Selvaggio Blu. Italy's Toughest but most Beautiful Trek

From Val Badia to Pedra Longa

I was born and grew up in Val Badia and right from a child I got to know the mountains. I remember one really special Sunday when I was climbing up the Civetta along the ‘via ferrata’ (route equipped with fixed cables, ladders and rungs) with my father and saw persons who were free climbing. I was struck by what I saw and decided I wanted to do the same. And so I did, both summer and winter, passing more and more time in the mountains until one day it became my job.

Last summer a group of boys from Bologna, who I had accompanied on a hike in the Nature Reserve Puez-Odle, told me that they wanted to go to Sardinia to do a trek in the Selvaggio Blu (Wild Blue), specifying: “It’s the toughest trek in Italy with sections where climbing skills are required, finding the route is not easy and we would like to do it with an Alpine guide”. I was immediately interested in the proposal even though it caught me unprepared. In fact I had never travelled the Selvaggio Blu and my information was limited to the memory of articles I had skimmed through in the past.

When the summer season in the Dolomites ended, I decided to go and see the Selvaggio Blu for myself. I bought a couple of guidebooks and a map, downloaded some information from the web and set off.

I spent my time on the ferry to Olbia reading. My books told me that the Selvaggio Blu had been conceived back in 1987 by Peppino Cicalò (President of Cai Sardegna – Italian Alpine Club in Sardinia) and by Mario Verin (photographer and mountaineer) and year by year has attracted ever more interest. The original intention was to seek a route which started at the pinnacle of Pedra Longa, following the tracks left by the charcoal makers who lived and worked among these crags and ravines until the '60s and travelling as much as possible along the cliff tops, and ended at the beach of Cala Sisine. Cicalò and Verin succeeded in their intent but only after many months of exploration. Hikers who wish to travel the entire route (it takes from 5 to 7 days) need to be fit, capable of direction-finding, adaptable (always camping outdoors) and experienced climbers.

The only feature common to the whole island is its diversity

But it’s what I read on the back cover of one of my books that made me happily anticipate this trek: “From the moment you leave Pedra Longa, having taken a few steps off the asphalt road you will be immediately engulfed by untamed nature. From then on your point of reference will be the blue of the Mediterranean on your right.”

I had no idea what it means to enter the wild in this corner of Sardinia, I thought of the wildest places that I have seen during my globetrotting and imagined something similar. It did not take long for me to realise that it was impossible to make comparisons: everything is different in the Selvaggio Blu and you have to reason differently in order to move in these mountains.

With regard to diversity, I read that the only feature common to the whole island, from an environmental point of view, is its very diversity and there are no less than three elements which characterise the biodiversity of Sardinia. Firstly, its geographical position in the Mediterranean, one of the Planet’s biodiversity “hotspots” boasting an outstanding variety of rocks and geological formations. This geomorphological diversity is accompanied by an environmental diversity with different habitats and animal and plant species. The third and most obvious element is the island’s insularity, making a genetic exchange between Sardinian plant and animal populations with those of other regions impossible. Sardinia is therefore a unique and precious place, abounding in exclusive endemic species. However, you have to bury deep into its nature to appreciate the many habitats and forms of life, which is what I would do in the following days.

From Santa Maria Navarrese to Cala Sisine

My walk started at Santa Maria Navarrese, a coastal district of the Municipality of Baunei in the southern part of the Orosei Gulf, which forms a bay extending approximately 40 km with rugged cliffs and sheer calcareous walls to be seen everywhere. My books told me that the Orosei Gulf is a great nature site due to the presence of a high number of endemic and rare plant and animal species both along the shoreline and on the cliffs as well as in the high internal areas. For example, up until the seventies the coast between Cala Luna and Cala Sisine was one of the last places of reproduction in Italy for the monk seal. There have been whales in that very same stretch of sea in the last few years, confirming the high biodiversity of the Gulf.

An easy path took me to the pinnacle of Pedra Longa, I climbed up towards the S'erriu Mortu cave and then travelled along the beautiful, panoramic Cengia Giradili (narrow rocky path across the mountainside) as far as the shepherd’s hut Duspiggius (+760 m climb, 8 km). From Monte Ginnircu to Bacu Tenadili (bacu means valley), I continued amid shepherd’s huts and iscal'e e fustes (juniper ladders made by shepherds) as far as the breathtaking inlet of Portu Pedrosu and then took an easy path to end the day at Porto Cuau (+210 m difference in level, 7 km).

On the second day I saw deep rugged ravines and enjoyed magnificent views in the Serra D'argius and from Punta Salinas. I followed the dirt road which goes down to the white pebble beach of Cala Golortizè (+570 m difference in level, 7 km). The deep gullies I encountered, were carved out by ancient rivers that have now disappeared or were swallowed up by the overlying karst plateau. This sequence of bastions towering above the sea is broken up by countless coves, which look out over an emerald colour sea. Many sections of the coastline are inaccessible not least due to one particular feature - the codule, which are streams that have cut deep canyons into the rock.

The third stage of the trek was more challenging. I climbed up the steep stony valley of Boladina to reach Serra Lattone, where I could see the entire route to the north. I then descended towards Bacu Mudaloru, enjoying my first abseil in the process. The plant landscape is a succession of evergreen scrub and woodland consisting mostly of juniper and holm oak trees, while oleanders grow alongside the streams (+600 m difference in level, 5 km).

From Bruncu Urele to Bacu Su Feilau and, using the Scala Oggiastru, up to the shepherd’s hut of Mancosu. From there I could look down and admire Cala Biriola where the fourth stage ended (+400 m difference in level, approx. 3 km, with two abseils and various grade III and IV climbs).

Through a curious cleft in the rock, called Sa Nurca, and then after another two abseils, I arrived at the wood of Biriola followed by the wood of Orrònnoro. After the panoramic track of Su strumpu there was some climbing and four abseils before reaching the enchanting white beach of Cala Sisine, where my fifth leg finished (+100 m different in level, 4 km).

With just one more day of easy walking I could have reached the village of Cala Gonone via Cala Luna and Cala Fuili. But for this year my Selvaggio Blu ended here.

I did it. The toughest trek in Italy is behind me. I hope that the beauty of this well hidden and inaccessible route always maintains its indistinct paths, technical difficulties, nights spent in a cave beside the fire and its unique, wild nature. I will return as soon as possible.

Ingo Irsara, is an Alpine guide and ski instructor and has been an Alpine Guide national instructor since 2009. He lives in Badia in Val Badia, in the heart of the Dolomites.

Paola Finali, "Photography has always been my passion and instinct from an early age and by the time the dream of turning a passion into a profession is realized".