Discovering the wonderful Archipelago of La Maddalena

Discovering the wonderful Archipelago of La Maddalena

When you think about beaches in Sardinia you immediately think of crystal-clear blue waters and transparent sea beds. And, as a Sardinian, I can tell you that this picture of paradise is certainly what you’ll find in the Archipelago of La Maddalena.

And you may be surprised to hear that this treasure chest of beauty and biodiversity is not only surrounded by the most beautiful sea you’ve ever seen, but it’s also a place steeped in history and nature, where you can immerse yourself in the Mediterranean scrub and enjoy a complete experience. If you’re planning a trip to the north of Sardinia, this is somewhere that just has to be included in your itinerary!

arcipelago la maddalena sardegna

What to see in La Maddalena, Sardinia

La Maddalena Archipelago lies off the coast of Gallura, a region in the northeast of Sardinia, and is made up of 62 islands that form a mosaic of unique beaches and natural pools, where the hues of the water are like nowhere else in the world.

In 1994 the archipelago became the National Park of La Maddalena Archipelago: a protected area of land and sea, as well as forming part of the Bocche di Bonifacio Nature Reserve. Some perimeters are fully protected, such as the Pink Beach of Budelli, a unique gem that can be visited, but with certain restrictions (I explain this in detail in the article everything you need to know about the pink beach of Budelli). The island’s most famous pink beach can be found in the Archipelago and its pink hues attract thousands of curious visitors every year. 

spiaggia rosa budelli
Pink beach of Budelli

Aside from the amazingly varied natural beauty of the Archipelago, ranging from its granite rocks to its sea life, it also has a military history. One of the key events was the defeat of the French fleet by the navy commander Domenico Millelire, born in La Maddalena.

Napoleon Bonaparte had in fact tried to conquer the land to take it away from the House of Savoy, and between one bombardment and another, he was then stopped between Santo Stefano and La Maddalena. Traces of this history can still be seen today; for example, one of Napoleon’s cannon balls, recovered from the bombardments, is kept in the Palazzo Comunale (or town hall) of La Maddalena.

The story continues in Caprera, which was home to the Italian national hero Giuseppe Garibaldi and where you can visit his museum home as you take a break between excursions. The natural landscapes of Caprera are, to my mind, one of the loveliest things about the Archipelago as a whole; I’m sure you’ll fall in love with them too.

isola di caprera

The waters of the Archipelago are teeming with sea life and there are plenty of excellent spots for snorkelling and diving. You can explore the sea beds and admire the underwater flora and fauna if you like the sea. 

pesci mare la maddalena

Sardinia, La Maddalena beaches

The Archipelago is famous for its beautiful white sandy beaches and its emerald green waters. Its most famous include the Spiaggia Rosa (Pink Beach), the Cavaliere Beach and the Cala Coticcio Beach, also known as Sardinia’s Little Tahiti.

cala coticcio
Cala Coticcio

The main island, from where you can then reach Caprera and the other islands, is La Maddalena, which you can get to by ferry from Palau, and I’ll give you all the information you need on that shortly.

I would recommend you start your discovery of the Archipelago right here. The centre of La Maddalena is the perfect place for an evening stroll; a picturesque setting with cobbled streets, colourful houses and lots of activity to discover, maybe with a delicious ice cream in hand after dinner.

La Maddalena

Most boat trips start from here, and this is the best way of exploring the most beautiful islands, especially if you’re tied for time. If you only happen to have one day to spare, then I’d advise you to either choose one particular destination to visit or to go on a tour of the whole Archipelago to see it in its entirety.

One of the islands with the most beautiful scenery and coastline is undoubtedly Spargi, which I fell in love with thanks to Eleonora Amoroso, an environmental hiking guide and a true native of La Maddalena, who not only knows the area like the back of her hand, but also organises excursions to Cala Coticcio. 

Island of Spargi

Cala Coticcio doesn’t need much introduction; it’s one of the world’s most famous beaches and every year is subjected to mass tourism, so that’s why I’d strongly advise you to visit it with a guide. 

I could mention dozens of beaches but I’d like to give you some advice: they are all accessible by boat so your ultimate destination will be determined by the wind. By hiring a good skipper you can explore hidden spots that are off the beaten track or perfect for a day trip. To hire a boat with a skipper or to take a trip on a RIB, I would recommend Freemindexperience; their expertise and attention to detail certainly offer added value for an unforgettable experience, embracing responsible tourism. 

How to get to La Maddalena: ferries from Palau

Getting to La Maddalena is easy: just take the ferry from Palau. Palau is a lovely town in northern Sardinia, and two ferries sail back and forth between Palau harbour and the harbour of La Maddalena. They run every half hour in the summer and every hour in the winter. The crossing takes around half an hour and the ferries also take cars, for an extra charge, of course. You can buy tickets online or from the ticket office at Palau harbour. The main ferry line is Delcomar; click here to access the official website for fares and timetables.

panorama Palau Sardegna

Where to stay and how to get around La Maddalena

If you’re staying in La Maddalena for a few days, I’d advise you to opt for one of the many B&Bs or hotels in the centre, so that you can walk around and be close to the harbour for boat trips. If you’re not taking your car you can think about hiring one there or in and around Palau. There are also buses to Caprera if you don’t have your own transport. Everywhere else is by boat! 

Respecting your surroundings: useful tips for sustainable tourism

Mass tourism is having an increasingly devastating effect year after year, especially in this corner of paradise, which is being spoiled and invaded, leading to severe restrictions, such as those on Budelli, to protect its biodiversity. If you’re planning a visit here, you can choose to discover the Archipelago in a more ethical and sustainable way with just a few simple and sensible steps. 

  • If you hire your own RIB, don’t go beyond the boundaries, don’t exceed the speed limit and if you happen to see any wildlife such as dolphins, don’t go after them but turn off the engine so as not to disturb them; remember that you are the guest here.
  • Take a few bags with you for any rubbish and leave the place cleaner than you found it.
  • Avoid tours with hundreds of people; by spending a little bit more you can arrange a trip with people who prefer small groups, out of respect for the area they are going to visit, and you’ll enjoy the authenticity of the experience much more.
  • Don’t forget your hat and sun cream!
  • Don’t feed the birds or the fish; what you offer them will not be part of their diet.

I hope you’ll find these tips invaluable on your amazing trip to the Archipelago of La Maddalena. But don’t forget that the region of Gallura has many more wonderful and magical places to offer, which I tell you all about in this article on the 10 things to do in Gallura.

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