Page Type Page Type: Mountain/Rock
Location Lat/Lon: 41.02000°N / 9.47000°E
Additional Information Elevation: 2133 ft / 650 m
Sign the Climber's Log


Punta Cugnana photo_id=89991

Punta Cugnana (650m) and neighbouring Punta Balbacanu (420m) are typical mountains for the northeastern part of the island of Sardinia (Sardegna). Built from red granite they form bizarre formations due to a typical erosion form called Tafoni (see the section below for an explanation). These erosion forms are typical for the islands of Corsica and Sardinia but of course occur in other places as well (like Gem Canyon in Utah. They are a tourist attraction in Corsica where a narrow road winds through one of the most pitturesqe regions I know, the Calenche de Piana. You can admire a couple of the formations on the Capo d'Orto and Capo di u Vitullu pages.

I selected Punta Cugnana not because it is remarkable in its height but rather because it offers some very typical views of the bizarre, masklike formations and is very easily accessible. Climbing these formations sure is fun. You'll be able to reach the tops with class III climbs and there are a lot of bouldering possibilities. Nevertheless the area is not so much known for climbing, probably due to the fact that many of the formations have razor sharp edges. You'll probably better stay back and admire. (The Calenche de Piana in Corsica, on the other side is a climbing region with a lot of short climbs for beginners).

One more note: the trails wind through the Sardinian macchia - the undergrowth typical for the mediterranean islands of this area. It consists mainly of wild roses, raspberries, thistles, nettles but also spice bushes like rosemary, thyme and sage. This should give you an inclination of what I want to say: you better wear long pants just to reduce the bloodletting. I didn't and just barely survived :-)

Punta Balbacanu

Punta Cugnana photo_id=90053

Having missed our way to Punta Cugnana - don't follow any blue marks!!!) we climbed halfway up on Punta Balbacanu before we found out. Unfortunately that meant struggling through the Macchia undergrowth with short pants - and consequently lots of scratches and bruisses. Nevertheless it meant many pictures :-)

Tafoni - the typical erosion structures of Corsica and Sardinia

Punta Cugnana photo_id=90008

The northeastern part of Sardinia is composed of a large variety of strange looking rock formations, all having been formed by ages of erosion. Similar structures can be seen in the Calenche de Piana in Corsica and through pictures at SP I have recognized them in faraway parts of the world as well. For example see the elephant structure in Gem Canyon that Scott Patterson posted. In Corsica this kind of erosion is called Tafoni, derived from the Corsican word tafonare for "perforate". In most of the cases Tafoni have been hollowed out in a semi circular fashion.

The actual process occurs mainly in very hard rock like granite and porphyry. Usually these rocks show what in Germany is called "Cotton Sack Erosion" - smooth and round surfaces the best examples of which are Half Dome or Moro Rock. The rock erodes in sheets since moisture can only penetrate the uppermost skin of the rock.

On the contrary Tafonis occur when water is permitted (by porousness) to penetrate deep inside the rock. The process is a combination of physical and chemical erosion forms. Through capillary forces moisture within the rock is allowed to climb to the surface of the rock. Since the fluids dissolve part or the inner rock structure they can deposit these minerals on the surface which form a very hard but also very thin outside crust. In the course of time the effect weakens (or softens) the inner rock structure while the outside crust gets harder and harder.

Once the crust (mainly iron and manganese oxide) is broken and wind and rain can erode the inner and softer rock, the latter is eaten away rapidly (at least on a geological scale) like the innards of your regular breakfast egg. Since moisture will stay longer and since evaporation is occurring less on the shadowy northern parts of the rocks the crusts there remain very thin and can get broken much more easily.

The whole Tafoni process takes very long and today's Tafonis have been being created since the last ice ages.

Your average nightmare

When voting on the Capo d'Orto page desainme wrote:
This mountain is a real attention grabber with great photos of rocks that could have taught P. Picasso or Henry Moore about sculpture!

Right he was but I would rather compare these structures with the paintings of Breughel and Bosch: nightmarish structures that resemble the average gargoyle on gothic cathedrals. Perhaps the medevial archithects got inspired here ....

More weird rocks

Punta Cugnana  photo_id=90084Punta Cugnana  photo_id=90085Punta Cugnana  photo_id=90086Punta Cugnana  photo_id=90087Punta Cugnana  photo_id=90088

Getting There

Sardinia can be reached either by plane or by ferry. The main ports are Porto Torres and Olbia in the north and Arbatax and Cagliari in the south. Airports are at Alghero and Olbia in the north as well as (again) Arbatax and Cagliari in the south. For exploring the northeastern part of the island where most of the mountains are the best entry point is Olbia, which is where most flights go anyway.

Approaching the mountain from Olbia airport
Get on motorway SS131 north around the city of Olbia on the western side. At the intersection with SS125 turn north onto it and follow it until the village of Santa Lucia where you turn northwest on SP73. This will lead you eventually to the village of San Pantaleo, where the trail around Punta Balbacanu and Punta Cugnana starts.

Capo d'OrsaPunta CugnanaMonte LimbaraPunta MaggioreCala LunaPunta GiradiliMonte AlboSupramonteGennargentuCodula della LunaBaccu Maore

Interactive map of Sardinia and its mountain regions. Click on the regions, red triangles (mountains) or stars (gorges).

Capo d'Orsa

Sardinia's best known landmark is itself another Tafoni structure: The bear of Capo d'Orsa (which by the way gave the name to the capo). It is a red granite structure which seen from the south resembles a huge red bear. You'll find Cap d'Orsa some 40km north of Punta Cugnana near the port of Palau. Be aware that it is a popular tourist location. Lots of people, lots of cameras clicking and a €1.50 parking permit.

Red Tape

No red tape to be found anywhere on the island. Near the bear of Capo d'Orsa (see section above) you will have to pay €1.50 for the parking permit (1h). Once out of the villages the region is quite lonely. You'll only meet hikers who are also interested in the rock formations (most of them German because there is a frequently used guidebook with a tour in the area).

When To Climb

All year round. There are no limitations here. Day temperatures never fall below 7 or 8°C so you'll encounter no snow or ice here

The best seasons are spring and autumn, summer being far too hot in most of the places. I personally would recommend late spring since we encountered gazillions of flowers (among them lots of orchids) just about everywhere.


Accomodation... rather easy to find. Since all the interesting mountaineous regions are on the north and east coast - which is where the largest beaches are - you can book hotel rooms and appartments from any tourist office. The region around Olbia or Arzachena in the north should be the best staying places since they are rather central to most of the interesting locations.

... is also easy to find in the vicinity of the beaches. Look for locations, using Here go for the link northeastern area. Free camping is frowned upon so only do it in remote areas.

Weather Conditions

Go for the following link, which is in Italian but with ALL the information you might want to have on weather on the island:

Head for the "meteo" button and then on the "Bollettino dettagliato" link in the left frame.

Sea of Flowers

In spring all of Sardinia turns into a sea of flowers. I have never seen as many different types of orchids as there. Everywhere you step you must be aware of crushing something beautiful. The region around Punta Cugnana is covered with macchia. Lots of wild roses and spice bushes everywhere around. Take a deep breath and smell.....

Maps 'n' Books

As for Maps I used only a road map scale 1:200000 since the guidebook I used has maps and is really quite good. Don't be fooled by the durations they state, you'll be much faster but the "getting there's" and "route description's" are very good.

The book is:
Sardinia (Sardegna / Sardinien)
M. Omidvar
Rother Verlag
ISBN: 3-7633-4800-X (English)
ISBN: 3-7633-4143-9 (Italian)
ISBN: 3-7633-4023-8 (German)



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Sardegna / SardiniaMountains & Rocks