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Locals will tell you that the only way to see Sardinia’s startlingly beautiful coastlines and rugged hinterland is to get out and hike.

And there is no better place to hit the trails than in the island’s wild east, where mountains collide spectacularly with the Mediterranean in the Golfo di Orosei and Gennargentu National Park. Here are three of our favourite half-day hikes.

Gola Su Gorropu
Often billed as “Europe’s Grand Canyon”, the Gola Su Gorropu is an isolated and dramatic gorge, best reached on foot from the Genna ‘e Silana pass on route SS125. Allow four to five hours for the round-trip trek.

The 10.5 km trail threads past starkly eroded limestone slopes, rock pinnacles and cliffs pockmarked with caves. Gnarled holm oaks offer cool respite on hot days, but otherwise the landscape is raw and uncompromising. As you descend, the view cracks open to reveal the entrance to the gorge.

The ravine has 400m-high walls of sheer limestone, which block out the sun and silence the world outside. Follow the cairns for some easy hopping across the boulders that surround the gorge. Near the narrowest point, which is just four metres wide, intrepid climbers tackle the notoriously tough Hotel Supramonte, a near-vertical limestone cliff which towers 400m above the Gola Su Gorropu and is one of the hardest climbs on the island. Pine martens, golden eagles and mouflon can be spotted here at quieter times of the day.

Cala Goloritzè
Doable even with kids in tow, this gentle two-and-a-half hour, 7.5 km round-trip hike takes you to the lovely bay of Cala Goloritzè, nestled in the southern crook of the Golfo di Orosei. The trailhead is the otherworldly Golgo plateau, where wild goats, pigs and donkeys graze.

Following old mule trails, the path picks its way through centuries-old woods and Mediterranean scrub that is fragrant with wild rosemary. As you approach the bay, you will get arresting views of the glittering sea and of sheer limestone cliffs pitted with caves. Steps lead down to Cala Goloritzè, a perfect half-moon bay with frost-white pebbles thrashed by a sea that goes through the entire spectrum of blues, from aquamarine to cobalt. Bizarre limestone formations soar away from the cliffs, including Monte Caroddi or Aguglia, a 148m-high finger of rock that is a beacon to climbers.

Tiscali
This 10.5 km hike takes you through a silent karst wilderness to the enigmatic Bronze Age settlement of Tiscali, accessible only by foot. Beginning at the Sa Barva bridge, the scenery is immediately spectacular, with walls of limestone rising like an iron curtain above the Flumineddu River. The boulder-dotted trail makes a steady ascent before passing through shady holm-oak and turpentine woods, flecked with pink cyclamens in spring. Lizards and the occasional bird of prey are likely to be your only companions.

A short final climb brings you to the eerie magnificence of the archaeological site of Tiscali, where skeletal ruins huddle in the twilight of a collapsed limestone cave. Survey the verdant Lainattu Valley below and appreciate the overwhelming sense of calm.

How to
Spring and autumn are the best times for hiking in Sardinia, with mild temperatures and plenty of seasonal colour. Invest in a good map as not all trails are signposted, though some are way-marked with handy cairns and paint splashes. If you would rather join a group, Cooperativa Gorropu and Cooperativa Goloritzè arrange guided walks for around 40 euro per person. A great base for hikers and climbers is the Lemon House in Lotzorai.

© 2011 Lonely Planet. All rights reserved. The article ‘On the trail in Sardinia’ was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.

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