An Easy Guide to Sedilo, Sardinian Town Frozen in Time

Angela Corrias in Tharros Sardinia

Angela Corrias

I can’t remember how many times I’ve been to Sedilo, one of Sardinia’s most interesting and prettiest villages. Impossible to count them, really. It’s the village where my mom was born, where my grandparents grew up, met, got married, and lived until their sixth child when they migrated to France.

After more than twenty years of living beyond the Alps, my grandparents, especially my grandfather, couldn’t resist the call of his origins and moved back to Sedilo.

Although I’ve had a grasp of my mom’s French life by visiting my relatives in the country’s northeastern Lorraine, I’ve never really experienced it since when I was born she had already moved back to Sardinia herself. This is why I only got to experience her birthplace, probably more than she had herself.

My mom moved to France when she was five and she used to go back to Sedilo with her family only for the summer holidays. It’s hard to imagine Sedilo in the 1950s or 1960s, so different than it is now because, since my childhood up to now, it still is pretty much the same.

Image: Street art of a local artist in Sedilo, Sardinia.

Frozen in time

Sometimes, wandering around Sedilo feels like being whirled back in the past. Going out for a morning stroll at the Wednesday market, for example, is priceless. Grocery shoppers dart back and forth with bags brimming with all sorts of fruits and veggies, and everybody greets everybody as if they were either related or friends.

From time to time horses, very much adored in Sedilo, wander along the main road, aware locals stare at them in awe every single time. The same noise of horse hoofs I hear from my home when my concentration gets interrupted by the emotion of living in some yesteryear dimension.

And then public announcements come along, introduced by folk music and communicated to the townspeople via a megaphone, almost proof that even Sedilo is catching up with technology, otherwise, there’d still be the town’s crier.

Don’t underestimate the people here, Sedilesi are tough, the kind of blunt pragmatism that gets inside your DNA if you had to overcome the difficulties they have in a not-so-remote past. It has never been an easy town to manage, the obstreperous personality of the horses running S’Ardia, a ritual in the middle between sacred and profane, almost mirrors the temper of their owners, top-notch, reckless riders stars of the most dangerous festival in all of Sardinia.

Sedilo was extremely poor back in the 1930s, 1940s, and the immediate postwar years, which led many people such as my grandparents to look for jobs abroad.

Every summer my mom and her family would come to spend their holidays together with all their cousins here, probably made more memorable by the warm weather after all year spent under the snow of easter France. This is what led her and one of her sisters to decide to come back for good after her bachelor’s to enroll in the university in Cagliari.

After my mom’s tales, I could gather Sedilo was not much different in the 1960s, and talking to my grandma, even the ’30s and ’40s are not that far. The main difference? Roads today are paved and back then were not.

Same laid-back ambiance, same house doors always open so friends can come in without even knocking, same horses and donkeys wandering around, and same knife-grinder going past the streets of the village calling up housewives and workers.

Sedilo is only 13 km away from my village, Ghilarza, but the atmosphere between the two is completely different, people, mentality, and local costumes, in perfect line with Sardinia’s impressive variety of lifestyles, traditions, languages, landscapes, personalities, just like a real Continent rather than a single Italian region.

Image: Landscape of Sedilo in central Sardinia.

Sedilo’s landscape and daily life

Sedilo overlooks the Omodeo artificial lake and is crossed by the Tirso river. Given its ancient history began in the prehistoric era and carried on in Byzantine and Roman times, it preserves many nuraghes and archaeological sites.

This means that the natural environment, in both vegetation and wildlife, is very rich and diverse. The town is located in central Sardinia, therefore strategically close to ports and airports, as well as many renowned Sardinian beaches especially in the Oristano area, including those of Bosa (one of the most beautiful villages in Italy), Is Arutas, and San Giovanni of Sinis.

In this background of lakes and hills, the peaceful life of the village takes place, more or less, always in the same way.

Local culture and traditions

Life flows smoothly all year round, except when the time approaches for the festivals in honor of the most revered saints. Sedilo’s townspeople of all ages are strongly attached to their festivals, almost always of religious origin.

The most important festival is San Costantino which, among the main celebrations, includes the Ardia on the 6th of July, a wild horse race where about 80 riders participate and pay homage to the famous Roman emperor San Costantino. A festival that, I think, is in the DNA of every inhabitant of Sedilo.

For the occasion, in fact, hundreds of emigrants from all over the world return, each supported by faith in their “Holy Emperor”. In this regard, it is worth visiting the small church dedicated to the Saint, full of votive offerings from people who believe they have been miraculously healed. In this period, it is certainly among the most interesting Sardinian towns to visit.

But this, even though the festival par excellence in Sedilo, is one among many others. In fact, the feasts of San Basilio, San Giacomo, and Sant’Isidoro are also deeply felt.

A very heartfelt anniversary is the feast of Sant’Isidoro, celebrated on May 15th. This day reflects the purely agricultural soul of the town, symbolized by a procession of the faithful and the parade of festively adorned oxen employed in working in the fields.

Even the cult of San Basilio is a legacy of the Byzantine period in Sardinia. It takes place on the first day of September and is pure magic for children. In fact, it consists of a donkey race with prizes for the winners. And yes, there are still donkeys in Sedilo!

In addition to the major celebrations of the Christian traditions of Christmas and Easter, other deeply felt festivities are San Giovanni and San Giacomo, without forgetting, on January 16, Sant’Antonio Abate, with the lighting of the bonfire. During Easter, all the rites of the Passion of Christ are performed with great and moved participation of the population.

Image: Murals in Sedilo town in central Sardinia.

Sedilo land of superstitions and popular beliefs

Until not long ago, the bread was still made at home and it was customary for the women of the neighborhood to go and lend a hand to the housewife who had to bake on that day. And there the strangest stories were unleashed that are still occasionally told to children.

As the making of the pasta began at midnight, the landlady had to be very careful about who knocked on her door 10 minutes before the agreed appointment and under the guise of a kind neighbor. This is when the story turns into a surreal dialogue. Here’s how my grandmother has always narrated it to me:

  • Who are you?
  • You don’t know? I’m Maria, your neighbor!
  • Why are you alone? Why didn’t you come with Comare Peppina?
  • Comare Peppina said she can’t come.
  • Ah, all right, I’ll open the door now, give me a moment.

At this point the shrewd housewife peered as best as she could to see the evil mark of the Mastringannu, so instead of the human feet of Maria, the paws of a monstrous animal. Exposed, the evil being could only run off.

This story in Sedilo is told in another version. This time, the danger loomed over the unsuspecting farmer who returned from the fields at dusk. Also in this case, Mastringannu disguised himself as a friend and asked for a ride on the donkey. And even in this version, the worker was saved provided that he managed to see the beastly paws of the impostor in time.

Another strange ritual that I have witnessed for years and which dates back to the mists of time is the one taking place on the evening of November 1st. My grandmother used to set up the dining table with all the plates and several lights lit. She even served the dinner she had prepared with care, including a nice flask of red wine. This dinner was intended for the dearest deceased of our family. Of course, in the morning the dinner had disappeared, which meant that our deceased had appreciated it.

Image: Typical houses in Sedilo, Sardinia.

Things to do in Sedilo

Visit its churches

Among the things to see in Sedilo are its seven churches, including the small country church dedicated to San Costantino. Located on the Monte Isei hill in a setting of great beauty between the countryside and Lake Omodeo, the sanctuary of San Costantino welcomes prayers and requests for help from the faithful all year round. But it is in July that the area comes alive with the festival dedicated to the victory of the Roman emperor against Maxentius.

Not to be missed for those curious about sacred architecture is also the church of San Giovanni Battista, the seat of the parish, San Basilio, Santa Croce, and Sant’Antonio Abate.

Explore its archaeological sites

Ranging from the Nuragic age to the periods of Byzantine and Roman domination, the archaeological sites are interesting landmarks of the area. One interesting ancient site is the Iloi Park, a Nuraghic complex with a trilobed nuraghe, a village, and some giants’ tombs ancient necropolis.

Ancient history enthusiasts cannot leave without visiting the nearby Ispiluncas necropolis which contains dozens of domus de janas (fairies’ houses), some of the Sardinian sights still much shrouded in mystery.

Explore the nature

Sedilo is also a place for nature lovers who can enjoy routes to be traveled on foot, by bike, or on horseback through the territory around town.

Image: Horse race of S'Ardia in July in Sedilo, Sardinia.

See the Ardia during the festival of San Costantino

If you are in Sardinia at the beginning of July and you are a lover of local festivals, you cannot miss the San Costantino festival in Sedilo. Although the celebrations are held from the 5th to the 7th of July, the 5th is a more intimate day mainly concerning the locals, while the 6th is the day of the Ardia horse race, one of the most famous in all of Sardinia.

The race takes place around 7 pm at the sanctuary of Saint Constantine but the celebrations start in front of the main church where the parish priest blesses the riders. All moments are interesting and certainly fascinating for those studying anthropology and folkloristic traditions, but if you want to be sure of finding a place with better visibility for the race, I recommend skipping the initial part at the church and going to the sanctuary in advance.

If, on the other hand, you want to experience all the moments of the celebrations, join the locals at the church and reach the sanctuary in a procession with the residents, the horses, the parish priest, the mayor, the local authorities, and the musical band.

Although the horse race may seem reckless and the route dangerous, what happens two weeks later is as risky even though there are no horses involved. In Sedilo, it’s known as S’Ottada and is the same race but this time it’s run by people on foot. This time, outsiders can participate. I have done it myself a couple of times and each time I have made memorable falls.

Image: Formaggi Pes local cheese in Sedilo, Sardinia.
Sheep milk cheese of Formaggi Pes in Sedilo

Taste the amazing local cheese

Formaggi Pes has been producing top-quality organic cheese since 1975. And since one of the reasons why one travels to Italy inevitably includes the local food, a visit to their shop is a stop that a tourist cannot miss.

This local company manages a dairy in an enchanting valley nestled between typical Mediterranean mountains and hills. Their sheep’s milk cheeses are produced according to the Sardinian dairy tradition and include aged, semi-aged, fresh, spreadable, and ricotta cheeses.

Formaggi Pes ensures tourists a multi-sensory experience of flavors and tradition that promises a sumptuous lunch and excellent shopping opportunities for themselves and for gifts to bring to friends and relatives.

  • Where: Via Maria Ausiliatrice 37, Sedilo
  • When: Monday to Saturday 9 am-6 pm (Saturday until 5 pm), Sunday closed.
  • Phone: +39 (0)785 59687
  • Email: info@formaggipes.bio
  • Website.

Don’t miss the craft beer

In what was a historic tzilleri (bar or tavern in the Sardinian local language) of Sedilo, today there is the Horo brewery. Born a few years ago from the passion of a young brewer, Horo produces high-level craft beers with a genuine flavor.

Among the beers produced, you will find different types such as the Pilsner with the bitter taste that defines it, the dark-colored and caramelized Monaco, the Weizen, the Bock, the black Schwarz, the smoked Rauch, and many others.

When visiting the brewery, you can also have a tasting of local dishes mainly based on meat, cheese, and other traditional products locally sourced.

  • Where: Via Santa Croce 10, Sedilo.
  • When: Every day 11 am-3 pm and 6 pm-12 am. Closed on Thursday. To eat 12-2.30 pm and 8-11 pm
  • Phone: +39 339 6034 422
  • Email: info@birrahoro.it
  • Website.

Book a horse-riding trip

If you like horses, you will never want to leave Sedilo. The Sedilesi adore horses and take care of them as if they were family members.

The Rionazza Equestrian Center organizes horse riding excursions for both expert and less experienced riders. Depending on the level of experience, the route changes.

For the less experienced, excursions are organized in Iloi around the village while the more experienced can go horse riding at Lake Omodeo which is a more demanding route. To book you must call a few days before.

  • Phone: +39 329 4922 867
  • Email: info@centroippicorionazza.it
  • Sito.

Where to eat in Sedilo

Sedilo is not huge, so there is little choice of restaurants. The largest and most well-stocked is Da Armando, which serves excellent meat and fish dishes. Located slightly outside the village on the road leading to the SS 131 (Google Maps), in the summer you can eat outside with a beautiful view of Lake Omodeo and the surrounding countryside.

Inside the town, there is the Alcatraz pizzeria (Via Martiri della Libertà, 1) much appreciated by the locals, as well as the Carapes Saloon pizzeria, gastronomy and rotisserie (Via Carlo Alberto, 1).

Where to stay in Sedilo

Let’s say that you are enchanted by the silent and old-time atmosphere that reigns in Sedilo and you want to stay there for the night and more so if it is during one of the village festivals. Don’t worry, if you are planning a trip to Sardinia for the first time, here you will find comfortable and welcoming rooms to rent. Here are some.

  • B&B Catedda – Comfortable well-stocked and furnished rooms, here there is also a garden where guests can relax.
  • Lichitu – The rooms in this accommodation are air-conditioned and guests can use the shared living room and kitchen equipped with an oven, stove and fridge.
  • Domuspes – This is a holiday home complete with all comforts, including a well-stocked kitchen, a flat-screen TV, a spacious bathroom with Jacuzzi, living room and garden. The accommodation has access for the disabled.

How to reach Sedilo

Sedilo is a stop for a few ARST buses, the regional Sardinian transport company, but if you want to be more independent and manage your time with more flexibility, your best bet is to rent a car as soon as you land in Sardinia, whether this is by ferry or by plane.

Reaching Sedilo by car is actually fairly easy because it’s just off the SS 131 highway that you can take from both Cagliari in the south and Olbia or Porto Torres in the north of the island, depending on how you get to Sardinia.

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