SPARKLING JEWEL IN THE MED

”Travel writer Naomi Price visits the island of Sardinia to discover beautiful and secluded beaches, exclusive hotels and a gracious people who don’t pander to mass tourism”. The Bath magazine
Five silky ribbons of silver-grey, a handful of blond grains, an embossed cork, a purloined shower cap of dark seed husks and a recipe for little fried pasta parcels stuffed with ricotta, cream and cardamom honey. I puzzled for a moment or two over the shaken-out contents. But the essence of Sardinia lay in the bottom of my beach bag. I’d lain on a deserted bay I had ‘discovered’ for a day on one vast pillow of dried kelp, where the cleansing Mistral wind meets the hot Scirocco, soughing through the brake of rosemary and myrtle. I’d dipped into the dreamy layers of the Costa Smeralda – as bright green and kingfisher turquoise as the imagination suggests.
I’d kept a memento of a delicious honey-scented Vermentino wine from a supper of sea bass at the water’s edge, the granite rocks merging into pink with the dusk at the Valle dell’Erica. I’d tried to take in every word of expertise from Chicca, the lady of the inimitable pasta parcels, who spoke shyly in one of Sardinia’s many dialects and languages, numbering Catalan among its dazzling array. And for Bath soil I had a stalk of rock-rose seeds, a stem of oleander and some helichrysum that is the scent of the hinterland.
Sardinia lies right in the middle of the Med, closer to Africa than to Sicily and 11 nautical miles off the closest point of Corsica. On the approach to Olbia, the island’s northern airport, the cloud lifts suddenly to reveal an impossible beauty: a pattern of limpid bays and archipelagos fringed with the tracery of creamy-yellow beaches as delicate as the filigree work of the silver jewellery of the island, reaching out like the tendrils of a piece of seaweed.
The coast of Sardinia is one vast wild maritime garden. In spring the island is yellow and fragrant with sweet-pea scented wild broom. In summer the sea could be mistaken for the waters of the Caribbean. A never-never holiday destination with an unvarying climate of wall-to-wall sunshine? Not Sardinia. Summer enjoys sporadic rain, when the scent of sage and musky helichyrsum rises from the loamy earth.
A large chunk of north-east Sardinia is home to the Valle dell’Erica hotel resort. Set so close to the Tyrrhenian Sea as to be almost in it, the resort is built sympathetically around all the features of this area of heart-stopping natural beauty. Huge boulders of pink granite and basalt stand like sentinels in the middle of the many sea-water swimming pools. Wooded slopes of olive trees sway silver in the breeze; gardens of oleander and shrub-high rosemary lead to sheltered bays of seventy acres of private coastline.
Stylishly informal, the resort embodies quintessential Italian understatement: low-level villas and suites with panoramic views in the vernacular of unpointed stone and soft-orange and lemon-painted exteriors, with rooms of cloud-and-sky interiors. It’s all about not getting to the beach before the Germans do: endearingly, the resort operates a sort of reverse catchment-area policy, limiting the number of Italian guests so as to give other nationalities a look-in.
Further down the coast and opposite the Maddalena Archipelago, the informal elegance of the Capo d’Orso resort-hotel is tantalisingly visible only to guests of the hotel’s separate suites and villas whose private gardens and terraces (one with its own beach) reach down to secluded teak swimming platforms and invariably deserted bays and coves. The grounds are a series of rooms linked by secret meandering paths, the ancient olive trees casting dappled light on mosaic-tiled swimming pools.
Turn one corner and you might reasonably expect to bump into the Leopard, Prince of Salina: a giant from the texts of Italian fiction, in search of his naughty Great Dane, digging up one of the rose borders… Sardinia is different. Its gracious people – Sardinian first and Italian second – don’t pander to mass tourism. Some barely speak English – and why should they? The pianist at a slick establishment sat down at the baby grand and rattled out a Chopin polonaise, then settled to the main business of accompanying his singer. Her sublime voice was larger than the songs she covered: “Lady Bee, Lady Bee, Lady Bee, Lady Bee” she sang, “Spikkin worms of Wisden, Lady Bee.
”When I passed by later on, she had finished being the big-voiced Amy Winehouse, only saying goodbye with worms and going back to back. `and was now tackling John Denver. “Country rose,” she sang “Take me ho, to the play, I below, west vagina, mountain mountain.” Rather an improvement on the original, I thought.
Sailing, Riding and luxury accommodation: island has much to offer
The Delphina group is a prolific and eclectic family of eight hotel-resorts, each with their own distinct personality. The newest addition, La Licciola (2005), is characterised by a blend of clean modern lines and classic accents (pink granite columns and cloistered courtyards). Contact the Capo d’Orso and the Valle dell’Erica (both five-star with Thalasso Spa treatment centres and respective 9 and 18-hole golf courses).
Prices for a week at the Valle d’Erica start from £1,154 pp based on half board including flights and transfers. Family suites at La Licciola around £5,904 are based on two adults and two children. The Capo d’Orso ranges from £1,128 pp. Restaurants serve exquisite sea-fresh cuisine. The pizzeria at the Capo d’Orso has been producing its dough from the same piece of yeast culture for 30 years. The Valle dell’Erica offers a complimentary programme of activities for children aged 10 upwards featuring snorkelling, canoeing and Robinson Crusoe-style trips to deserted Spargi Island.
Sardinia makes for exhilarating sailing. The north is the venue for the Rolex Cup and Americas Cups (2017). The archipelago island of Caprera is famous for its sailing school and there are snorkelling excursions into the stupendous Maddalena archipelago. Sardinia is a horse-minded society in which the special Sardinian Anglo-Arab plays a prominent role, especially in festivals throughout the year. Hacking is available at another nearby Delphina resort, the Cala di Lepre.  Bliss for horsey Bathonians.
To speak to one of our travel experts on any of the Delphina Group’s hotels call 020 8973 2296

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