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ON D.H. LAWRENCE’S SARDINIAN EPIC TRAIN TRAVEL

get aboard the green train for a timeless ride across Barbagia

LAWRENCE’S WANDERLUST

“Comes over one an absolute necessity to move”

That’s what D.H. Lawrence wrote at the beginning of his book Sea and Sardinia (1924). And if you have ever felt wanderlust flowing through your veins, you know what he’s talking about.

In this article, you are going to explore the very itinerary that Lawrence and his wife covered in 1921. In particular, you are going to learn about timetables, what to pack, prices and a preview of all the stations on this extraordinary adventure.

LAWRENCE’S EXPERIENCE vs YOUR EXPERIENCE

Lawrence was ecstatic when he first arrived in Sardinia. However, his travel experience wasn’t much fun for two reasons. For once he travelled in January with bad weather. And secondly, he did not have any guide. Did he like it? Oh yes, he very much enjoyed Sardinia – and complaining about everything un-English too.

Does this mean that your train travel on the trail of Lawrence will be boring? Were Lawrence and his wife correct in asserting that there’s nothing to do?

Well, let’s try and find out

THE GREEN TRAIN – YOUR MEANS OF EXPLORATION

Lawrence and his wife arrived with the ferry to Cagliari and from there they took the train to Sorgono – the end of the line – before continuing by bus to Nuoro and then Olbia. Can you take the same train that Lawrence used in his travel? Yes and no.

The original coal trains used to cover the route are kept in Cagliari as historic timepieces. However, the special narrow gauge railway is still open every summer and you can ride a 1958 train through the Sardinian countryside.

And because this train touches stations immersed in the green vegetation of cork-tree and holm oak forests, Italians call it Trenino Verde, Little Green Train.

 

WHERE DOES THE ITINERARY START?

Let’s start where Lawrence started – in Cagliari.

“And suddenly there is Cagliari: a naked town rising steep, steep, golden-looking, piled naked to the sky from the plain at the head of the formless hollow bay.

It is strange and rather wonderful, not a bit like Italy.

The city piles up lofty and almost miniature, and makes me think of Jerusalem: without trees, without cover, rising rather bare and proud, remote as if back in history, like a town in a monkish, illuminated missal.”

At the central train station of Cagliari, you may find a Koppel coal locomotive. That, however, will take you to nowhere as the narrow gauge railway only starts from the Monserrato train station. Let’s, therefore, cross the street to the bus terminal and buy a ticket there to Mandas, where you can board the green train.

Your bus leaves at 17:09 to arrive 73 minutes later in Mandas. Click here to check your departure time

Alternatively, you can take a bus from Piazza Repubblica in Cagliari at 06:55 (arrival in Mandas at 09:37) or 16:00 (arrival 17:42).

 

SHOULD I REACH MANDAS BY CAR?

If you are thinking about renting a car, that’s a great option too. From the bus or train station in Cagliari, take any bus or train to Cagliari airport and collect your rent-a-car.

You can find a link to all rent-a-car companies at Cagliari Airport at this link. And you can compare prices at this link.

By renting a car you’ll have the opportunity of exploring Barumini on the evening before your train trip.

 

WHAT TIME DOES THE GREEN TRAIN LEAVE FROM MANDAS?

The trains organised by the Regional Authority for Transportation – ARST – usually travel on Sundays. You can check their schedule here.

However, there are charter trains called Barbagia Express that can be booked in advance together with an English speaking guide. These trains leave at 09:30-09:45 and cover the whole route before coming back at about 19:00

Frieda and DH Lawrence
Frieda and DH Lawrence, 1923 - U. of Nottingham

SHOULD I TAKE THE ONE-DAY TRIP OR BOOK MY RETURN ON A DIFFERENT DAY?

That’s up to you and mainly depends on how much time you have.

By booking your return on a different date you can choose a small village and linger for a day or two in the Sardinian countryside relaxation.

On the other hand, the one-day trip offers you a travel back in time with several stops and excursions. For instance, you can choose to go for a trek into a lush forest or opt for an instructive museum visit.

It’s true, you won’t see everything worth seeing, but that’s rarely the case in any tour. However, you can be assured to experience the best of it. Lawrence himself might have wished for a tour like this.

 

HOW MUCH DOES THE ONE-DAY TOUR COST?

A single ticket from Mandas to Sorgono and return with the Barbagia Express costs Euro 150,00 per person including an English speaking guide and a full Sardinian meal.

Please write in advance if you have any food allergies.

 

HOW DO I PURCHASE MY TICKET?

You can purchase your ticket by contacting Monica at Tel and Whatsapp +39-331-412-6886 or monianna21@gmail.com

 

WHAT SHOULD I PACK?

There’ll be stops along the route so that you can enjoy an Italian espresso or a refreshing drink. However, you should pack some water and a light snack.

Or do like Lawrence and his wife, who packed a small bag – which they call “kitchenino” – with:

“Methylated spirit, a small aluminium saucepan, a spirit-lamp, two spoons, two forks, a knife, two aluminium plates, salt, sugar, tea – the thermos flask [filled with hot tea], the various sandwiches [bacon, and scrambled eggs], four apples, and a little tin of butter.”

Now, there’s no need to pack a portable kitchen as, unlike during Lawrence’s travel, lunch is provided.

Travel light but bring with you your phone or camera to shoot some nice photography – remember to tag KeepExploringSardinia.

Optional – bring your paper or digital copy of Lawrence’s Sea and Sardinia with you.

 

WHAT DOES THE ITINERARY LOOK LIKE?

Imagine leaving from cultivated fields and travelling slowly uphill into a natural wilderness. There you’ll adventure into spectacular landscapes that cannot be reached by any other transportation means. As Lawrence writes:

“Soon we begin to climb to the hills. And soon the cultivation begins to be intermittent.

Extraordinary how the heathy, moor-like hills come near the sea: extraordinary how scrubby and uninhabited the great spaces of Sardinia are. It is wild, with heath and arbutus scrub and a sort of myrtle, breast-high.

Sometimes one sees a few head of cattle. And then again come the greyish arable-patches, where the corn is grown. It is like Cornwall, like the Land’s End region. Here and there, in the distance, are peasants working on the lonely landscape. Sometimes it is one man alone in the distance, showing so vividly in his black-and-white costume, small and far-off like a solitary magpie, and curiously distinct.

All the strange magic of Sardinia is in this sight.”

 

IS THERE A GENERAL FEELING TO THIS JOURNEY THAT I CAN RELATE TO?

You’ll visit green valleys crossed by rivers, lakes made for fishing, cork-tree forests inhabited by mouflons and wild pigs.

You’ll cross end-of-the-XIX-century bridges and traverse narrow tunnels dug into the raw stone to arrive at small villages where time stood still.

As Lawrence puts it when comparing it to Italy:

“Sardinia is another thing. Much wider, much more ordinary, not up-and-down at all, but running away into the distance. Unremarkable ridges of moor-like hills running away, perhaps to a bunch of dramatic peaks on the southwest.

This gives a sense of space, which is so lacking in Italy. Lovely space about one, and traveling distances – nothing finished, nothing final. It is like liberty itself.”

 

So yes, there is a feeling you can relate to, and that is of discovery and freedom.

 

Curious to know more? Here below you can have a look at the 12 stations you’ll be travelling to.