Monday 4 June 2012

La Caletta

Another mistral has started to build in the Golfe de Lion and we slip our lines in the early morning and quietly ghost out of La Caletta to get south before the wind arrives. Outside the breakwater, the sea hasn't yet forgotten yesterday's storm and although the water is a glassy calm, waves like pure pulses of energy roll under the surface and lift our bow as we motor South in the still morning air.

We are leaving La Caletta a day later than planned because of the strong southerly wind blowing off the Libyan Desert and yesterday we decided to stay in port and go exploring. As we drive from La Caletta to Nuoro along the autostrada we marvel at the geological upheaveal that caused Sardinia to rear up out of the Mediterranean Sea. This part of the island in the Golfo di Orosei is the most mountainous and boasts the highest cliff in Europe jutting out of the limestone in the Genhargentu Mountains. We turn off the autostrada and climb hard in first gear up a steep barren hillside into the town of Nuoro then over the top and winding down an impossibly steep road into the valley where the man from Avis tells us is home to a famous spring called Su Cologone and the best restaurant in Sardinia of the same name. The spring is mesmerising; it spills out of a fracture in the rock surrounded by trees and wild flowers and runs clear as gin, into a translucent pool which overflows to a stream feeding the river Cedrino. The dark water passages in the bowels of the Supramonte hills are the source of this abundant spring which produces 500 litres of water per second. The last expedition to explore the underground water system in 2010 had to abandon its search after 135 metres down and no sign of the bottom. As we gaze down into this abyss we love the idea that despite numerous expeditions the dark secret of Su Cologone remains undiscovered.

After lunch we drive up the valley to Dorgali where we pick up the famous SS 125, the road that runs the full length of the Eastern coast of Sardinia from Olbia in the North to Gagliari in the South. This section of the 125 hugs the hillside, snaking up into the mountains and is a pilgrimage for all petrol heads who come here to test their motorbikes and their nerves on the hairpin bends. Being Italian this isn't just any road - it's a stretch of black asphalt banked with the perfect camber of a racetrack and double height Armco to protect the over excited from careering over the edge to certain death into the gorge 1,000 metres below. It is a heady experience and I long for my 911, but the Renault Twingo does well and fatty shuffles across the seat towards me away from the vertiginous drop below. We make it to the summit, overtaken many times by powerful motorbikes which weave and lean through the corners, defying gravity then leaving trails of black rubber as they brake hard, turn and accelerate away.

Next on our tour is Ispinigoli, a cave system that was discovered by a shepherd in 1938. My expectations are not high but as we follow the guided tour into the grotto, we descend a steel walkway suspended from the rocks, 200 metres down into this huge cave with its vaulted ceiling lit up like a giant cathedral. The beauty of the cave is the magical feeling created by the orange stalactites and stalagmites which adorn the entire cavern, with the showcase being the single stalagmite in the centre which is fully 38 metres high and the second largest in the world. Our only disappointment is that we aren't allowed to take photographs, apparently because the Italian government has the copyright, so I have borrowed one from Google to show you.

We drive back to La Caletta on a slightly tamer section of the SS 125 and after drinks on board with our neighbours in the marina, we head to bed with Juno still being pummelled by the southerly winds which push her hard onto the black rubber fenders of the ferry dock. We hope that overnight the mistral in the north will become the dominant weather system giving us an offshore breeze in the early morning to push us gently off the pontoon and on our way.

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