Sardinia's Neptune's Grotto

Neptune's Grotto features stalactites and stalagmites, miles of lakes and delicate displays of rock By: Mindy Poder
Organ pipe-like rocks hang from the ceiling of Neptune’s Grotto. // © 2012 Mindy Poder
Organ pipe-like rocks hang from the ceiling of Neptune’s Grotto. // © 2012 Mindy Poder

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Under the sea on the western Mediterranean island of Sardinia, Italy, is Neptune’s Grotto, one of Europe’s most famous caves. The route from the nearby port of Alghero to Capo Caccia, where the grotto is located, hugs the coastline for nearly the entire drive, offering top-down views of the shimmering royal blue waters, including the bay of Porto Conte, surrounded by dramatic cliffs and lush foliage. In order to access the grotto, guests must descend (and later ascend) the 654 steps to the entrance. Called the goat’s steps, they are the perfect complement to the underground wonderland that awaits. The steps, which were cut into the cliff’s wall in the 1950s, allow for an immersion into the surroundings and provide unparalleled views of the cliff interacting with miles of sky and water from all angles and heights, interrupted only by the occasional seagull.

The caves, however, are the main attraction. Replacing the jagged limestone cliffs and deep blues of the sea and sky are organ pipe-like stalagmite and stalactite — limestone formations made from years of dripping freshwater — entirely enveloped by a golden hue and reflected by a clear, 390-foot-long lake. Especially enchanting are the eccentric concretions, thin threads of calcite that appear to defy gravity and branch off in every direction — intertwining and creating delicate tangles of rock.

Learning about the formation of the rocks and the history of the grotto enhances the experience, so make sure to time visits with the grotto’s hourly English-language tours. Guided walking tours cost $16 for adults and $8 for children.

Groups with children or visitors who cannot climb the steps may choose to arrive by boat. Vendors are located at the Alghero dock and charge about $13 for the trip to and from the grotto, not including admission to the caves. The entrance to the grotto is only one mile above sea level so, if the water is too high, the boats will not disembark, meaning that guests will miss out on the grotto itself. For clients in adequate physical shape, I advise traveling from the port of Alghero to Capo Caccia by public bus, which, at $5.50, was the cheapest option and actually quite clean and spacious. Only 12 of the 44 seats filled up during my trip, allowing for a comfortable 45-minute ride. Bus tickets can be purchased at the box office located south of the park in Alghero, which is a short walk from the port. Visitors should double check bus times and make sure that they leave enough time to comfortably ascend the grotto stairs. I left Alghero at 9:15 a.m. and returned by bus at 12 p.m., which afforded me plenty of time to enjoy Neptune’s Grotto and spend the rest of the day strolling through the old town of Alghero.

After an active morning, Alghero’s waterside restaurants, offering fresh pasta, seafood and wines, are especially quenching, while the old town’s architecture and churches provide a charming backdrop.

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