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The Costa Smeralda may contain most of Sardinia's tourist attractions, but the first sight many visitors see as they enter Italy's second biggest island is the ferry port of Olbia. Countless cruise ships and ferries dock here from Naples, Civitavecchia and numerous other locations throughout Italy. On land, however, car rental remains the easiest way to explore this 'happy town', which is the English translation for Olbia.
Who to Book With
Nowhere else in Olbia contains more car hire choices than its airport, whose seven car rental establishments include an Italian company called Maggiore alongside familiar international chains like Budget and Hertz. Palarent is another Italian company where customers can rent vehicles, both in person and online, within Olbia itself.
Best Time to Go
Olbia and the rest of Sardinia are inexpensive places to visit, even during the high summer tourism season. Car hire in Olbia is among the biggest expenses visitors will face during their Sardinia stay, especially during summer, when vehicle and hotel rates are both at their annual peak. Olbia becomes even cheaper and less crowded in autumn and spring, when temperatures are frequently still warm enough for sunbathing on Sardinian beaches.
Need to Know Essentials
These are the mandatory documents for taking possession of rental cars:
- A valid national driver’s license for European Union residents
- An International Drivers Permit for non-European Union residents
- A passport or other secondary photo identification
As Sardinia's main gateway to the Italian peninsula, Olbia stands at the crossroads of three national roads and one major motorway. Visitors can easily drive to Nuoro and Cagliari along the SS131 expressway, the SS125 national road to Palau, the SS199 national road to Sassari, or the SS127 national road to Tempio Pausania. Although driving in Olbia is usually quite easy, motorists must still watch out for poorly maintained roads filled with potholes and reckless local drivers speeding along the town's narrow, hilly and winding roads.
Most visitors to Sardinia enter the island through Olbia, either by sea at the town's bustling port or by air at Olbia International Airport, just a 17km drive south of the city. The rail and bus stations are conveniently situated next to each other, and the town also contains a fair amount of taxi companies. Walking, however, may be the best way of all to travel along Olbia's narrow streets, many of which are lined with lively sidewalk cafés.
Olbia's rail station is located at the old town's northwestern corner in Via Giacomo Pala. Trenitalia operates Sardinia's main rail service, of which Olbia rail station plays an important part. Trains travel frequently from Olbia to half a dozen other Sardinian rail stations. The current passenger terminal will soon be replaced by a new station better able to handle the nearly 450 people who use the town's rail service each day.
ASPO manages Olbia's urban bus service and the town's main bus station conveniently stands behind the rail station. Buses to and from the nearest beaches are available during the summer, but buses also stop at various other locations throughout Olbia and the rest of Sardinia at cheaper rates than taxis all year long.
The taxi rank in front of Olbia International Airport's arrivals area is just one of many places where visitors can board taxis willing to transport them across the town. Passengers should, however, use only officially licensed taxi companies like Taxi Olbia or Marco Dessini Taxi instead of the unlicensed drivers who try to solicit business in several Italian airports. Official taxis, on the other hand, are coloured white or yellow and operate on the same metered system as elsewhere in Italy. The standard fare for the 17km journey between Olbia and its airport is about £12.60.
Many visitors make a beeline for the Costa Smeralda's famous beaches not long after entering Olbia, but the town's own national archaeology museum, Roman aqueduct, and medieval churches are worth further investigation. The castles of Pedres and Sa Paulazza are two more historic buildings situated just minutes outside Olbia by car, while many of Porto Cervo's buildings would not feel out of place in Morocco. The tiny island of Tavolara south of Olbia is a more peaceful alternative to the busier Costa Smeralda.
Porto Cerve (pictured above) - The best place to rub shoulders with Sardinia's richest and most famous visitors is the Mediterranean fishing village of Porto Cervo, the unofficial capital and only sizeable town along the nearly 56km-long Costa Smeralda. The sunset views of the community's many Moroccan style buildings are especially spectacular.
Castle of Pedres - This majestic castle has stood on the same granite hill only a few miles south of Olbia since the 12th century. The road for Loiri will quickly transport motorists to this historic landmark where the Pisans, Genoese and Aragonese fought over control of the region for centuries. The greatest panoramic view of Olbia awaits visitors who climb the slippery granite stairs to the top of the tower.
Palau - The community of Palau, located about 30kms northwest of Olbia near Sardinia's northernmost point, is most famous for its world-class windsurfing. Visitors can also hike to Bear Rock or take a 15-minute boat ride to the charming La Maddalena island.