This time, our tour of Italy through the oldest cafes of the Bel Paese takes us to Sardinia, on a trail of discovery of the historical cafes of Cagliari: unique places with a timeless atmosphere.
The main city of Sardinia, a busy Mediterranean port for many centuries, has always been a hub for trade and the latest trends. As in many other Italian cities, here too, cafes soon became the meeting place favoured by high society, especially following the exile of the court of Savoy in 1799. And, in fact, the city’s oldest café was opened in the nineteenth century, which is where our journey begins.
Antico Caffè, Piazza Costituzione
To be specific, it was 1838 when a Ligurian trader named Lazzaro Canepa founded Bar Lazzaro. In 1855 it became known as Caffè Genovese before taking the name it is known by today: Antico Caffè.
This historical café in Cagliari is located at the foot of the Bastion of Saint Remy, a 19th century fortification set in a key position in the heart of the city: Piazza Costituzione, where the main streets of the historical centre of Cagliari meet, including Via Garibaldi, Via Mazzini, Via Sulis and Viale Regina Elena.
Its style is still elegant today, sporting a charm that has continued to mature with age. Its terrace with tables outside is surrounded by the original railing in cast iron erected there in 1890, made by the prisoners of the penal colony of San Bartolomeo.
The long list of illustrious customers who have graced the tables of Antico Caffè over the years have included: D. H. Lawrence, Sibilla Aleramo, Grazia Deledda, Emilio Lussu, Gabriele D’Annunzio, Salvatore Quasimodo, to name but a few. Today, the historical café is protected by the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities.
In 1996, a complicated dispute with the owners of the building looked as if it had put the historical café out of business. Instead business continued to boom, and more than ever! The café in Piazza Costituzione changed its name to Antico Caffè, and the owners also reopened Caffè Genovese in another historical square in the city.
Caffè Genovese 1838, Via Logudoro
Following a short period of closure, in December 1997, Giuseppe Rivara, the heir of Caffè Genovese, who had managed the business for decades, decided to continue the tradition of the historical café in Via Logudoro, opposite the Basilica of San Saturnino, the most ancient church in Cagliari, overlooked by the splendid dehors of the cafe.
Traditionally, the strengths of Caffè Genovese 1838 are its fine espresso and classic pastries. Its wide range of delicious delicacies includes favourites such as the marengo (meringue and cream), the sacripantina (a traditional cake from Liguria) and ice-cream cassata.
Caffè Tramer, Piazza Martiri d’Italia
It feels as if time has stood still when you walk into the ancient Offelleria Svizzera di Vittorio Tramer & C, open since 1857 in Piazza Martiri d’Italia: the bar, shelving, decorated vault, price lists and burgundy glass sign are all the original fixtures and fittings. It is the result of a long tradition that earned the historical café of Cagliari its classification as “Historical shop” by the Sardinian Region in 2013.
Caffè Tramer owes much of its fame to its traditional meringues, still produced today with the exclusive recipe of its founder, a pastry-chef who had brought it with him from Switzerland. A white fluffy cream in crunchy, melt-in-the-mouth meringue, a treat paired with a piping hot espresso or a hot chocolate by the café’s sweetest-toothed patrons.
Caffè Svizzero, Largo Carlo Felice
Caffè Svizzero is one of the oldest cafes in Cagliari, open since 1880 in Largo Carlo Felice. Designed by architect Dionigi Scano, it is located in the wonderful Palazzo Accardo and is extremely rich from an artistic perspective.
The historical café has maintained its elegance and retro atmosphere over the years, a vibe confirmed by its interiors: large stone vaults, a wooden bar, original fittings and prints dating back to the late 19th/early 20th centuries.
And its charm is also enhanced by a few old stories. One is that Caffè Svizzero is said to have been haunted by no less than seven ghosts, including a priest, a boy named Luigi who was searching for his shoes, and the original owner, Mr Devoto. The latter was said to have a thin moustache, an elegant suit and hat. He was not a suffering spirit, but simply wanted to continue serving his customers their coffee!
What a fascinating history! After Cagliari, your journey through time continues in another Italian city: discover the historical cafes of Florence, a city with a long tradition.