Cagliari, overlooking the Golfo degli Angeli, is an ancient city founded by Phoenician traders. Long the heart of Sardinia’s political, economic, tourist and cultural life, it spreads across seven hills: Castello, Colle San Michele, Colle di Bonaria, Monte Urpinu, Monte Claro, Tuvu Mannu and Tuvixeddu. The city, which has preserved soaring towers and sections of the massive curtain walls which once encircled its medieval Castello district, has the largest and most important Phoenician necropolis in the Mediterranean, whose finds are on show both at the city’s Archaeological Museum and at the British Museum in London. The Botanical Garden, a green oasis in the heart of the old city, has a wide variety of tropical and Mediterranean plants. Cagliari is also a birdwatcher’s dreamland, thanks to its huge wetland areas of Santa Gilla and Molentargius, protected by the EU and the Ramsar Convention, with a rich and diverse wildlife, dominated by large colonies of pink flamingos.

In the heart of the city, the main monuments include the ancient Cathedral of Santa Maria and the Basilica of Bonaria. The city’s – and the whole island’s – main festival and historical pageant is the Festival of Sant’Efisio, Cagliari’s patron saint, held on 1 May. The long colourful procession, with groups in precious traditional costumes from all over Sardinia, on foot, decked carts and horseback, slowly winds through the city centre, accompanying the horse-drawn coach bearing the Saint’s statue. The Saint then proceeds out of town to the small church of Nora, where he was martyred, thus honouring every year a vow made by the Cagliaritani during the plague that struck the city in the 17th century. The festival ends on 4 May, when the Saint returns to Cagliari.