Italy’s little-known Mediterranean island has it all – beautiful golden sand beaches, glamorous resorts, wild unspoiled landscapes, chic shopping and celebrities to spot.
The glitterati has long known Sardinia’s Emerald Coast – the name comes from the color of its waters, though it’s equally appropriate for the bejeweled royalty that hangs out there. Although the island’s beaches and resorts are the nice little secret of the wealthy and connected, Sardinia has options for everyone.
Unlike the long strands of the French and Italian Rivieras and the high-end haunts of San Tropez, Cascais and Biarritz, the Costa Smeralda did not make its name in the halcyon years at the turn of the 20th century. Until the Aga Kahn ‘discovered” it in the 1970s, these lonely shores were rarely seen except by shepherds and fishermen. It was the Aga Kahn who turned it into the luxurious retreat for the rich and famous, and it didn’t take long for its spacious marinas to fill with mega-yachts, Olbia airport with private jets and its flashy resorts with the beautiful people.
From June to October, the town of Porto Cervo – made to look like an old fishing village, but actually built in the 1970s to serve this influx – is awash in smart outfits and big sunglasses that don’t quite disguise the celebs, royalty and high-rollers browsing in the Hermes and Gucci shops.
Around these resort complexes, the land is almost bare, rugged and beautiful, covered in low shrubs and outcrops of stone. Around these hills is the Mediterranean, its waters catching the sunlight and turning the deep-blue-green that gives the coast its name. And between the brilliant sea and this wild landscape are beaches, most set in coves for perfect seclusion. The good news for travelers is that all beaches in Sardinia are open to the public and free – even those in front of the poshest hotels. So rub elbows to your heart’s content.
To get to the Costa Smeralda, fly into Olbia’s busy airport on Air One, RyanAir, British Air, easy Jet or Meridiana. or arrive from the mainland Italian ports of Rome, genoa or Livorno (near Pisa) by the frequent ferries. Most visitors head for Porto Cervo, the main resort center with shops, restaurants, cafes and lodgings. And of course, the celebrities.
They are likely to be staying at one of the high-end hotels, such as the Colonna Pevero, a cluster of buildings and free-form pools set in tree-shaded terraces. each guest room has its own sun terrace with a view over the sea. While these digs don’t come cheap, expect to find B&B accommodations as low as $50 a night in interior villages a bit farther from the beaches.
Ah, the beaches. These lie deep in a series of little coves that reach all the way around the northeast corner of the island, their waters protected by bays that cut deep into the land. Trails often lead from the larger beaches to stretches of rocky coastline that hide smaller secluded beaches, each caught in its own walls of rock. Often these are carved by wind and sea into fantastic shapes, a dramatic backdrop for sun and sand, lapped by emerald-colored waters.
Offshore waters are strewn with islands, many of which are included in the Maddelena Islands national Park. Visit these barren and beautiful rocky outposts by ferries and excursion boats.