A tourist-friendly town of about 45,000 inhabitants with a distinctly Spanish flavor, Alghero is also known as "Barcelonetta" (little Barcelona). Rich wrought-iron scrollwork decorates balconies and screened windows; a Spanish motif appears in stone portals and bell towers. The town was built and inhabited in the 14th century by the Aragonese and Catalans, who constructed seaside ramparts and sturdy towers encompassing an inviting nucleus of narrow, winding streets with whitewashed palazzi. The native language spoken here is a version of Catalan, not Italian, although you probably have to attend one of the Masses conducted in Algherese (or listen in on stories swapped by older fishermen) to hear it. Besides its historic architectural gems such as the Alghero Cathedral and Palazzo d'Albis, the fortified city is well worth a visit to simply stroll and discover local culture on narrow cobblestone streets. The city also has a reputation to serve great food at reasonable prices.
The pleasing menu, which includes linguine with a sauce of clams, capers, tomatoes, and olives, and baked fish with a white-wine sauce, keeps this seafood restaurant with vaulted ceilings bustling. For dessert, sample sebadas, ravioli stuffed with mascarpone cheese and topped with honey. The various fixed-price menus help to keep the bill moderate. Look for Da Pietro in the Old Town near Largo San Francesco.
Head west of Alghero for broad sandy beaches and the spectacular heights of the imposing limestone headland of Capo Caccia. The rugged promontory, blanketed by thick maquis (brush), is home to Le Prigionette nature reserve and deep caves such as the Grotta di Nettuno. Close by are the beaches of Porto Ferro, Cala Viola and, on the beautiful Porto Conte inlet, Cala Dragunara.
Grotta di Nettuno
At the base of a sheer cliff, the pounding sea has carved an entrance to a vast fantastic cavern filled with stunning water pools, stalactites, and stalagmites. You must visit with a guide; tours start on the hour. It's possible to reach the caves by boat or by land. Boat trips depart at regular intervals from the port of Alghero for €16 for the round-trip (admission to the grotto is extra). The dramatic cave and coves, discovered by fishermen in the 18th century, are some of the most popular tourist attractions on the island for their sheer natural beauty. To reach the grotto by land, you can descend the 654 dizzying Escala del Cabirol ("Goat Steps"), which are cut into the steep cliff here. By public bus from Alghero's Via Catalogna, the trip to the top of the stairway takes about 50 minutes. Allow 15 minutes for the descent by foot.
Torre Porta Terra
This old stone tower fortress can be climbed for good views from the terrace. Stop at the interesting city history display on the computer terminals inside the tower. There's also a rotating set of exhibits and a miniature model of Alghero's Old Town.
Museo Diocesano d'Arte Sacra
This cathedral museum is housed in a 13th-century church designed with Catalan Gothic architecture. The usual assortment of religious treasures—paintings, wooden sculptures, and bronze statues—is on display; look for the masterful 16th-century Catalan silverware, intricately forged with ancient motifs.