Going Naturally Modern?








© Daniele Puddu /


The image of Sardinia as a green tourist destination has exploded the last three or four years. It is enough to google “ecoturismo Sardegna” to become aware of the fact, and multiple articles in distinguished foreign magazines hail the beauty and the virginity of new destinations like the Gallura and Ogliastra regions, the Maddalena Archipelago national park and the Molentargius near Cagliari, just to mention a few.

But the continued real estate exploitation of the coast-and inland and its recurrent lack of respect of environmental and geological concerns – of which the flooding catastrophe of this autumn was a consequence – maintains a lingering malaise of an ecotourism that sometimes seems slightly too superficial and too marketing driven to be a real engagement for the future.

The island is at a tipping point. Its industrial past is long forgotten. The mines are closed and the big companies have moved back to the mainland. The Sardinians are acutely aware that a new dynamic needs to be found for the magnificent but economically stricken region. And, as for so many peripheral regions in Europe, its drawbacks in the form of low density of population, isolation, and lack of industry as well as infrastructure are also its greatest attractions in the form of untouched, magnificent nature, calm and authenticity.

The challenge will thus be to balance the tipping point to the latter, increasing the access without losing the uniqueness and confidentiality. Green tourism is definitely a promising path to take with this purpose in mind. However, until today, despite a range of policy-and communication campaigns, not enough effort has been invested either by the region or the private players for this movement to really take a hold.

In effect, there have been state initiatives in the form of the creation of natural parks and tougher legislation for coastline developers. But, as explain Jala Makhzoumi and Gloria Pungetti in their book Ecological Landscape Design and Planning (Spon Press, 1999-2005), the implementation of this legislation is too poorly controlled on the ground, allowing a multitude of unpunished infractions. Furthermore, the authors state that not enough planning is made on regional level, with the involvement of the population – leaving a sense of shattered initiatives so different from what happens on another eco-island, Gotland, that we talked about in an earlier article, where governmental policy seems to go hand-in-hand with individual aspirations.

And individual initiatives are indispensable. Because they are the ones that transform the countryside village from a desolate, uninteresting place in the middle of nowhere to an attractive meeting point for sports, good food, culture or just seekers of scenery and space. Alessandro Melis, one of our biographies this month, is the very example of these game-changers. His personal investment in the development of mountain biking, allowing strangers to experience this activity in the very best way possible, transforms the beautiful but arid and wild Sardinian mountain into a playground. The change is radical, pragmatic and measurable – in this case, in terms of increased number of visitors and bike-farers. And, as a positive side effect, it increases the sensibility of the value of the natural resources within the population.

Despite this, there are not one single practical incentive for small entrepreneurs, may it be in the form of subsidies, tax incentives or start-up support. It is a good thing the Region, through their entrepreneur task force, takes advice from the different actors that actually get involved and promote the countryside – it is another to support and magnify the movement so that other young Sardinians can see their future on the island as well.

Today, Sardinia is in crisis. The present leadership of the island is lobbying Rome and the EU to become and “Integral Free Zone”, with the right to establish its own taxation independently, in order to favour company creation in the region. This would, of course, be good news for entrepreneurs. One would have to be beware of the possible secondary effects of the establishment of an “IFZ”, though, which could just as well stimulate the old time coast development as the sustainable one.

Small initiatives can make a world of difference, as we have already shown through a number of articles of People and Places. Changing the world is not always about million-dollar schemes – under the condition that you have engaged people at hand: people committed to a place and to a certain way of life. People stubbornly engaged in order to stay optimistic.

Sardinia’s big scale luxury tourism has proved little fruitful for the majority of the population, and has been one of the main factors for the destruction of the coastline’s ecological balance. A living countryside – may it be on the coast or the inland – would trigger a different type of economy, with a plentiful of private actors developing locally, in a potentially sustainable manner. People like Alessandro already know this, and understand the importance of creating networks and helping each other to make the whole Sardinian experience a better one, attracting a new kind of visitor, craving for nature, beauty, activity – and for meeting a population that transmits the Region’s rich culture and past and believes in its future.

We do sincerely hope that the tipping point will fall on the right side for Sardinia. It is a unique region with a mind-blowing potential, still little explored, with its very own particular, European personality, built through the encounter with a multitude of cultural spheres during different phases of history.

Because that is what Sardinia has always been -  a meeting place. We hope that it will now live up to its role and explore its potential to the full. It is very much worth it.


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