Travel and Dining

Sardinia's Caves: Bue Marino Grottos and Grotta Verde

Bue Marino Grottos

Sardinia—the dream Italian island placed in the heart of the Mediterranean Sea—with its 1.840 km of coast, hosts several extraordinary grottos that, hidden since ancient times, have had to wait geological ages before being discovered and explored by man. And, in spite of human explorations, the beauty and charm of the grottos have remained unspoiled. 

Bue Marino Grottos

Among the biggest caves in Sardinia are the Bue Marino Grottos. Placed on the eastern coast, 4 km south of Cala Gonone, in the province of Nuoro, they are considered some of the most beautiful grottos in all of Italy, with kilometers of galleries, rivers and subterranean lakes, stalactites and stalagmites, fossils and Neolithic graffiti.

The name of these grottos comes from the appellative that Sardinians gave to the Mediterranean Monk Seal, which found here one of its last Mediterranean refuges and where it went to pup until the 80s. But it's supposed that, before this time, the grottos were used as human habitations, as a temple or just as a shelter.

Open to the public starting in the 50s, the grottos can be reached by sea, from Cala Gonone marina, with a 30-minute excursion by boat, or by land through a new road and a path that can be covered on foot. Approaching the grottos by sea, it's possible to admire the impressive chalky cliffs that fall sheer into the gulf's waters.

At the entrance of the grottos, a wood bridge leads to the 5 km-wide hole that is divided into two branches: the north one, dry and fossilized, and the south one, active thanks to a subterranean river still flowing. As soon as you enter the grottos, you can meet the first elements of great historic value, such as some graffiti dating back to the Neolithic period that show a series of human figures dancing around sun discs.

At the moment, only the south branch is open to public, and can be explored for about 2 kilometers. The guided tour lasts about half an hour, and allows the participants to admire the several particular formations of stalactites and stalagmites that, thanks to their shades, are able to create beautiful plays of light; the clear salty lake, one of the biggest subterranean lakes in the world with its 1 km surface; and the numerous fossils, above all oysters.

The guided tour stops here, and only expert speleologists can go on with the exploration within the massif of the marine Supramonte, where breathtaking natural beauties can be admired.

The north branch of the Bue Marino Grottos is very interesting and suggestive, but it's not open to tours and can be visited only with permission. The main attractions here are the little Smeraldo (Emerald) Lake, characterized by very limpid waters, and the candelabra hall, with its very characteristic calcareous concretions.

Grotta Verde

Another splendid grotto in Sardinia is the Grotta Verde (Green Grotto), located on the western coast of the island, not far from the famous Neptune's Grotto, in Alghero, in the province of Sassari. The entrance to the cave opens up in the eastern side of Capo Caccia, at about 90 meters above sea level, and is very wide, measuring about 50 meters in breadth and 15 in height.

In the past, the access to the grotto was difficult, because the cave could be entered from the top, through a path, or climbing from below, from a little beach beneath. Today the cave can be entered through steps that were built about 10 years ago and start from the overhanging street.

The grotto is named after the presence of stalagmites that, because of endemic organisms that live on them, show green fluorescences. Inside the cave, there is a dry section and a submerged or half-submerged one. The submerged area must be entered from a little crystalline lake, the Lago Terminale, called also Lago dei Graffiti, which has a temperature of about 13 degrees.

The bottom of the lake, plain in the first stretch, goes down vertically to 9 meters depth. Here you get, through a low pass, to the anteroom of a big hall that goes on downwards and opens up disclosing its large extent, 40 meters in length, 20 in breadth and 26 in height, to be added to the 13 meters height above the surface of the lake above. Concretions are visible anywhere, but the most interesting element is a very thin "spaghetto" that comes down from the top of the ceiling until a few centimeters above the surface of the lake.

The Grotta Verde has been explored for the last century. A lot of explorers tried to find a link with the close Neptune's Grotto, according to the legend that narrated about people going from one cave to the other through secret passages that haven't ever been found. The tracks that were found inside the grotto, as, for example, some prehistoric graffiti, helped date its culture back to the V millennium BC, and made the historians hypothesize that the cave was used as a burial site in the early and medium Neolithic period.

At the moment, the Grotta Verde can be visited only if accompanied by an authorized speleology team, because of unavailability constraints and its great archaeological value.

Roberta Spiga works for Sardinia exclusive hotels, a website committed to luxury holidays in Sardinia, which shows a collection of the island's luxury hotels, boutique hotels and villas.