Imagine a Sardinian village where every house is brightly painted with murals, and every street feels like a giant comic strip or a huge art reference book.
Most tourists who choose Sardinia go there because of the fantastic coastline with its azure waters and perfect white beaches. Like Australia, Sardinia seems to be an island which is only populated around the edges: very few venture into the interior.
Tourists who fly into Cagliari will be heading no doubt for the Costa del Sud or the Golfo di Cagliari to the east, but not many of them will go 20 or so miles inland to the village of San Sperate, a unique settlement which is a kind of living art gallery.
Village or Art Gallery?
San Sperate is a village of murals (describing itself as a paese museo) with a total of 320 large wall paintings. It’s rather like walking inside a kaleidoscope: even some of the trees are painted in primary colours.
Painting the walls of its houses was begun in the 1960s by the local artist Pinuccio Sciola on return from living abroad. Soon painters from other countries came to add their own different styles and techniques. The result ranges from trompe l’oeil windows, balconies and lines of washing, to historic scenes and copies of famous works of art. Sciola is also Sardinia’s best known sculptor, and there are examples of his work carved from the local stone, clearly related to the prehistoric monuments of Sardinian burial sites.
You don’t need to hire a car to get there: a bus from Piazza Matteotti will take you to the centre of San Sperate. Get off as soon as you see a mural of a large mask on the gable end of a house. This is a copy of a bronze Age mask actually found in the village and now in the museum in Cagliari.
Wander down that side street and you’ll see murals of life in San Sperate 100 years ago, a Picasso-esque house wall of distorted brightly coloured images, and an interesting high wall painted to resemble a space for hanging agricultural tools, painted so realistically with shadows that they look ready to be unhooked and used. One artist must have been a Piero della Francesca fan because there are several copies of his most famous paintings scattered throughout the village, including one next to the bakery with its rather more mundane image of an oven.
And if you need a delicious lunch after wandering round discovering all these murals, you need look no further than the modest trattoria on the main street which serves the most delicius ravioli in orange sauce.