Get your hands dirty in Sardinia

THESE days, you can hardly turn on a television without seeing somebody rummaging around in hedgerows, or cooking a meal with something they have just picked or plucked from a tree. Foraging is in. The idea of wandering around the British countryside in November looking for my dinner doesn’t exactly appeal – but doing so in the warmer climes of Sardinia is a different matter entirely.

It’s high foraging season there, and introducing me to the activity are Angelo and Archanegla, a husband and wife team who’ve carved out a cult following for their quaint hotel and restaurant, called Angelo and Archangela, near Monte Pinto. They don’t speak a word of English but their USP is simple: authentic Sardinian cooking.

The sun is setting when I arrive and there’s a warm breeze, a pleasant surprise in November after rainy London. I part the shutters of my room and am dumbstruck by a view over gardens and a dramatic rocky landscape. Then there’s the food. Homemade Sardinian bread sprinkled with salt and olive oil, homemade mushroom risotto, thick mashed potato with Parmesan and fresh salads. (I soon discover that the phrase “no carbs” does not translate.)

My foraging guide is Angelo’s son, Marco, who takes our group to a nearby forest, a hotbed for ovuli – mushrooms that look like bright orange lightbulbs – and porcini. Mushroom foraging is second nature to Marco, who has been doing it since childhood. He guides me around the dangerous varieties, while skillfully spotting the edible kind. We pick using blunt kitchen knives and collect the best examples in a basket. The mushrooms are beautiful and huge – they make Tesco’s efforts seem Lilliputian.

“Molto bene,” says Marco, before we head back to the restaurant to cook. The hotel is 1,700 feet up in the wind-carved granite hills of Gallura, and Angelo, the head of the family, is ready with fresh herbs and vegetables from his garden. He skillfully cuts and cleans the giant mushrooms, and before long we are collectively creating a culinary feast: fresh hand-made pasta is mixed with fried fresh mushrooms and garlic, and sprinkled with pecorino. Angelo also creates a simple mushroom carpaccio – wafer thin slices of mushroom drizzled in oil and rock salt. There are cured mushrooms, sautéed mushrooms, baked mushrooms – each made unique with fresh herbs and ingredients. We focused on funghi, but the place runs courses in everything from pasta to bread making. At different times of year they will also show you how to forage for asparagus. Marco, who with his brother owns a well-known restaurant, is always on-hand to explain things in English.

What follows the cooking session can only be described as bacchanalian-style gluttony. Guests sit with the group and we eat, drink, and talk in broken Italian for several hours before capping the whole affair with Mirto, a local version of sloe gin, made from Mirto berries in Angelo’s garden.

Sardinia in the summer is a playground for Russian oligarchs and their uberyachts, but when I visit it’s blissfully calm. The landscape is stunning. It’s craggy with dramatic hills, capes and valleys. The area near Olbia has several beaches with crystal blue waters, and winding roads that make for scenic drives. You can venture north to Alghero with its 16th Century Old Town still surrounded by the original wall and towers. The coastal views are glorious.

During my stay I visit Cagliari, a hilltop town in the far south, where locals sit outside sipping coffees amid faded architecture and cobble roads. I take a stroll and eat another decadent meal of grilled fresh fish and bruschetta in Da Paulo. On another day I also take a walk around Oristano, a small town with pretty boutiques and bars, and visit Da Silvia di Solinas Antonello, where another feast ensues, including salt-baked sea bass and homemade pastries.

You get the picture: Sardinians are serious about their food. The restaurants here are consistently good with an emphasis on fresh fish. Sardinian cooking is also getting a fantastic international reputation – six upscale Sardinian restaurants have opened in London in the last year.

Four days later, and several pounds heavier, I can see why.

1. The River Cottage in Axminster, Devon, offers day courses in seashore and hedgerow foraging alongside specialist courses in British mushroom foraging.

2. Lime Wood Hotel launches this month in the New Forest, offering sumptuous hotel rooms and foraging with top chef Alex Aitken.
3. The Foxhunter in Monmouthshire, the restauarant owned by chef Matthew Tebbutt, offers several day courses in foraging and cooking.
4. Quintessentially Gourmand offers foody holidays such as salmon fishing or truffle foraging in Italy. Quintessentially Travel also offers bespoke foraging holidays.
5. Top forager Mark Irving – supplier of foraged produce to chefs including Mark Hix and Jamie Oliver – runs courses in the greater London area with his company Forager.