I do not quite know why, but the islands that house (or have housed) prisons have always been of great charm for me ...Alcatraz, Isle of If (that of the Count of Monte Cristo) and many others, and theAsinara is no exception. But if I have to say everything, the idea that this natural paradise was, until recently, the prerogative only of scum like Totò Riina and singer of company made me nervous. Fortunately since 1997 the island of Asinara has become a National Park and is accessible to all.
I couldn't wait to go there and this year I was finally able to make my dream come true! I just got back and couldn't wait to tell you more about this wonderful island.
The story of Asinara
I'll tell you briefly, but I think it's important to know it to better understand the territory.
The island has been inhabited since prehistoric times, then there were the Romans and it is still possible to see the remains of Roman ships carrying amphorae just in front of the port of Cala Reale. At the time of Maritime Republics it was disputed between Genoa and Pisa, after which it passed under I Savoia (in 1700) and when, in 1836, feudalism was abolished, it came back under the direct control of the state. In 1885 the government of Depretis established one on the island Colony agricultural penal colony and a hospital for the quarantine of patients with tuberculosis (the building still stands, a bit dilapidated but with a lot of charm). The inhabitants of the island were forcibly evicted and many of them founded the village of Stintino.
With the First World War prisoners of war were deported to Asinara, mainly Austro-Hungarian (about 24,000 prisoners!); the Austro-Hungarian chapel and the ossuary remain from this period. From the 60s until 1997, Asinara remained in total isolation. thanks to the establishment of the maximum security prison in which the Red Brigades and the Mafia like Raffaele Cutolo and Salvatore Riina who served here the 41bis (established in the 90s after the massacres of Falcone and Borsellino). The isolation, however, allowed the preservation of much of the natural environment of the island (including the famous albino donkeys that give the island its name), avoiding the so-called overbuilding, and allowed the birth of the Asinara National Park.
How to reach Asinara: ferries from Porto Torres and Stintino
You can reach the island of Asinara from Porto Torres or from Stintino. From Porto Torres the ferries take about 1 hour and a half to reach Cala Reale, while from Stintino the crossing is much shorter and the ferries reach Fornelli. You travel only on foot (if you wish you can bring your bike) and you cannot take any means of transport.
From Porto Torres to Cala Reale (Delcomar company)
- High season (from 21/07 to 31/08 every day): from Porto Torres at 8.15 am; 11.30 am; 4.30 pm / from Cala Reale 09.45 am; 1.00 pm; 6.00 pm
- Mid season (from 01/05 to 20/07 and from 01/09 to 30/09 every day): from Porto Torres at 8.30; 16.30 / from Cala Reale at 10.00; 18.00
- Low season (from 01/10 to 30/04 on Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays): from Porto Torres at 8.30 am; 3.00 pm / from Cala Reale 10.00 am; 4.30 pm.
Tickets are made on board. Cost of the ticket per person 15,00 € a / r. Residents in the Municipality of Porto Torres 7.50 € a / r.
From Stintino (various companies)
The boats that transport from Stintino to Fornelli are smaller. For timetables, see the following sites: SBSAsinara or Linea del Parco, call the contacts you will always find there.
How to visit Asinara National Park
Being a National Park, Asinara cannot be traveled by your own means (unless it is your legs or your bike), but you can take advantage of several services on site (you can find the complete list on this site http://www.visiteasinara.com/servizi.php).
Visiting Asinara on foot
Asinara is 16 km long and it is beautiful to walk, but this is strongly discouraged in the months of July and August because there are very few trees and the sun is just around the corner (not to mention that there are only 2 bars in Asinara, one in Cala Reale and the other in Cala d'Oliva). There are 9 well marked trails on the island (the Granite Trail, the Water Trail, the Remembrance Trail, etc.), you can find them all on this site.
Be careful because some areas of the island are in Total Reserve and it is not possible to enter even on foot!
Visiting Asinara by bicycle
Asinara is not flat, but if you are fit you will have no problem cycling around it. However, calculate that in 1 day you will hardly be able to cycle around it. In the warmer months, the same caveat as above applies: there is very little shade and you will need to bring your water supplies. Bicycles can be rented (and returned) at both Cala Reale and Fornelli. For information and reservations, see the Windsurfinfcenter website.
Visiting Asinara by electric car
If you only have one day available and you want to explore the whole island in total freedom, the best thing to do is to rent a small electric car. There are if 2 or if 4 rapido and cost respectively 70 or 100 euros per day (yes, they are dear .. I know). We opted for this solution and we had a great time! The cars must be booked in advance (there are not many) and can be picked up at Cala Reale. To book them and for any other information you can call 079 512290 (Asinara Rent a Car).
Visiting Asinara by bus
From mid-July to early September there is a bus service connecting Cala Reale, Fornelli and Cala d'Oliva.
Visiting Asinara by off-road vehicle 4 × 4
It is also possible to visit the island of Asinara in 4 × 4 off-road vehicles with some Geomarine Environmental Guides. Find all the information and contacts on this site.
Visit Asinara by boat
To have a different perspective of the island you can go out sailing, stopping in the coves that would be impossible to reach by land. I did it and I loved it! There are several companies with which it is possible to do this; I went by catamaran with Antonio and Angela from AsinaraDiversion and found it great.
The catamaran takes a maximum of 12 people, and I recommend you do it all day (the indicative price varies between 60 and 90 euros depending on the season). We leave at 9:30 from the port of Stintino and then make several stops; in some you go ashore (for example in Cala Reale to see the sea turtle recovery center or in Cala Oliva to visit the prison), while in others you stop in some bays with crystal clear water (and in La Pelosa in Stintino) to swim . The price also includes lunch on board. which includes wine, seafood appetizer and a first course (very good seafood fregola), coffee and snack. We return around 18:00. Find all the detailed information on the site. They also organize a beautiful sunset excursion to La Pelosa from 18:30 to 22:00 with dinner included.
What to see in Asinara island
Cala Reale is the main port of the island (it's microscopic eh, don't expect the port of Genoa!) and this is where you dock coming from Porto Torres. Below are several buildings dating back to the time when Asinara was a penal colony and lazaretto and the so-called Royal Palace (belonged to the Savoy family) where the headquarters of the Asinara National Park is now located. Here are the car and bike rentals and one of the 2 bars on the island. A few steps from Cala Reale is also the Asinara Sea Turtle Recovery Center (CRTM), which you can visit and is very interesting. Here you can see the turtles being treated (if there are any at the time) before being released into the sea and they explain the various activities that take place at the center. Immediately behind the center is an Asinara Farm, where natural cosmetics are made from the island's spontaneous plants, donkey milk and processing waste from natural products (sea urchin shells, etc.). I bought several soaps and oils and was very happy when I discovered that they also sell them online!!!
Cala d'Oliva is located in the north of the island and that's where the only village of asinara is, the only inhabited center with bar / restaurant / pizzeria (called L'Asino Bianco), the SognAsinara hostel, a small church and, at the top of the village, the buildings of the former penal colony and Totò Riina's bunker. The former penal colony can be visited (free entrance) and in the former prison rooms there is a nice museum, small but well done. The former bunker where Riina served 41bis for several years is run by Libera, Don Ciotti's association against mafias and, as far as I understand, is rarely open.
In the vicinity of Cala Oliva there are also coves with magnificent beaches such as Cala dei Detenuti, Sa Murighessa, Cala Giordano and Punta Sabina (accessible with a path in about 30 'or off-road vehicle). I have also inserted them among the 10 most beautiful beaches in northern Sardinia.
The area of Fornelli is located at the southern tip of Asinara, and here is one of the former high security prisons (there were several on the island). Until 2016 it was possible to see it now it is, unfortunately, in a state of neglect. Above the former prison you can see the ruins of a fortress (the Castellaccio) which can be reached on foot with the Castellaccio Road that starts immediately behind the prison. The road that leads to Fornelli from Cala Reale is magnificent, there are incredible landscapes and some sporadic construction (such as the ossuary and other prison camps). Some stretches of the magnificent coastline that can be seen from the road (including the beaches) are a Total Reserve Area and therefore inaccessible.
Where to sleep in Asinara
Until recently, there was only one accommodation in Asinara, now there are 2!
- The Park Inn: open since 2019, it is located in Cala Oliva. They have 6 renovated rooms, all very nice and with all the comforts, in the colors white and blue. The same property also has the restaurant which is almost opposite. The only flaw in my opinion is that they are a bit expensive.
- SognAsinara: always located in Cala d'Oliva. It is a spartan hostel with 70 beds. On the site you will find the form to request availability and prices.
Where to eat in Asinara
There are only 2 bars / restaurants: the SognAsinara Bar / Restaurant in Cala Reale (for information or reservations call 3461737043) AND the L'asino Bianco bar / restaurant / pizzeria in Cala d'Oliva (for information or reservation, call 079 409401 or 3472729036). In general, if you plan to spend a day at the Asinara, you should bring your own food directly from home, so you can eat anywhere with total freedom.