(CNN) — Made up of more than 1,000 kilometers of mostly seaside trails surrounding the island of Sardinia, the “Cammino 100 Torri” – or the path of 100 towers – might not be Italy’s most famous hike. , but it is certainly the most spectacular.
This epic round-trip journey, filled with blood-red sunsets, ancient architecture and stunning beaches, departs from the city of Cagliari, at the southern tip of Sardinia.
From here, eight different trails totaling 1,284 kilometers await you, offering hikers the best of Italy’s second largest island region.
The full experience takes an average of 45-60 days. But for those short on time, it can easily be broken down into smaller rides.
The highlights, as the name of the path suggests, are the 100 stone watchtowers that line the shores of Sardinia. Built during the 1500s and 1700s to defend against enemy incursions – including pirates – most have fallen into chilling ruins, although some have been converted into lighthouses and private homes.
Once traveled by warriors, merchants, pilgrims, priests and looters, the path rewards today’s hikers with the unique scents and landscapes of the Mediterranean coast, with its purplish rocks, tree branches twisted beaches and grains of sand as thick as rice.
A spiritual journey
The 100 Towers Trail takes hikers through fishing villages, ancient chapels, castles, salt marshes, abandoned caves, ponds and desert sand dunes, with views of the translucent waters of Sardinia never very far.
But for Nicola Melis, a local engineer who rediscovered the path of 100 towers six years ago and has since circumnavigated the island four times solo, its allure lies behind beautiful scenery.
“It’s more than just a journey, it’s a spiritual pilgrimage deep within yourself,” he told CNN Travel. “If you do it solo, it’s a physical and mental challenge. You conquer the deepest beauty of Sardinia through effort, and it’s rewarding.
“I like the more difficult parts, like the steep climb to the high cliffs of Baunei, along the Ogliastra trail, with the most beautiful views, because you only rely on your own strength and endurance. You don’t forget ever your first hike here, it’s like your first car or girlfriend.”
On some sections of the trail, hikers can soothe their weary feet in the warm waters of the Mediterranean.
Melis says what prompted him to reclaim and promote the road was the discovery of a soldier’s pamphlet from the 1500s that mapped the entire network of defensive towers. The soldier traveled the road on horseback, then, spiritually changed by the long journey, decided to become a monk.
How to cope
If stretched in a straight line, the Trail of 100 Turns is long enough to connect the Italian Alps to its deepest southern lands. The furthest it departs from the coast is just two kilometers inland.
Hikers are advised to start from Cagliari in an anti-clockwise direction, which allows them to dodge the intense north-westerly Mistral wind that would blow against them at the start of the hike, making it more hard.
Travelers can also join one of the regular groups organized by the association, usually made up of 20 to 60 hikers, or go on their own trip for as many days as they wish. It’s open all year round.
Hikers who choose to do this on their own are advised to assess their skills and physical condition before setting out and to keep in mind that they may find themselves hiking in the hot summer sun.
“You need to be in shape, be prepared to strain your muscles, and avoid carrying a backpack that’s more than 10 percent of your body weight,” says Melis.
“You will find drinking fountains and bars along the way, but sometimes they are far away so study the route carefully.”
Giants, Angels and Demons
Melis says there are four trails that have become particularly popular among hikers.
The shortest and easiest, ideal for beginners, is the 62 kilometer Way of the Angels from Cagliari in the north to the holiday resort of Villasimius.
The hike starts from one of the oldest chapels in town, passing the first five towers in a ring-shaped direction. Called ‘the Devil’s Saddle’, it continues along baby powder and pebble beaches, silent coves, caves and coral reef seabeds.
The Sarcapos trail is next, running from Villasimius to Tertenia for 143 kilometres, offering mostly pure beach bliss along the pristine Costa Rei coastlines. It takes about 5-7 days to complete this trek, which includes a pond inhabited by flamingos, rocky hills, a river, and the ruins of a lost Phoenician city, a temple, and a necropolis.
The scents of arbutus and mastic, myrtle and oak mingle with the iodized sea breeze.
The most difficult trail is Ogliastra, on the eastern coast, suitable for experienced hikers. It stretches for 144 kilometers and takes almost a whole week, leading from the steep mountains of Baunei to fascinating sea rocks such as Cala Gonone, crossing pine and juniper forests, natural rock arches, ancient sheepfolds, d coal merchants and donkey routes used by shepherds. .
This transports travelers into the unspoiled wild nature of Sardinia, offering breathtaking panoramas.
The 100 Towers Trail is made up of eight trails that span 1,284 kilometres.
Archeology enthusiasts will enjoy the pagan “trail of the giants” in the eastern Sinis Peninsula, another must-see section of the 100 Towers Trail. Its name derives from the primitive nuraghe dwellings found in the area, nicknamed “Giants”, which resemble miniature Stonehenges.
Hikers will wander the lost Phoenician city of Tharros, its ruins dotting the landscape, and discover sacred pagan wells, an ancient Roman road and an aqueduct.
Meanwhile, the Minas Trail on the southwest coast crosses the high white sand dunes of Piscinas, a huge powdery-white desert beach with one of the most translucent seas in the Mediterranean.
Abandoned mines and oddly shaped sea stacks such as “sugar loaf” are the main stops.
“The 100 Towers Trail connects 26 different coastal habitats, each with its own distinctive vegetation and wildlife. You encounter beach deserts, rocky granite hills, and 40 protected oases with wild boar, sea turtles, cormorants, maritime pine forests,” says Melis.
Convents by the sea and glamping
The towers that line the path were built during the 1500s and 1700s to defend against enemy incursions.
Alessio Orru/Adobe Stock
Melis’ 100 Towers Path association brings hikers together, publishes online calendars highlighting group trips, and offers a wide range of accommodation suggestions, beach bars (“chioschi”) and restaurants with special prices for hiking participants.
Access to the trail is free, but there are private guides for short, tailor-made circuits. The cost is around 150 euros ($150) per day for two people.
Hikers can choose from 200 affiliated companies for their daily stops.
Sardinia’s north coast tends to be more touristy and crowded in the summer, while the rest of the island, particularly the southwest coast, is more authentic and offbeat, allowing hikers to fully experience the thrill of the Sentier of 100 Tours.