Buongiorno, bonjour and “g’day”! (don't you like how they're all the same thing? ~ who knew Australian vernacular was so cosmopolitan???).

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It’s your old pal Kit (Christof) Fennessy here. I've been writing this blog with your help for ten years, and there's over a hundred and fifty recipes, restaurant reviews of Australia and around the world, and general gourmet articles in these pages for you to fritter away your idle hours on.

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Monday, November 14, 2011

Agriturismi: or How to Get My Goat!

You May recall in our last adventure, we were in Cagliari. This article takes us for a drive up through Sardinia to the mountains and the sea for a stay with goats and farmers while scoffing the local produce.

Before going to Sardinia, Jane did thorough research and wanted a true Sardinian holiday; to stay in the mountains and to look at goats.

Who was I to argue? She was booking the trip and you do get to eat authentic local cuisine, so I was all ears (or should I say “all tongue?”… and enough with the rude comments).

The Italian government has been encouraging farmers to engage in agritourism to develop their tourism industry, and farm stay holidays have become highly popular for those travelling to Italy. My friend Owen (“Hi Owen!”) was staying in Tuscany at a farm two weeks before we left, so if we’ve both been doing it, you know it’s dead-set trendy.

But first we had to get there… cue car hire and several near-death experiences.

Nuraghe Su Nuraxi
On the drive north, we took a detour to see Sardinia’s largest existing Nuragic structure, Nuraghe “Su Nuraxi” – or “Nuraghe of the Nuraghe” (a mix of Italian and Sardinian languages here). I am convinced these ancient monuments are in such terrible repair because farmers and builders in surrounding fields have simply pinched the stone to make walls to hold in goats or to build their terrazzos overlooking the valleys.

Still, you could feel the spirit of the ancient Nuraghic people as we walked around the site: huddled in their giant stone conical tower, defending their well, praying the grain store would hold out until the pillagers grew bored, and picking lice out of their clothes (it wasn’t much of a spirit).

The tour was in Italian, so thank heavens we had our guidebook as well as having previously visited the archaeological museum. I could follow the talk, and I really can’t sprekken Italian (much)!

What You’d Typically Eat…
We had lunch near Su Nuraxi at a restaurant that was full of locals out on a Sunday drive. The building had “pizzeria” written on the roof and a whole page of pizzas listed in the menu, so Jane asked for a pizza. Apparently no pizza was available. Our waitress told us what you’d “typically have”, which is more common in Sardinia than you’d think.

Which leads me to this observation: Instead of a menu being a list of what’s for sale, it’s more a list of what a ristorante can make, or the staff know how to make, some of which may be available – depending on whether they can be bothered, or have the ingredients.

I asked for the tourist menu, which simplified things extraordinarily, but did mean you didn’t get much in the way of trimmings; a salad made of shredded iceberg lettuce only with your osso bucco, and an entrée of fraggole - a simple Sardinian pasta with mushrooms and cheese. Peasant food that was filling, tasty and swelled in your stomach when you drank liquids.

The drive to our agriturismo was breath-taking. “Honestly, Kit?” I hear you think. “Breath taking?” Well, yes. In a number of ways.

First, the hair-pin turns and huge drops over the edge as you drive into the mountains make you gasp. We passed an abandoned silver mine near Montevecchio, with smashed windows and its concrete structures tumbling down the mountain sides, having to drive under its crumbling frame. Breath-taking!

To get to our farm, we also had to drive on narrow roads with Italian drivers coming the other way, then dirt tracks with goats on them, coming over the hills. Breath-taking!

Finally, on arrival, there was a large group of locals leaving a huge Sunday lunch (or collazione Domenica), and our hosts were kind enough to offer us a drink on arrival. I had the aqua vita. Breath-taking!

About a quarter of the way up Sardinia near the west coast, we stayed at Oasi del Cervo (Oasis of the Deer), which is located in the Medio Campidano region. It’s located near the Sardinian town of Montevecchio (the Old Mountain).

Montevecchio, once quite prosperous when the mine was running, has little mining carts and memorabilia out on the street. Now there’s little business, few people, and plenty of abandoned buildings, some of which have the roofs missing. It reminded me of Christchurch (though one twentieth the size); i.e. you can see there was a time when money was pouring in, and then one day the bottom dropped out and people just started leaving buildings empty behind them.

We were the only guests staying at the farm, and had a choice of rooms. We chose one with an authentically “Mediterranean” floral bed spread and amazing views out the window over mountains, rolling valleys, and the sea. We woke to the sound of goat bells going to be milked and the calls of birds, the sunsets fell over the sea, and the air positively smacked of bucolic tranquility.

The farm is home to numerous dogs of all shapes and colours, who are very friendly and accompanied us on walks to look outs. Our hosts, Angela and Giuseppe, were a couple with grown up children. Giuseppe works on the farm while Angela looks after the agristurismo side of things, cooking and cleaning, etc. They were both very welcoming and Angela was the life of the party.

Angela had done a qualification in baking (or “bake-ology”, I forget which) meaning there were custard doughnuts, tarts, and various other baked goods packing out breakfast and dinner menus.

Dinners were slightly more challenging than breakfasts: with the two of us sitting up at the table with Giuseppe, while Angela cooked in her massive kitchen and came and went with dishes, occasionally popping her head in to watch TV. We struggled through conversation, using Jane’s Italian, mime, and a phone dictionary, which was effective but exhausting.

For dinners we started with an antipasto of vegetables in a light tomato sauce (carrots, peppers, celery), as well as olives, salami, crusty bread and fried eggplant in breadcrumbs that was simply delicious and the winner of the whole meal.

I will be including a recipe for crumbed eggplant with my newspaper article, but the secret is to slice the eggplant very thinly (Angela used a motorised deli slicer), crumb it with egg and bread crumbs (mixed with polenta, pepper and herbs) and fry in olive oil.

The main courses on the first night were a home made semolina pasta with chunks of meat from a wild boar Giuseppe had shot with his 22 calibre rifle, followed by roast piglet with a simple green salad. All washed down with a jug of rough red wine.

The second night’s dinner featured the same entrees, followed by freggola with mushrooms and meat (there is a variant with fish), and finally roast goat, washed down with aqua vita at the end. We were spared a long conversation with Giuseppe as it was action night on television and we sat up and watched Texas Ranger followed by a Steven Segal movie with Italian overdub. Much hilarity ensued after every kiss when I would declaim ‘Non che credo!’ (I don’t believe it). Who says “non habla Italiano”?

We drove to the nearby coast while staying at the farm, passing cycling groups and driving across creeks, before arriving at a beach with little cabanas and a hotel built right on the sand called ‘the Dunes’. This is the area where they shot the ‘Black Stallion’, and the coast is very nice – but, coming from Australia, it’s hard to compete. We walked a fair way looking for somewhere safe to swim, since the sand dropped and the waves were closing out where they’d set up the snack shacks and umbrellas. It was extremely hairy; on the west coast there’s nothing between you and Spain, so there was a bit of a swell, but there was an uneven bottom.

Speaking of extremely hairy and uneven bottoms, we walked past a blonde and tanned couple in the nude who smiled at us. We’d accidentally ventured onto the naturists’ beach, and they looked like Adam and Eve on a Metamucil ad. I could just imagine them saying (in German) “I can’t believe I had to go all the way to Sardinia just to be myself” while they enjoyed natural yoghurt and wheat germ for breakfast.

Further down the coast we ran into ghost tourist towns, collections of beautiful buildings that were completely abandoned. We were there on the shoulder season, and it was a Monday, but there was nobody around.

Feeling peckish we headed inland towards larger towns for lunch, but guess what? Everything shuts between 13.30 and 16:30. We drove from town to town, finding shutter after shutter down– restaurants, supermarkets, everything – though the streets still featured mad drivers in small cars and giant busses. On return we told Angela, our host, that everything was shut and she was appalled. Apparently, during the high tourist season, everything is open - but come September, the shutters bang down everywhere but the beach shacks.

The Cucina Score!
So my score on the Oasi del Cervo? For a couple of nights it’s pretty good. Not high food, but authentic, and accompanied by delightful hosts and stunning surrounds. Your diet might become a bit repetitive after a week, and the facilities are pretty basic, but I give it six tentacles out of eight!

To Book Your Holiday

Check out numerous agriturismi at:

Or look up the Oasis of the Deer at:

They also have their own website, but since they’re farmers it’s totally amateur hour and doesn’t tell you anything (and is in Italian)

Next episode: Alghero – Coast of the Millionaires!


Owen said...

suitably honoured Kit, though - not to nitpick - i think our farmstay was in Umbria but very close to the tuscan border. good to have you home !