Climbing Via Ferrata to Pan Di Zucherro in Sardinia (Sentiero Dei Minatori)

Pan di Zucherro

Pan di Zucherro highest cliff, the second arch, and a person standing at the top for scale.

Pan di Zucherro

Pan di Zucherro (Scoglio Pan di Zucchero) is a little island off the coast of Masua in the Iglesias region in Sardinia. It is one of the most remarkable natural monuments in Sardinia. It got its name – Sugar Loaf, because in the evening light it looks like a piece of bread with sugar sprinkled on it. But the evening colors are not the only thing that makes this huge rock in the sea a sight to see. I didn’t even notice them to be honest :). The small island of Pan di Zucherro is surrounded by huge vertical cliffs on all four sides. It looks like a huge unconquerable fortress built to guard the entrance to Masua beach. But like most fortresses it is not unconquerable. There is a protected route called via ferrata Sentiero Dei Minatori that you can use to make it to the top of the island.

The highest cliff on Pan di Zucherro is the one facing west, it measures 133 m and goes all the way from the sea surface to the highest top of the island. With cliffs so high this is the highest sea »rock« in Europe and the second highest in the world! Walls on other sides are a bit lower, but still very impressive.

Pan di Zucherro from east side

Pan di Zucherro from the mainland side. You can see the small “bay” on the left side just before the arch where the via ferrata starts.

Island also has two natural arches, one on each side. On a small boat, kayak, stand up paddle board or something similar it is possible to paddle under both arches. Now just paddling from the Masua beach to the island, under both arches, under the nearly vertical cliffs and around the island is something that you need to put on your Sardinia bucket list. It is an amazing experience.

left arch Pan di Zucherro

Paddling to the arch where the climbing route starts

But to take it a step further, you can also climb the cliffs and make it to the top of the island. Free climbers will enjoy the whole Masua area. There are a couple multi pitch climbing routes going to the top of the island and many more on the mainland. For everyone else there is a via ferrata called Sentiero Dei Minatori that will safely lead you to the top, even if you are a climbing beginner.

pan di zucchero in the morning

Pan di Zucchero in the morning sun.

Video: Climbing via Ferrata to Pan di Zucchero

Before describing the trail, here is a short video where you can get an idea how the trail looks like.


How to Climb the Sentiero Dei Minatori Via Ferrata?

close to the top of the trail

Near the top of the ferrata, you are right above the sea at all times.

During tourist season you can hire a taxi to bring you to the island and to drop you off. You can also hire a guide and rent climbing and safety equipment so you can make it to the top. Out of the main season you will have to do it on your own. This is how we did it and I think it, if you really want to experience the nature, the views, the climb… this is the way go. No people, just you, the sun, the sea, the cliffs and amazing nature.

As said, climbing the Sentiero Dei Minatori via ferrata is possible even if you are climbing beginner like me. The climbing part of the route is not hard. It is however necessary that you have the proper safety equipment and that someone shows you how to use it correctly! The route is highly exposed and a fall here would mean serious injury or death.

views from the middle of the ferrata

Somewhere in the middle of the ferrata.

It also helps a lot if you are not afraid of heights (this was my weak spot 🙂 ).

Getting to the Pan di Zucchero

First we needed to get to the island. We used a stand up paddle board, the Sugar Loaf is pretty close the the Masua beach so it can easily be done on a paddle board. Distance from the main Masua beach is around 1,7 km. Paddle board is great because you can easily load it with climbing gear (make sure you pack it into waterproof DryTide bags) and it also lets you easily step from the board to the tiny ledge where you park your »boat« and start the climb. With cliffs going straight up from the sea there is very little room at the start of the via ferrata. The small ledge is big enough for two people to change into climbing gear, under the condition that there are no waves. The ledge is so close to the sea surface you would be completely wet before you got ready for the climb if waves were crashing into the island. An inflatable stand up paddle board is also handy because you can deflate it and fold it into a bag, I am sure we all have too much gear when going on vacations. Other options would be a kayak or a dinghy.

Climber above the sea

Just above the starting point. You can see the small ledge next to the sea.

Equipment Needed

Since you can get wet during paddling to the island I suggest you bring extra clothes to change into them before you start climbing. You will also need to bring some climbing and other gear:

  • Good hiking shoes
  • A helmet
  • A climbing harness
  • Via ferrata kit (safety lanyard set)
  • Climbing gloves (bike gloves also work fine, but use old ones as they will get destroyed)
  • Small backpack for snacks, water, camera…
  • Waterproof bag

For getting all this equipment to the island safe and dry we used the DryTide waterproof duffel bag to protect everything from the sea on the way to the island and a 30l waterproof backpack that we used while climbing. The duffel bag is great as it can take loads of gear like helmets, shoes, clothes and climbing gear for two people, it has a huge top opening so finding things inside is easy. So we just threw everything inside, closed it and dropped it to the nose of the paddle board. The backpack is smaller and perfect to bring things to the top of the island – some water, snacks, a light jacket and a camera.

Waterproof duffel bag

Waterproof all purpose bag loaded with climbing gear.

The Climb Up the Via Ferrata

The via ferrata starts just in front of the left natural arch. First meters of steel cable and first climbing aids are clearly visible when you get near. When we got the the island we tied the paddle board to the first cable (bring some rope and double check your knots, you don’t want to be left on the island without your ticket back to the mainland! 🙂 ) and unloaded all the gear on to the small shelf just above the sea.

first stretch of the via ferrata to pan di zucchero

The beginning of the climb where you can see the natural arch below.

After changing we started our climb. Climbing starts right from the sea surface. Ferrata follows an old path that miners used when they climbed to the top of the island. Soon after you say goodbye to the sea surface you make it to a small flat »square« where a couple of short mining tunnels were dig into the island. From here the ferrata goes up a rock that is leaning against the cliff (looks quite interesting but the rock is rock solid 🙂 ) and then you start to traverse towards the left on a narrow ledge.

Climbing up a rock

The route goes up a huge rock leaning on to the cliff

After a while the route starts going back up. There is a vertical wall with iron rungs and some pegs that help you go straight up the cliff. The view from here is quite amazing and the sea is literally far down under your feet.

climbing with DryTide backpack

Steel “ladder”

Once you make it over the vertical the ferrata soon ends for a while, you are almost at the top. You make it to an exposed slope without steel cable protection. On the top of this short slope (15 m maybe) there is an iron box with a visitor log book where you can write your name. This is where we made a break (eating a Kit Kit 🙂 ).

Drinking water high above sea

Resting place just above the top of the main part of the ferrata. Out of the wind it felt almost like summer. There is only a really short way to go after this.

Sitting in between the rocks in the early afternoon sun on January 1st with sun shining into the cliff and away from the wind it got really hot.  There was  no one around, closes people were on the beach at Masua. Just seagulls flying around, we watched the wind play with the water surface and enjoyed the warmth.

After the rest, there was another really short stretch to go (maybe 50 meters) and you make it to the top of the island.

Trail towards the top of Pan di zucherro

Trail on the top of the island going to the highest point.

The Top of the Island

The views from the top are amazing. The top is an interesting plateau rising towards the highest point of the island above west facing cliffs. Be careful and don’t walk too close to the edge. From the top you will see the whole island, the Porto Flavia structure in the cliff (this is the end of a mine, building was used to load the ore onto the ships below, at the time it was the most advanced loading system in the world!) and the Masua beach.

View from the top of Pan di Zucherro

One of the few drone shots from the top.

The top was however windy and we were quickly reminded that the date is January 1st and not May as it seemed in between the rocks and out of the wind. So we took some photos, I made some shots with the drone and then we slowly made it back to the top of the ferrata.

Waterproof duffel bag on the paddleboard

On the way back, gear again packed into the waterproof duffel bag.

Way Back Down from Pan di Zucherro

The way back down is the same as the way up, there is no way to go around as the part of the cliffs where ferrata goes to the top is actually the easiest part on the whole island. So you have to carefully climb back down to the sea level. Down by the sea we put the climbing gear back into the waterproof duffel bag, untied the paddle board and slowly paddled back to Masua where our van was parked.

paddling towards the pan di zucchero

Before paddling back we had to paddle through the arch.

The wind died down and just sitting on the board in the middle of the sea between the Pan di Zucherro and Sardinia was the best thing ever. Warmth and golden colors from the sun were all around us as we slowly drifted towards the beach. We made it just before sunset. Not a bad start of the year.

paddling back to masua

Looking over our shoulders while paddling back towards Masua beach.

If you have any questions about the trip use the comments.

Article was updated with some new info/photos in 2023.

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