected to the mainland by a narrow isthmus, the Bay of Tindari of coral-red rocks, Isola Rossa and Valle della Luna, an almost-desolate terrain characterized by the presence of granite rocks, naturally-eroded into animal-like shapes.
Lastly, the spectacular La Maddalena Archipelago is composed by a group of granite islands, the largest of which are La Maddalena, Santo Stefano, Spargi, Caprera, Budelli, Razzoli and Santa Maria. The magnificent environments of these islands and the surrounding waters, as well as the variety of shapes, colors and fauna make this place (now a National Park) one of the most breathtaking spots of the entire Mediterranean Basin.
In addition to the innumerable natural wonders, the Archipelago is famous for the National Garibaldi Museum, on the island of Caprera. The hero of the Risorgimento, Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807-1882) spent the last years of his life on this island, with which he fell in love at first sight. He bought some land and built a house and accompanying structures: the estate has been used as a museum since his death.
The variety of landscapes of the Province of Olbia-Tempio, made up of sea, plains, hills and mountains, render it the perfect destination for outdoor activities enthusiasts. Numerous opportunities exist for guided trekking: Monte Limbara, for example, near Tempio Pausania, provides ancient trails that run through granite rocks, forests and streams, to reserves for mouflon (wild deer) and fallow deer. Furthermore, the Capo Figari Promontory, near Golfo Aranci (Gulf of the Oranges), hosts many bird species, including buzzards, ospreys and peregrine falcons.
Options for outdoor activities also abound in the La Maddalena Archipelago National Park: boat trips to beaches such as the Pink Beach of Budelli, scuba diving and kayaking. The reserve is also a photography and birdwatching heaven, where rare species such as Cory’s shearwater, Yelkouan shearwater, storm petrel and Audouin’s gull can be observed.
For those who are looking for relaxation near the sea, the province offers some of the most beautiful beaches in all of Italy, such as Liscia Ruja, the small beaches of Punta Capriccioli, the Principe and Romazzino Beaches.
If fun is what one is after, during the summer (from June to September) the Costa Smeralda offers an incredible selection of discos, bars and clubs open until dawn and frequented by VIPs and celebrities.
In addition, many sagre or food festivals and other celebrations round out the summer calendar: the International Cork Fair, held in Calangianus every September; the Aggius Carpet Fair from July to September, and the Carnivale of Tempio Pausania, with its traditional float parade attracting thousands of people from the whole island.
The most characteristic dish of the Gallura area is the suppa cuata, a kind of soufflé prepared with sliced stale bread, fresh grated cheese, nutmeg and parsley - the ingredients are dipped in sheep broth and baked in the oven.
Another local delicacy is the puligioni, half-moon shaped ravioli stuffed with ricotta and grated lemon peel served with tomato sauce and pecorino, and li fiuritti, handmade hard-flour fettuccine.
Characteristic of the Oschiri area are the panadas, thin wraps stuffed with lake eel or pork and veal and baked in the oven.
Fava beans are commonly employed in recipes throughout the province: first they are boiled, then sautéed with butter, bacon, garlic leaves, mint and whipped cream. Other traditional dishes are lu pulceddu di latti, a pig weighing 13-22 lbs, baked or grilled, and the rivea, lamb or kid entrails cut and cooked slowly on a spit.
As for the rest of the island, cold cuts and cheeses, such as pecorino, canestraio, ricotta, peretta and caprino, abound.
The coastal areas of the province offer fish-based recipes: Santa Teresa di Gallura, for example, is famous for its lobster.
Lastly, a number of desserts are varied enough to please all palates: seadas, fried pastry wraps filled with cheese and covered in honey; papassini, rhomboidal-shaped cookies made with flour, lard, eggs, almonds, grated orange peel and glazed; and the casciatini (or formaggelle), pastry stuffed with ricotta, cheese, eggs, sugar and grated lemon peel.
Among the wines, some outstanding examples of local production are Vermentino, Moscato di Gallura and Nebbiolo.