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We made a 6-day tour of the Gennargentu mountains, then spent a week in a holiday house near Dorgali and found some mountain bike rides near there.

Maps. Sardinia is not all that well mapped. The main tarred roads are recorded well enough and for the most part they are wide 2-lane roads, unlike in Corsica. Gravel tracks, mule tracks and paths are very unreliably mapped. We had a very old Lying Club of Italy map which was a fat lot of use really. Ivan lent us his Reise-Know-How 1:200k which wasn't bad for roads, mostly. Ivan says it is not to be trusted for footpaths. We found a couple of Edizioni Abies 1:30k walking maps from the Internet, and a map-like object claiming to describe a mountain bike route T-track based on old transhumance tracks. We knew of the existence of a mountain bike guide but as it was called South and East we thought it didn't cover where we were going. In fact it does have rides, and would have been very useful. The book is Mountain Bike in Sardegna, there's an english as well as Italian version (one of the authors is English), published by Versante Sud.

Transport. Sardinia is better provided with transport than with maps. Usefully for us there's a Bristol-Olbia EasyJet flight once a week. Olbia airport is new, small, and pleasant. The island's main public bus company, ARST, runs buses from the airport to the centre and there are large buses into the mountains. They take their time but they carry bikes and are efficient. From the centre of Olbia you pick up the bus from the stop near the level crossing - not from the bus depot nor the old bus station which is derelict.

Hotels. Although the mountains are wild and sparsely populated, there are sufficient hotels a day's ride apart, and there are some very good ones. Restaurants convenient for lunch were less frequent.

Tour

Nuoro - Su Gologone.

Not far, mostly downhill and with a tailwind; in short, a skive. Su Gologone is excellent, has a pool, and a huge antipasti buffet.

Su Gologone - Aritzo

nice old ladies

Fonni's finest

We had hoped to stay at an agriturismo at Fascussi but they weren't available; we booked at the ... in Aritzo instead which extended the ride somewhat. Thus the killer day scheduled itself right at the start of the tour. 2000m of climbing and 95km. I worked out the 95km but not the 2000m. We keep saying we will make sure we never do this again.

It is somewhat uphill to Oliena but there is a divertingly spectacular line of cliffs south of the road. Oliena is pleasant even if the old ladies are armed to the teeth. A long climb continues to Orgosolo, which from this approach has a decidedly grim aspect of half-built concrete blocks glowering from atop a ridge. It has the reputation as the bandit capital of the island but happily the bandits have taken up painting these days. It contained some roadworks. Orgosolo, rather like Oliena, is a maze of twisty little passages, all alike. Then a fairly rolling, long climb to Pratobello, through a mixture of woods then part wood and part cleared grazing land, then to Fonni through grazing land reminiscent of the Welsh borders. I think we had expected Sardinia to be drier, scrubby and more like Malta I suppose. The greenery and all the sheep were a surprise. More startling were aparent large patches of snow on the hills in the distance.

The guidebook lists three hotel-restaurants in Fonni none of which was open but there was a chip van instead. Annoyingly we found a restaurant just out of town as we rode out, but the chips had been pretty good. We had done about half the climbing; the rest of it evolved itself very slowly over the course of the afternoon. I don't know how it got done but we were too tired to notice. The Fonni-Desulo road went through dense mixed forest. Just before the summit Fascussi we stopped at the petrol-station cafe in desperation for cake, not that they had much but they did have a newspaper which confirmed Cav's victory on the final Giro stage. Again much to our annoyance there was a much more convincing cafe-reaturant near the top of the pass.

We had hoped to take a minor road along the ridge to just the other side of Aritzo, but a sign said the road was closed at 8km. I strongly suspect we could have got through, but the possibility of a long extension to the ride at this stage deterred us, and a car-driver indicated we had to go the other way. So a long descent through Desulo and down to the valley and a long drag up which we did in our sleep.

Aritzo - Seulo

Gadoni and typical landscape

stiddiosa

It wasn't far to Seulo. I had felt somewhat cheated out of the interesting ridge road yesterday and one of our maps showed a track from Artizo that looked as though it joined. We found the start, with a little difficulty - beyond the cemetery there's an obscure left turn signposted Geratzia. An old lady driving out of the turn gestured enthusiastically. It really was a lovely track, climbing sometimes steeply but otherwise pleasantly through a mixture of wild and half cultivated hillside, with deep shrubby verges. A spectacularly rocky section, then it relented, but later we can to a fork and we had no idea where we were. We took the left, lower as the right was viciosly steep and I wasn't up to pushing. The track got wilder, into forests, and it was a great little ride but it petered out. Thus are the frustrations of trying to follow Sardinian tracks; it wasn't the last.

The main road climbed a little then descended through Gadoni. Landscape of rugged cliffs. At the Flumendoso valley this wide new road crosses on an ugly concrete viaduct; we found the old road still existed and got some extra roughstuff and extra climbing. Road climbs slowly round a broad hillside to a summit where the Miramonte hotel is.

gravel road up Perdedu

view from the summit

We had planned a rest day here though we did not have much information about what to do. We were off the hiking maps, Ivan's map showed nothing and although we had seen tracks on Google Earth it was hard to tell if they connected and impossible to know if they were public. As it happened, we found that going south and following the signs to Stiddiosa - whatever that might be - took us on a gravel track down towards the Flumendoso river. The river valley is deep and densely forested and being deep in the valley feels exciting remote. The track stops high above the river at a rock, where there's a footpath signposted. It is a delightful rocky path down to the river, thick with wild flowers, a stone sofa, and a magical cavey spring the other side.

The other side, climbing north from the hotel is a footpath sign to M. Perdedu. In fact it's a road almost all the way, singletrack, mostly paved, later stone and cobbles, and a wonderful high wild ride with expansive views down to the Flumendosa valley and far away to the striking rocks of Perde Liana.

Seulo - Villagrande Strisaili

Downhill on fairly main road, through Seui, which is a sizeable place. We rightly suspected there would be no lunch stops on the way, so bought stuff in town. A shop with a basket of axe-heads by the door and toys in the window was in fact an Alimentari. Found potato-bread rolls in a shop which we later confirmed to be delicious. A few km out of town there's a little road signposted S. Cristoforo. Steep climb but plenty of flowers and no traffic yet. Great views of expansive rolling landscape, little rail-track contours in and out. Fantasise about possibility of tracks joining M Perdedu to here. Also fantasise about railway tour of island. The church of S Cristoforo is attractively placed but there's not much to see of the church itself. Further along the scenery becomes more rugged with a line of tall cliffs above the trees and Perda Liana still in the distance. Forested mostly. Climb to a ridge where there is a Nuraghic fort. Then mostly a gradual descent towards the reservoir. We pass Perda Liana. It seems you can ride up to the rocks but we didn't know from our maps.

The minor road passes the Alto Flumendosa reservoir and winds up at the main road. We rode into Villanova before digging out the paperwork which told us the hotel was near Villagrande. Roll eyes at Colin, etc.

Villagrande - Su Gologone

The forecast wasn't too good. We set off in dryish weather. We tried to find a roughstuff alternative to Villanova, marked on the T-track map. We did find a stone-built track in some woods with some sort of incomprehensible map on a signpost at the start but it didn't seem to be heading in quite the right direction and it was a little bumpy with cobbles. We disputed whether this was fun or not but agreed on giving up. From Villanova we had the choice of the old main road or something more to the west side, along the lake for a while. The latter was quiet, narrow, and completely deserted. It came with a beautiful new surface which led the way up a short rise only to be replaced what was less a road than a series of potholes laced together with the remains of some tar. We descended into a rather woebegotten area with scrappy farm buildings - to be fair, the the weather wasn't helping - and climbed effortfully towards the main road high above. The track had a few junctions here but it looked mainly intent on heading away from the new road. This felt wrong but it was ok and later we were rewarded with some new tarmac again. It was quite a nice road really with a curvy descent to the main road.

Here the old road continued but a sign warned that it was closed for all but local traffic for safety reasons. We rode through of course and really couldn't fathom what the danger could have been - it was a perfectly good road. Now the rain had organised itself and we had something of a pass to cross. A number of cyclists on road bikes were coming the other way - a minivan following gave the game away as the Skeddadle tour. Sometimes it is better to be going up than down and we waved cheerfully.

The temperature was 8 degrees. It was exactly like Wales. The sky was Welsh - not totally uniformly rainfilled but held a bit of hope. The wild green rocky mountainscape, with sheep, looked exactly like the Nant Gwynant climb only bigger. We could see a building ahead at the pass. Colin had thoughts of cafes. Since the main road went 200 vertical metres below and through a tunnel I thought a cafe was unlikely. Indeed the building was a forlorn shell. I thought of photographing it but was too cold.

The scenery was tamer the other side, a gentler slope down of forest and scrub. The rain eased. At the valley floor the old road heads straightish and runs past a fine Nuraghic tomb, incorporating a convenient bench for lunch. Then a gentle up and down to Orgosolo, where a tour-group of comfotabley middle class German Angela Merkel voters was being shown the anticapitalist protest murals. In Oliena we found a cafe with a couple of cakes. Then easy back to Su Gologone where in the sunny gaps between the clouds we got into the pool.

Dorgali

Now for the holiday part of the holiday. We met Edouardo, the house owner in town. Usefully Edouardo has a large pickup because the house is 7km from town. There is a 270m altitude difference between the house and the town. The afternoon's expedition was to the shops. Edouardo has a lot of books which put up a good fight against our cycycling plans for the week.

Goroppu gorge ride. The Abies Dorgali-Urzulei map covered the area well, and confidently marks mountain bike rides in green. The nearest to hand was southwest from the house. We didn't know this was the footpath to the Goroppu gorge. It was a Sunday and possible the first decent Sunday of the year, and there were plenty of walkers. I hope we were not too annoying. It starts as a wide track, a sort of gravel road but does all sorts of stuff and although we did the route again later I can't remember all the details. Challenging cobbled climbs, loose rock descents, dropoffs, tricky sequences of rocks to weave uphill, narrow bends on a precipice. Later the track narrows to an earthy footpath through flowery shrubs and forest and yet keeps up the technical interest. It is only 5,5km but it packs in some entertainment. That day we didn't do the gorge - you do have to pay. We did the ride again on the last friday, this time doing the walk into the gorge. We'd beaten all the walkers and had this awesome place to ourselves.

Cala Gonone. Again this was a ride from the Abies map. Between Doragali and the coast there's a ridge with a narrow rocky crest. The road to Cala Gonone cuts through via a tunnel but the old road climbs higher over the ridge. We rode through the tunnel and double-backed to climb a little and meet the old road at a junction whose left turn is intended for the summit of M Tului where there is a mast. This track heads south for a km or two before starting the 21 bends to the top. Colin didn't think it was necessary to ride to the top; I did. Just where the bends start there is a junction where supposedly there is a rideable way down into the valley to the south. In fact there seem to be two ways at the junction, both of loose rubble and slightly unappealing. We took the higher, hoping it would be gentler and less unrideable. Parts of it were ok and towards the lower reaches it was a bit better. But not really for us.

By an amazing coincidence Colin reached the road just where 2 Austrian women on bikes were stopped and trying to figure out from a bad sketchmap where they were. we didn't recommend our down route as a ride up. The route back to Cala Gonone was paved.

It wasn't quite lunchtime. Colin I gathered must have planned on lunch nowish because he had manged to delay things by riding over a thorn yesterday whose slow puncture just became as we rolled into Cala Gonone. He had not anticipated the speed I can fix punctures. I insisted we do the track north of CG before lunch. Actually this wasn't hard and only took an hour or so and is very nice. The shubbery on the coast side was a little different from inland. Here there was more an element of different shades of leaves and all the shrubs developed in rather pleasing even round shapes. The Cormoran restaurant does a very nice courgette, bottarga and prawn pizza.

We rode back to Dorgali over a road to the north which was a concrete mountain which climbed and climbed some more and was very annoying.

Another ride we tried was one marked on the Abies map. From the main road, a left turn up over a pass then southwards to Parco del Cervo. The turn was almost invisible if you aren't looking for it and the ridge above looks impossible to cross. We rode about 1ft before resorting to pushing. It was rocky and loose. But at least not hard to follow. After the top it splits into a million obscure ways. We headed what we reckoned was southwards through woods woo actually rideable to some enclosures and sheds containing fircely barking dogs. There was a derelict pickup and it felt slightly unwelcoming. There was no obvious way through - we backtracked a different way and picked up a way going possibly northwards which seemed right, indeed it descended to a sort of junction where this way way marked with a cairn.

From here it was fairly clear. The path was intermittently rideable, some of it quite nice. It felt very remote and lovely. Again mostly in woods. We even saw a route mark painted. After a lot of pushing we came to a junction which guessing from distance covered and altutude was where the map marks the path becoming a track (the track continues down the valley). The track was no easier despite being a track because it was steep. Near the top of the pass, wheere the map marks us joining a slightly bigger track, the slightly bigger track heading further south looked completely overgrown. We'd been planning to take this to continue past the Nuraghic village but we'd had enough by then and went home for lunch.

We had bought another map in Cala Gonone. Right from the outset I had wanted to try the tracks further south, starting at the Genna Silana and doing things around a valley below. Even after the previous episode I was still hopeful. It was a fair haul up to Genna Silana. From there we manged to get lost pretty quickly as soom as we left the road - there are more tracks that exist than are on the map. We found the correct way over the ridge and followed a very enjoyable descent. We should have worked out the lie of the land from the map before we set out. Not because it was that hard, but because during the ride we were mystified as to where we were and we could have made better decisions. The track became more overgrown and more or less stopped at an area of shrubbery. We turned back, climbing, only to meet a forestry worker who asked why we weren't doing the giro. He said this had been made a cycle route, and we had to continue to the gate, where afterwards, he thought it was probably down. We went back to the shrubbery and attempted to ride. We found a gate which gave out to a T-junction. If we'd studied the map properly we'd have seen where this was -- as it was we thought we could have been anywhere, and took the downwards. This was ok for a bit, sandy and stony but as it bore rightwards and the gradient eased it became more and more overgrown and hard to believe there had ever been a track. I fell off and cried. We could see further along a more promising track, and on the opposite side of the valley a tarmac road. The track looked near but took forever. And then there was a stream to cross. The track joined a better track, we found ourselves on the map, Colin had a puncture then the replacement tube had a broken valve. The food at the restaurant at Genna Silana is very good.

On the last day the flight back was late in the day. The Deplano bus company had just started up a service leaving CalaGonone getting to the airport at just the right time (it takes 3 hours, but it's a bus). We sat on the beach. We had pizzas and ice cream.

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