Sardinia is rumoured to have one of the highest life expectancies on the planet. It’s little wonder why, when you consider the way they live – the food, the weather and the atmosphere all provide heaven here on earth; little reason to die then?
The jewel of Sardinian paradise is the undoubtedly Costa Smeralda – a 20km stretch of coastline that every summer buzzes with the sound of well-heeled visitors. The entire resort was the dream of the British businessman Prince Karim Aga Khan, who had a forward-thinking vision for the shepherd’s scrub fields some 60 years ago. Along with a consortium of investors, architects and travel consultants, he quickly turned the strip of desolate land in to one of Europe’s most desirable summer destinations. His efforts were well seeded and the results speak for themselves; house prices often reach 300,000 euros per square metre in the area, and several of the world’s best hotels can be found just alongside one another on this small stretch of turquoise coast.
The capital of Costa Smeralda is the town of Porto Cervo, despite its tiny size and feel. It does however provide polo grounds, an ultra-exclusive yacht club that holds an annual regatta, moorings for the largest luxury boats in the world and a high street of designer shops that can give Milan a run for its money. Despite being only half a century old, the town retains a rustic feel, which although faux, it pulls off with grace. Pastel orange and lime green buildings with traditional style wooden verandas face out to the sea while bright flower beds and inland water-channels offer stunning surroundings. The clever town planning provides promenade access to the terraced bars, behind which the avenues of boutique shops, art galleries and salons run, with cobbled lanes and stairs that skip between each other. Everything feels so well organised that one suspects the architects even considered underground tunnels for goods in and out away from the eyes of visitors.
Adventurous guests can climb the hill behind the town where they will find the Stella Maris church – one of the most beautiful folk-esque renditions of 1960s Italian architecture, with its white-washed walls and terracotta tiles – and proof that when this locale was designed every effort was taken to make it an authentic. Every May Porto Cervo also holds an annual food festival that draws exhibitors from Italy and its neighbours, each keen to share their tastiest products and expert knowledge. Fine vintages and sparkling liquids flow down as the sun sets, with live cooking demonstrations from famous European and Asian chefs (including tastings, of course). The festival is testament to the areas steadfast business savvy approach to tourism that sets it apart from the other Med hot spots.
The focal point of Porto Cervo is its small beach and wide boulevard, which are both under the gaze of Cervo Hotel. Delightfully unassuming, the hotel feels like an elegant bygone Sardinian residence (perhaps that of a tasteful aunt), with white sofas, walls and linens, and rustic tiled floors and ceilings. However don’t be fooled, as there are all the trappings of five star luxury on offer with private balconies, white gloved waiters, a gym, pool, golf course, private beach, tennis club and extra-clued up concierge to help you fit it all in.
The front of the hotel steps out in to the piazza and the back on to the beach, offering the perfect location from which to explore the town and its surroundings. Opened in 1962 and designed by the famous Italian architect Luigi Vietti, the 80-room hotel has a pizza restaurant, a Brazilian restaurant, a fish restaurant, and a café, aperitif bar and cocktail bar – making it an ideal destination for those who want to be in the middle of the action.
However if it is privacy you’re after, nothing can be beaten by Cala di Volpe. Part of the Luxury Collection group, this monumental residence is just ten minutes outside of the town. Here, guests can either stay inside the main hotel, with a sea-facing room full of hand made craft furniture and Acqua di Parma products, or opt for their own private bungalow on a secluded island reachable by wooden bridge. The hotel has its own expanse of private golden-sanded and turquoise-watered beach (only reachable by speedboat), a saltwater pool, its own private yacht moorings, one of the best restaurants on the island and some of the best views in the Mediterranean.
Guests have included both imperial royalty and pop star royalty (Jay Z and Beyoncé stayed recently) and it was used as a filing location for the 1977 James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me featuring Roger Moore, adding some Hollywood pedigree. The sublime hotel, which offers understated luxury and stripped back tranquillity, highlights the warmth and charm of Sardinia’s hospitality. As the sunsets, swallows fly between the roof shingles, expertly trained waiters serve dinner as if it were ballet, and guests sip cocktails on the veranda while watching the boats sail past.
If those two options have been exhausted then the romantic Hotel Pitrizza offers back to nature luxury in a series of private villas (also part of the Luxury Collection) and an intimate 49 room main hotel surrounded by flowers and unspoiled greenery, while the Hotel Ramazzino (another Luxury Collection member) has something for all the family with two pools, water sports and a dedicated kid’s zone.
Being only a two-hour flight from London, the Costa Smeralda offers some of the best luxury travel from the UK. It’s glistening seas, unspoilt nature and azure sun make it perfect for summers, and while the idea of venturing to a 1960s resort on paper may sound initially unnerving to some, it quickly becomes apparent once you touch down that when done with such grace and finesse, having everything designed around creating that optimum holiday experience, it really works wonders.
Porto Cervo Food Festival, Cervo Hotel, Hotel Cala di Volpe, Pitrizza Hotel, Ramazzino Hotel