This Little-Known Italian Island Boasts Unspoiled Beauty And White Donkeys

There's a reason that Rome, Florence, and Venice are considered some of Italy's best, but have you ever heard of Asinara? Wild and untamed, this breathtaking Italian island sits just off the northwestern coast of Sardinia. Stretching 20 square miles, its remote landscapes may not be a place any locals call home (aside from a few park rangers), but it does draw an impressive number of tourists to its shorelines. Interestingly, a species of small albino donkeys are a prevalent sighting and can be seen traversing the valleys of Asinara Island. One of the most stunning islands in the Mediterranean, it's renowned as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a national park that boasts a captivating marine reserve. 

A prominent fishing and shepherding village founded in the 1600s, its roots as a thriving agricultural community still remain strong and are utilized by Sardinian locals. The island's remote isolation has allowed its natural terrain and wildlife population to flourish. While certain parts of this island are restricted to visitors in an effort to maintain its preserved state, guided tours, hiking trails, sun-soaked beaches, and local farms create an idyllic day-tripping spot to relax and recharge in the peacefulness of nature. While summer promises the warmest temperatures and prime beach weather, spring is the prettiest time to visit, when the island's lush vegetation is in full bloom, painting the landscape in a bright montage of reds, greens, and pink-colored hues.

Soak in the silence and solitude on Asinara Island

Limited cell reception, (mostly) car-free roads, and nothing but the salt-kissed breeze piercing the air makes it all too easy to escape the hectic stress of daily life on Asinara. Cala d'Oliva is a small settlement (and the main village) on this island that's the closest one can get to modern civilization. Seasonal workers, forest rangers, and tourists are the only ones who inhabit this tiny seaside village. With not much more than a restaurant, a bed and breakfast, and two powder-white beaches that offer a secluded coastal escape, it's enough to call home for a few well-spent days exploring the island's shores. If you're planning to stay a few days, La Locanda del Parco is a cozy blue and white-trimmed bed and breakfast perched on the edge of the seabed. Surrounded by lush Mediterranean scrub, this quaint abode looks like something straight from the fictional island of Kalokairi in the film "Mamma Mia."

With two main beaches towards the north and south ends of Asinara, soak in the warm, soothing saltwater before heading inland to travelerblog the island's diverse flora and fauna. For a post-beach hike, the Holm Oak Trail is a breathtaking hiking trail that stretches a total of 8.5 miles, wrapping around the interior of Asinara National Park. The majority of this trail is remote, and it's unlikely hikers will come across other wayfarers. Beginning near the village of Cala d'Oliva, hikers ascend Punta della Scomunica, the highest point on Asinara Island. 

Asinara: An island rich in natural assets (and a donkey or two)

It's unlikely that visitors to Asinara will leave without spotting a glimpse of a wild Asinara donkey. While it's unknown for certain how the Asinara donkeys came to roam this land, there have been a few hypotheses surrounding their origins. It's possible the donkey's ancestors were imported to the island. Some believe they were forced to survive here due to a shipwreck when they were being transported from Egypt to France. Another theory suggests the present-day albino donkeys are the result of a genetic mutation from Sardinia's native gray donkey that eventually led to their snow-white coats and bright blue eyes. 

Regardless of how the Asinara donkey came to exist on the isle, they've become some of the few (if the only) full-time residents on Asinara. Today, there are over 120 Asinara donkeys on the island under the care of the Sardinian Forest Authority.

There are not many restaurants on Asinara itself, yet there's one local establishment on Sardinia's mainland that capitalizes on the land's prolific harvest and is worth the short trek on your departure from Asinara Island. Situated on the Sardinian coastline gazing out at the Gulf of Asinara is Tenuta Asinara. Originally launched as a breeding farm for donkey and cattle, it's now a sustainable agricultural brand that functions as a farm-to-table kitchen and winery. This unique estate reflects Asinara's sacred terrain, cultural traditions, and bounty of local, organic produce.