La Maddalena is an archipelago off the North-East corner of the Italian island of Sardinia. This island group is part of a protected marine reserve that is characterised by azure blue waters lapping against orange rocky coastlines. It’s a remote place to explore beautiful bays by sea and land, with traditional Italian seaside living. La Maddalena is a modest gem in the Mediterranean that you need to see for yourself!
La Maddalena island is the largest and most accessible of the islands here. The main village is a beautiful pastel coloured town, with paved streets and alleyways set on a marina foreshore. Picture sailing boats, aperitifs in piazzas, church bells ringing, bustling crowds until late in the evening. This is La Maddalena.
How to get to La Maddalena
You can reach La Maddalena by flying into one of the 3 main airports of Sardinia, Italy. We recommend flying to Olbia Airport, as it’s the closest.
You reach the island of La Maddalena by taking a ferry from the little village of Palau, which is approx 1hr drive from Olbia airport. You can drive yourself there if you have a car (as the ferries take cars), or arrange a transfer, taxi or bus to reach Palau.
The ferry ride is around 20 minutes, and they run regularly through the day in the summer months. Once you arrive, you are right at La Maddalena village!
Note – staying in Palau is also an option that we noticed people doing. If you base yourself here, you can day trip via the ferry. We preferred staying on the island though, so we could experience the village of La Maddalena and be that little bit closer to the action.
How to get around in La Maddalena
This really depends on what you want to do while visiting the area. The main island of La Maddalena has roads, and you can also take a bridge over to neighbouring Caprera island (home to the popular Cala Coticcio beach). This means that you have plenty of beaches to access across both islands with a rental car, or a scooter.
There’s also the islands of Razzoli, Budelli, Spargi and Santa Maria. These can only be reached by boat – this means self hire rental boats or excursion day trips. And these spots are well worth it!
So if you don’t need a car generally for your Sardinia trip and plan on staying in La Maddalena and exploring mainly by boat, then a car might not be a good option for you. In this case you can hire a scooter for the day/s that you want to check out the rest of the island and also Caprera. We did this the first time we visited La Maddalena.
On our most recent trip to La Maddalena we did have a car. We travelled to a few places around Sardinia (see our Baunei Coast blog), and so had a hire car for the entire time. To avoid going back to Olbia airport to drop the car off, we drove to Palau and took the car over to La Maddalena on the ferry. Just check in advance to make sure you have somewhere to park your car at or near your accomodation. We stayed close just behind the old town and were told about a free public car park that worked perfectly. And then using the car (a small model mind you) to access beaches was perfectly fine as well.
When to visit La Maddalena
The summer months of July and August are usually the best for weather. Since you’ll want to be in the sea and at the beaches, warm weather is ideal. However if you want to miss the busiest periods, you might want to visit either side of this period in June or September.
Things to do in La Maddalena
Cala Coticcio Beach
Our favourite place in Sardinia! Nicknamed after the beaches of Tahiti, this tiny little beach has the clearest neon blue waters we’ve seen in the Mediterranean. It’s actually one of our personal Top 10 Most Beautiful Beaches. The beach is a perfect strip of sand in a tiny cove, protected by the surrounding rocky coastline. The orange hues of the boulders meet and perfect crystal clear blue waters. There are no signs of human development here. And apart from the odd goat and some sailing boats anchored offshore, it’s just you and a few other lucky souls here in paradise.
But, there is a catch.
There’s only 60 people allowed on the beach each day. This means that you need to pre-book with a guide to access the beach. This is a recent change to Cala Coticcio that many people don’t realise before heading here for the day (and being disappointed when turned around).
Back in 2019 when we last visited, there were no limits to visitation at Cala Coticcio. It was fairly busy, with people taking to the rocks to find a place to set up for the day. However the area is now protected in an effort to preserve the natural environment and maintain the sand on the beach that has been trafficked away from overuse.
So what you need to do is firstly contact any one of the approved Guides from this list and organise with them a day and time to visit Cala Coticcio. The guides don’t all work every day, so allow some time to find the best guide for your timings and the availability on the beach. The guided trips are usually 5 hours (including hiking time) are in the morning (from 8am or 9am) or afternoon (from 1:30pm or 2pm). The guide cost is approx 25 Euros, paid in cash before you start the hike.
Then you need to pay for the permit (3 Euro pp) directly to the Maddalena Park Authority here (your guide will give instructions on this since the website is all in Italian!).
Having to pay for a guide to visit Cala Coticcio might seem like a reason to avoid this spot. But honestly it’s worth it! It also means that there will only be a small group of people with you, so it feels even more like a scheduled paradise!
To reach the beach of Cala Coticcio, there’s a fairly steep 40min hike down to the beach. And it’s longer on the way back up because of the stairs and even a section of chain to hoist yourself up. Make sure to bring lots of water, as you’ll probably be going down or up from the beach during peak sun hours. It’s very hot with no shade and there’s usually no wind.
Boat Trip to the Islands
La Maddalena is an archipelago, so what better way to see this island destination than a boat trip!
The top spots to see are the islands of Razzoli, Budelli, Spargi and Santa Maria. And you might get to visit Cala Coticcio by the sea also.
Most boat trip itineraries have options to see the pink beach Spaggia Rosa (though its protected from people setting foot ashore), swim on white sand beaches at Spargi, and enjoy the ‘Natural Swimming Pool’ enclosed between the islands of Budelli, Razzoli and Santa Maria.
You can take a daily excursion trip, organised from one of the many vendors along the marina. This is the cheapest option, though as price goes down this means there’s probably more people on your boat for the day. There is also private excursions for those with more budget.
We chose to visit the other islands of the archipelago via boat rental, taking our own little RIB (rubber inflatable boat) from La Maddalena marina for the day. It costs around 120 Euro for the day, but having your own freedom to explore the islands has always been a highlight for us from this trip.
You can also decide to explore the islands of La Maddalena by sea in another way. Rather than spending multiple days hiring boats and organising trips, maybe consider a sailing trip for a week!
Check out our Sardinia Sailing Itinerary blog here.
Explore the Beaches by Road
As I mentioned earlier, you can visit plenty of beaches in this area without a boat. There’s a road that links La Maddalena island to Caprera Island, with both islands hosting amazing beaches and clear water swimming spots. In the summer months there can be days of strong winds, so taking a scooter or car to a more protected beach or cove is the best way to enjoy these days in comfort.
Some suggested beaches include Cala Coticcio, Cala Serena, Cala Garibaldi and Spaggia del Relitto on Caprera Island. On La Maddalena island, consider visiting Spaggia di Punta Tegge (with the restaurant Zi Anto right next door).
Enjoy La Maddalena Village
Although the marine environment gets the kudos in La Maddalena, the village of La Maddlena definitely deserves some attention in your itinerary. You can find night markets here, shopping, plenty of spots for apertivo and dining (see below), and amazing ambiance for a stroll in the evening with a gelato.
Where to Eat and Drink in La Maddalena
Best Breakfast Spots
- Georgio Bar – really good pistachio croissants & fresh orange juice
- I Vitelloni – for a more substantial breakfast. It has more options beyond the traditional Italian breakfast of espresso and a pastry that you’ll find most places.
Top places for Apertivo
- I Vitelloni – good vibes and fun music, in a really beautiful piazza. Reasonably priced Negronis and Aperol Spritz.
- Arutas Bistrot – trendy local spot to sit on the street and watch the world go by.
- Del Genovese – very cute spot down an alley way. Pesto pasta was great.
- Pizzeria Civico49 – the best pizza on the island. Doesn’t look like much but it’s amazing and super popular.
- Zi Anto – little restaurant by the sea a short drive from the centre of town. You can take the bus there, otherwise if you have a car we’d recommend a late lunch or sundowners here. Good option if you want some amazing seafood and a break from pizza and pasta!
- Dolci Distrazioni – don’t leave without having this every day, it’s so good!
- Sergeant Peppers pizza (recommended by locals).
- Gastronomia da Anselmo – pasta, meat, lots of home cooked meals to take away.
- Miro Dal 1841 – best deli on the island for pasta, fresh olives, cheese etc – great place to do shopping. It’s been in their family for 3 generations!
- La Focacceria Genovese – take away slabs of delicious pizza / focaccia. Very cheap & handy for the boat days.