Gateway to Gallura, Olbia is a fundamental stop for anyone arriving in Sardinia from the northeastern part. A modern city, but at the same time with ancient origins, it has always been an attractive hub and the homeland of entertainment, which has grown significantly in recent years, striving to balance development with the preservation of its enchanting landscape.
History and Origins of Olbia
The earliest presence during the Bronze Age is confirmed by dolmens, menhirs, and megalithic circles dating back to 3500-4000 BC. The Nuragic civilization left its marks here, as seen in the Tomb of the Giants, the Nuraghe Riu Mulinu, and the Sa Testa well, all traces of ancient civilization in Olbia. From the 7th century BC, the area was inhabited by Phoenicians and Greeks, but it became a stable settlement in the 5th-4th century BC with the Carthaginians, who fortified the city with walls and defensive towers.
Under Roman jurisdiction, Olbia became the main center of the eastern Sardinian coast. Roads were paved, baths were built, and an aqueduct and a reasonably sized forum were constructed. The remains of these Roman works can still be seen today near the town hall and in the Tilibbas area. Also from the Roman era is the villa S’Imbalconadu and the wrecks of ships discovered in 1999 in the old port of Olbia, probably sunk during an attack by the Vandals, which nearly ruined the city.
The Gulf of Olbia overlooks the marine area of Tavolara and provides access to the entire Costa Smeralda. There are numerous turquoise coves in the area, including the four inlets of Porto Istana and the Lido di Pittulongu, the favorite beach of the people of Olbia. To the north, it borders Golfo Aranci, and along this stretch of coast, there are alternating rocky shorelines like Bados and Mare e Rocce, as well as white sandy beaches like Marina di Cugnana and Portisco. Heading south, you reach San Teodoro, where you can admire the ochre-yellow shores of Lido del Sole or other breathtaking beaches like Porto Istana and Punta Corallina.
Monuments and Archaeological Sites in Olbia
The name Olbia was chosen by the ancient Greeks, and “olbìa,” meaning happy, is one of the busiest and economically developed centers in Gallura. Contrary to popular belief, Olbia is not just about the sea and beautiful beaches; it also has much to offer from an archaeological perspective. While strolling through the streets of the city center, it’s easy to spot historical evidence confirming its glorious past, and archaeological excavations continue to uncover valuable artifacts.
The Archaeological Museum, located on the islet of Peddone, houses the most important historical discoveries, including a treasure of almost 900 gold coins and the remains and key pieces found in 450 Punic-Roman tombs.
The basilica of San Simplicio was built between the 11th and 12th centuries and represents the most important northeastern center of worship and the oldest Christian testimony in Sardinia. San Simplicio is the patron saint of Olbia and is remembered with a grand festival in May, including a procession and a costume parade. The church of San Paolo is in the Baroque style and is highly regarded for its multicolored dome made with splendid majolica tiles.
What to See Near Olbia
A small village halfway between tradition and glamour, just a short distance from Olbia and overlooking some of the most beautiful beaches of the Costa Smeralda. Also known as the “village of artists,” it preserves the bohemian spirit much appreciated by the directors of the James Bond series, who decided to film some scenes of the movie in these streets. San Pantaleo is located on the territory of Olbia, on the granite massif of Cugnana, surrounded by nature, not far from the trendiest destinations of the Costa Smeralda. The center is a true gem, where the white of oleanders contrasts with the granite pink of the buildings, and you can explore art studios, boutiques, and shops offering local products. On Thursdays, especially in spring, the village hosts a typical market that is one of the most beautiful on the island, where you can not only taste and purchase local products but also appreciate the works of painters, ceramists, goldsmiths, and marquetry artists who gather in San Pantaleo every week.
Like Porto Cervo, Porto Rotondo offers exclusive venues, a lively social life, and enchanting beaches. It is located between the Gulfs of Cugnana and Marinella and has a well-equipped harbor with 800 boat berths for tourists. Porto Rotondo was born from the entrepreneurial initiative of the Venetians Luigi and Nicolò Donà dalle Rose, who decided to turn this place into a fairytale destination. The Venetian style is clearly visible in the architectural structures of the central buildings and in the main square, appropriately called Piazzetta San Marco. Villas and multi-properties stand alongside luxury and ultra-luxury hotels, where famous personalities and high-profile figures from national and international finance choose to stay during the summer.