The Land of Shepherds: Barbagia, Sardinia

We're climbing twisting roads on an Italian scooter, stopping at roadside trattorias for lunches of antipasti, drinking strong espresso in sleepy villages and dining on handmade pasta at secluded agriturismi. It seems like the perfect way to explore Barbagia, a wild, mountainous region of central Sardinia and one of the least populated areas in Europe.

Famous for its postcard-perfect beaches and azure waters, Sardinia has even more to offer when you turn inland. With its winsome villages where the Sardinian language and traditions are still very much alive, Barbagia is the island's heart and Barbagians - like many mountain-dwelling peoples - are famed for their pride and self-reliance.

Barbagia is a land of shepherds. We sample their typical fare in the soothing shade of oaks and junipers near Orgosolo, a tiny village famed for the socio-political murals that dot its colourful walls. Our hosts are making the rounds with jugs of chilled red wine and trays laden with simple snacks: bread, sausage, thick slices of pancetta and chunks of strong sheep cheese. It goes well with the deeply coloured, full-bodied cannonau wine - the daily drink of the Barbagians, made from the local Grenache grape. The main course is one of Sardinia's most renowned dishes: su porcheddu, a spit-roasted sucking pig, slowly cooked over hot coals. Roasted meat such as this is reserved for special occasions, pecora bollita (boiled mutton stew) being a more common Sunday meal.

At Turismo Rurale Filieri, a serene farm surrounded by rows of grape vines, we watch the filling of ravioli with sheep ricotta, formaggio fresco and wild herbs before dining on the pasta under the olive trees in the garden. Even roadside bars don't disappoint: they offer a selection of great snacks such as local cured meats, fresh sheep cheese, grilled vegetables and a moreish dish of wafer-thin pane carasau (toasted bread) baked with sharp pecorino sardo. Make sure to leave room for dessert; Sardinian cakes and sweets are the perfect finale to any meal.

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