‘Sardinia feels like an ancient forgotten land’

Love brought Jennifer Avventura to Sardinia, home to the most centenarians in the world, in 2008. Idyllic though it sounds, she's faced challenges along the way. She talks to The Local about island life and how to live to 100 and beyond.

'Sardinia feels like an ancient forgotten land'
Jennifer Avventura moved to Sardinia in 2008.

So what brought you to Sardinia and which part do you live in?

Six years ago, love brought me to Sardinia and I've been happily married ever since. I live in the north-western part of the island, in a region known for its cork, wine and red granite cliffs which plunge dramatically into the Asinara Bay.

Sardinia's quite far from the Italian coast, so in that respect, would you say it feels Italian?

I've never lived on the 'mainland' of Italy, so I can't compare the two lifestyles. I find that Sardinia is a land onto her own, and I, as the expat here, feel she is her own entity, her own country. Sardinia feels like an ancient forgotten land, a place left behind in the history books detailing the struggle and tenacious force of the islanders; it's an island which has been suppressed with the on-goings of the 21st century. There is a very slow pace to life in Sardinia, a pace I prefer over the 'rat-race' of a concrete jungle.

Sardinia is known for being home to the most "centenians". So have you met anyone who's lived beyond 100?

I haven't had the pleasure of meeting anyone who's lived to 100 or beyond. There have been a few candidates, but they died before the triple digits. My grandfather-in-law passed away last year, he was 98 and a few days before he passed he said "Non lo farò per un centinaio di anni (I won't make it to 100)." He really wanted to become one of the many Sardinians to live to a hundred.

What do you think the secret of their longevity is?

It's not really a secret. Longevity, by now should be commonsense among us all. What you need is a healthy diet, daily exercise, gratitude and red wine…in moderation.

So is life there really that idyllic? Surely there must be a few challenges to the 'dolce vita'?

Sure, it's idyllic but it also has its challenges. The biggest challenge for me was the common use of dialect or Gallurese in my town. Six years ago I didn't speak nor understand a word of Italian, today I am fluent in both Italian and Gallurese. It took a lot of work and a few tears of frustration and confusion but I pulled through.

Working in Sardinia has also brought challenges in that the island heavily relies on tourism, and bright blue skies. All jobs on the tourism front are seasonal, running from May to September, with the brunt of travellers arriving in August for ferr'agosto. This past summer I was 'lucky' to find a job for the month of August, yes, only August as a beach bar waitress. It was a great job the only downside was that it lasted only a month. Last winter I left Sardinia for a job in Cayman Islands because I couldn't find work Sardinia.

Is it an easy place to settle and make friends?

There were times when I had my credit card in hand and was ready to bail on Sardinia. It wasn't easy making friends. The islanders are extremely hospitable to foreigners and strangers, they will cook you tasty meals and pour you local wine until you can't walk home, but, at the same time, they are wary to let new people into their circle and society, it takes time and patience; once you're in, they welcome you like one of the family.

Sardinia always tops the list for its beaches. So which one is your favourite?

Tinnari is my favourite beach in Sardinia. Access is by foot or boat.

Now that winter is approaching, what's the atmosphere like compared to summer?

October to April sees few travellers, rain and a lot of grey skies, but it's during those dark months of autumn and winter when you can collect wild mushrooms and take long drives into the center of the island, because during the summer it's just too hot to think about a voyage to the center. A lot of people come to Sardinia and don't leave the coastline. There's a lot of magic and wonder in the interior of the island, I wish more people took the time to explore Sardinia from the inside.

Where would you take a visitor for a day for a real Sardinian experience?

To the heart of the island.

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Theft of sand from Sardinia’s beaches on the rise again – despite fines of up to €3,000

With the return of mass tourism this summer came a new increase in the theft of sand, pebbles and shells from Sardinia’s protected beaches, environmental campaigners say.

Theft of sand from Sardinia’s beaches on the rise again - despite fines of up to €3,000
A beach in Sardinia's Porto San Paolo. Photo: Daniel Slim/AFP

A campaign group called ‘Sardegna rubata e depredata’ (Sardinia robbed and plundered) estimated that at least six tonnes of sand had been taken from the island’s beaches this year alone, mostly by foreign visitors.

In 2017, it became illegal to remove sand, shells and pebbles from Sardinia’s beaches as they were classed as protected resources. People breaking these rules face fines of between €500 and €3,000 – and anyone caught attempting to take larger quantities risks a prison term.

But it seems that many visitors haven’t got the message, as sand theft – and the number of fines being issued to those caught stealing – has risen again this summer with the return of international tourists.

READ ALSO: What is Italy doing to protect its coastline?

In July alone, customs officers at Sardinia’s Alghero airport seized 1.4 kilograms of sand from the island’s beaches during systematic bag searches, the Ansa news agency reported on Tuesday.

Items found in the possession of departing passengers at the airport last month reportedly included numerous plastic bottles filled with sand, 743 sea pebbles, 43 shells and a rock weighing 1.2 kg. 

All passengers caught with the illegal souvenirs were fined, police said.

Campaigners said most culprits are foreign tourists who usually “don’t really have a motive”. 

“Perhaps to arouse the envy of friends and relatives, or to recreate the feeling of the holiday in their living rooms, or even to decorate a home aquarium,” the group wrote on its Facebook page.

“Some do it probably because there is such a sense of discomfort in having to leave the island. They try in a desperate way to take it with them, in their hands, instead of keeping the memories in the heart,” the group said.

In rarer cases, the motive for the theft appears to be profit – with reports in Italian media that bags of precious pink sand from Sardinia’s protected beaches are being sold online to “collectors”.

A couple of French tourists last year were caught trying to board a ferry with 40kg of sand in 14 large plastic bottles in the boot of their car.