9 GREAT REASONS TO VISIT ULASSAI
worth spending a full week-end
You can find a minimum of 9 great reasons to visit Ulassai and spend at least a full weekend there.
1 LECORCI AND LEQUARCI FALLS
Imagine a stream of fresh water gushing out of giant rock formation. That’s what you will find uphill from the town centre of Ulassai on your way to the Grotto of Su Marmuri. Lecorci falls might not be grand but is still terribly scenic.
Lequarci, on the other hand, is grandiose. You can reach the highest Sardinian waterfalls just 7 km south of town. The water comes splashing down a limestone amphitheatre almost 100 metres high. After heavy rains, the falls extend over a 70 metres wide rim and are loudly roaring.
On summer days you’ll notice the water is reduced in quantity but still extremely refreshing.
Follow the stream off of the bridge as it forms several smaller falls later followed by a series of natural swimming pools.
BONUS – SANTA BARBARA
Follow down the valley for a few more km and you’ll arrive at the Romanesque-Byzantine Church of Saint Barbara (probably XIV century AD).
The south side hosts the ancient yard where the saint used to keep her sheep and goats, called The Court of the Saint.
Visit in mid-May to join the three-day festivities with dances, songs, poetry reading, and more irresistible sweets than your diet could ever excuse.
On your way back to Ulassai stop for a moment to take in the beautiful green canyon and the Tacchi – rock formations that crown the valley with their steep walls. It’s not Monumental Valley but it’s as close as it gets in Sardinia.
2 SU MARMURI
Imagine an underground palace that over the last 250 million years the water has shaped drop by drop into a gallery of monumental masterpieces. That’s Su Marmuri, Sardinian for Marble.
Prepare to walk down one of the longest grottoes in Europe. In fact, it stretches about 1 km all the way to a huge natural hall more than 120 metres wide. Its ceilings aren’t low either. With 70 metres in height, you are going to feel like visiting a cathedral.
Make sure to pack a pullover as the air inside Su Marmuri, with its 10 degrees Celsius, is definitely on the chilly side.
Also, if you’re visiting in winter time, try to stay as quiet as possible. In fact, the grotto hosts the largest colony of bats in Italy, with over 20 thousand Miniopterus Schreibersii. Not that you’ll need reminding – you’ll be silently in awe most of the time anyway.
3 STATION OF THE ART (STAZIONE DELL’ARTE)
Ulassai was the hometown of Italian artist Maria Lai (1919-2013). In short, she was one of the most influential female artists of the XX century. Visit a most interesting exhibition at the former train station of Ulassai, now adapted into an original-looking museum.
By turning childhood games, poetry, philosophy, and history into apparently simple-looking everyday objects she brought her whole town closer to art.
More remarkably, after centuries of bloody feuds, she brought Ulassai’s inhabitants closer to each other through art.
Get inspired by joining one of the guided tours of the museum and experiencing first-handed how she elevated her hometown’s waving tradition into a universal language of hope and peace.
BONUS – OPEN AIR MUSEUM
You can tour Ulassai’s open-air museum thanks to fourteen major artistic masterpieces installed by Maria Lai over the years.
Her intent was to bring beauty to a village consisting of unfinished houses and hardened people. Take them for what they are meant to be – sources of reflection and inspiration to start us on the path of self-transformation.
4 LIVE LONGER WITH CULURGIONES AND CANNONAU
The majority of Ulassai’s inhabitants live over 100 years in good health. Did you know the village heavily contributes to one of the world’s five Blue Zones?
In fact, in Ulassai you can breathe cleaner air, drink fresher water, and eat healthier food. That includes Culurgiones, one the top 10 foods you can taste in Sardinia.
Order Culurgiones at any restaurant in the area and you will be served a ravioli type of durum wheat pasta filled with potatoes, garlic and wild mint. They are usually covered in simple tomato sauce and fresh Pecorino cheese – that’s the slightly salted Sardinian cheese made from sheep milk.
Now you’re probably wondering what wine to enjoy with them. You may try one of the strong red ones produced just 4 km away, in the Cantina di Jerzu. Their Cannonau, for instance, is a perfect pairing. Made from the grapes that grow in the Riu Pardu valley at the feet of Ulassai, it has been produced since before the Romans arrived here 2.500 years ago.
Jerzu’s Cannonau is ruby red with streaks of violet, emits a delicate aroma, and tastes dry and warm to the palate. As they say in Italian when drinking to someone’s health, Alla salute!
5 CLIMBING MECCA
With over 200 boulder problems – and more being added every month – Ulassai is a climbing mecca. In fact, you’ll find Ulassai surrounded by rock buttes that have vertical stone walls – they are called Tacchi in Italian. The climbing level goes from an easy 4s to a hard 8.
The main climbing area in Ulassai is called The Canyon, 10 minutes walk from the town centre. At The Canyon alone you’ll find more than 120 problems from an easy 4 to a nice 6 to an extreme 8.
At 800 metres of altitude and enjoying a refreshing sea breeze in the evening, you can climb all year round, even in summer when other locations get too hot.
If you’re not into climbing, or simply willing to mix it up with other activities, you’ll find several trekking and mountain bike routes all around the Tacchi’s natural reserves.
6 NATURAL MONUMENTS
10 minutes by car from Ulassai’s town centre you’ll arrive at the Scala di San Giorgio (Saint George’s Stairs), one of the top 10 Natural Monuments in Sardinia.
A long time ago Saint George, bishop of Barbagia and Suelli, was on his way to the small village of Osini. He felt so tired from the long road around the mountain that he prayed the rock to open up a passage. The mountain split apart and a new way – stair in Sardinian language indicates a steep mountain road – has ever since been available to travel from the River Pardu to the River Flumineddu valley.
35 minutes by car from Ulassai, on the other hand, will take you to Perda e Liana, also one of the top 10 Natural Monuments in Sardinia.
The silhouette of this particular rock formation might recall images of the American Monument Valley. That’s because of the similarities in the erosion process that led huge fragments of mountains to stand alone.
The Jurassic rock – it formed about 200 million years ago – was probably a place of devotion attracting numerous pilgrims in the Nuragic (1800 BC-400 BC) and pre-Nuragic periods.
More recently numerous folk tales identify the rock with one of the entries to hell. On full-moon nights, whoever wants to become rich can go to Perda e Liana where devils dance on the top of the rock and around its cone-shaped base and sell their soul. Might come in handy should you need extra cash for your holidays.
7 GHOST TOWNS
Did you know that just a few minutes away by car from Ulassai you can reach two of Sardinia’s biggest ghost towns? They are Osini Vecchio and Gairo Vecchio – Vecchio means old in Italian.
The biggest of the two is Gairo, which in ancient Greek literally means “land that moves”. At the end of the 1800s, many heavy rainfalls started causing landslides culminating in a terrible event in 1951.
The old town of Gairo was declared unsafe and the inhabitants moved to build a new village. Disagreeing about the new location, they split into three groups, each founding their own village. They are Gairo (the new village, just uphill of the old one), Gairo Tarquisara – a lovely little village reached by the Barbagia Express train that travels to Arbatax – and Gairo Cardedu, on the sea (today known simply as Cardedu).
The old Gairo has been left abandoned. You can tour its streets by walking among derelict houses and ruined buildings. While entering them is not allowed for safety reasons, you can look into many of them.
You’ll find empty rooms, abandoned utensils and toys surrounded by walls painted blue or pink as the fashion of the time dictated.
On autumn and winter days, when clouds are low or the fog envelops this part of the valley, you can really feel like you are in a parallel dimension, or on the set of a horror movie.
8 NURAGHE SERBISSI
This stop is particularly suited to history and nature lovers.
Dating back 4.500 years, Serbissi is probably the most interesting of the Nuraghe of the area. Just appreciate the precision and the geometry of the main buildings of this ancient castle-fortress, explore a natural grotto and later visit two Tombe dei Giganti – the collective tombs used millennia ago that were mistaken by tombs of Giants because of their size.
All the while taking in the grand panoramic views over green valleys reaching down to the blue sea.
9 WEAVING COOPERATIVE SU MARMURI
Did you know that Ulassai had no contacts outside of Ogliastra (i.e. nearby villages) until 1893 when the Sardinian government decided to build a railway terminating right there?
This means many of the ancient traditions were kept safe from outside influences and almost completely unchanged. Including the art of weaving by using the ancient hand loom.
Ulassai’s most talented women recently joined together to form a Co-operative, called Su Marmuri. You can go and visit the atelier where they weave linen, cotton and Sardinian sheep wool into tapestries, pillow covers, curtains, and placemats.
Many of them use the designs specifically made for them by Sardinian artist Maria Lai including the signs of the universal language and the baby goat. Get inspired by their precision and great passion.