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April 29, 2017

Sardinia: Grotta di Nettuno

Gigi leads the way to the grotto.

Twenty-five kilometers from Alghero Sardinia is Grotta di Nettuno, one of the region’s popular attractions. Neptune’s Grotto is a 500-meter long stalactite cave. Fisherman discovered the cavern in the 18th century. In 1959 the cave opened as a tourist attraction.

Modern visitors can access the grotto either by boat or by taking a staircase with 654 steps down from a parking area at the top. Tour boats run frequently during the tourist season. However, when we visited in November, the boats had stopped running on a regular schedule. We had no choice but to use the cliff-hugging steps to access the cave. In our opinion, the steps are half the fun. In the absence of experience to the contrary we figure it is the best way to visit the grotto.

The view of the steps from the top

For our dog Gigi the steps were more than half the pleasure. To Gigi the cave was boring. Despite our best attempts, our world-traveling dog has acquired no appreciation for the finer points of geology. On the other hand, running up and down steps is now and has always been big fun.

We arrived at Grotta di Nettuno just after lunch. It was the middle of November and we were the only visitors, which was odd for a popular destination. The guide based at the mouth of the cave explained the situation: Ryanair had stopped service to the region’s airport in a dispute over a small service fee increase that had been added after Alitalia pulled out. We were told that the loss of airline service had devastated the local tourist economy.

The walkway clings to the side of the bluff.

The guide’s claim did speak to the power that low cost airlines have over tourist destinations. European Union rules prohibit local governments from incentivizing airlines to provide service. If the rules were not in place localities around Europe could very easily be caught in an uncontrolled bidding war to lure in low cost flights with their scores of tourists.

In any event, the absence of tourists at the cave was our gain. We visited Grotta di Nettuno on what was effectively a private guided tour. The cave is a spectacle and the seaside location of the grotto is unlike anything that we have seen. It’s well worth the visit, if you can get there without an airline flight.

Inside the grotto

Best to stay on the walkway

Gigi, always in the lead

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