holiday hotspots: HOLDING OUT FOR ALGHERO; Sunkissed Sardinian resort is steeped in history.
THOUSANDS of Brits are swamping Sardinia thanks to an amazing host of cheap flight deals.
And it's little wonder when the Mediterranean island offers great beaches, amazing bars and restaurants and spectacular countryside.
Alghero, in the north west, is an ideal base from which to explore the island's famed Coral Coast.
The city was ruled for four centuries by the kings of Aragon and Spain and is still proud of its roots.
The 43,000 inhabitants all speak Italian but more than half are also fluent in Catalan.
Street signs are bilingual and the architecture is also similar to that once found in northern Spain.
Even the red and yellow flags of Alghero match those of Catalonia.
It's hardly surprising that the people of Barcelona love visiting this home from home.
There's a warm welcome for the Brits, too, cashing in on regular Ryanair services from Stansted, East Midlands and Liverpool.
As you approach town on a ten-minute drive from the airport, the turquoise waters of the bay of Porto Conte sparkle on your right.
The cathedral and its Gothic belltowers dominate the skyline of the old town which is packed with cobbled streets and winding alleyways.
Many visitors head straight for the three-mile main beach or a smaller one at Le Bombarde to soak up the sun.
But we preferred to head further afield and hired a car to explore the region.
One of the island's most amazing sights is the Bronze Age settlement, the Nuraghe of Palmavera six miles west of the city, where the homes are conical towers found throughout Sardinia. Many of the 50 buildings, which housed 200 villagers, are still in excellent condition more than 3,500 years on.
They were constructed on three-storeys with layers of rocks used to create their conical shape.
We walked round the ancient village then paid a pounds 2 fee to take a closer look inside the homes.
The ruins at Angelhu Ruju, six miles north of Alghero, are also fascinating.
Admission is again pounds 2 and allows you to wander around the ancient tombs known as the domus de janas (houses of fairies or witches) where burials and pagan festivals took place 5,300 years ago.
The tombs were carved from sandstone and were only found by accident in 1903 when developers cleared the field for a winery.
Sardinia is a great place to try a drop of the local tipple as we discovered at the Sella and Mosca vineyard.
The owners offer an organised tour of their 100-year-old oak barrels holding up to 20,000 litres of wine and you get a free tasting at the end.
By far the most popular attraction in the area is the Neptune Caves 13 miles west of Alghero.
Here 150,000 visitors a year gaze in awe at the Lamarmora Lake inside the caves as well as the labyrinth of passages.
Stalactites and stalagmites have made the caves look more like Santa's Grotto. There's even one in the shape of a Christmas tree! A high watermark in the cave shows global warming isn't just a modern phenomenon.
The sea was 12 feet higher 125,000 years ago and remained so for thousands of years until the level gradually dropped.
Heading south from Alghero, you can enjoy the scenery of the rugged coastline with its dramatic cliffs and rockpools where children can hunt for fish.
A one-hour drive would take you to other charismatic sights at Bosa, Castelsardo, Stintino and the Nuraghe of Torralba.
But I would advise any tourist to enjoy lunch at Sa Mandra, ten miles north of Alghero.
Here you can enjoy a vast array of starters such as shellfish, cheeses, bread and hams before tucking into ravioli and polenta then a main course of roast suckling pig.
For dessert try the Creme Catalan washed down with a bottle of local wine.
Each course is served in a replica of the conical nuraghes and is a real bargain at pounds 22 a head.
Back in Alghero there are loads of stylish restaurants specialising in freshly-caught seafood.
At the Al Refettorio trattoria in the old town you can expect to pay around pounds 25 a head for a three-course dinner including wine.
Eat out to enjoy the sun or duck inside if you find it unbearable.
Alghero is famous for its red coral jewellery and its exquisite gold filigree work.
On the outskirts of the city you'll find the factory shop of Antonio Marogna, selling examples costing from a few pounds to thousands.
Other souvenirs worth snapping up include a bottle of limoncello liqueur or the pungent percorino sheep cheese.
We left with our suitcases piled high with gifts and were genuinely sad to leave behind this hidden Mediterranean gem.
But after getting a cheery wave goodbye from the hotel staff, we knew we'd be back for an Alghero's welcome in the future...
FACTFILE: A double room at the Alma Hotel opposite the main beach at Alghero starts from pounds 60 a night.
Ryanair fly to Alghero three times a week from Liverpool, four times from East Midlands and daily from Stansted. Prices begin at pounds 30 return. For further info click on www.ryanair.com
For further info on the Alghero region visit www.comune.alghero.ss.it or call 00 39 079 997522. They speak English.
AVOID climbing 654 steps to the Neptune Caves by taking a boat from Alghero. It reaches the grotto at ground level and costs pounds 9 return.
LISTEN to classical music in the cloisters at San Francesco's Church, Alghero. Or enjoy live pop at Poco Loco Bar.
CLIMB the cathedral's belltower (cost pounds 1.50) for great views of the sunset.
TRY the delicious freshlymade pizza.
ROLL WITH IT: Traders sell cheese at market stall; TUCK IN: Try the delicious local dishes such as Pane Frattau; BOAT LOADS: Yachts line the town's colourful harbour; ALL GO: The busy port and old town of Alghero are full of character