When most travelers explore Italy, they focus on the big destinations for their blend of art, history, and luxury. Once they’ve touched on Rome, Milan and Florence, they could head for the otherworldly Venice or through Bologna and its gateway to the fortified villages of the Tuscany wine region.
Yet Italy’s more rugged landscape and more unique subculture require an extra short flight across a thin stretch of sea to an island. Just south of Corsica and around 200km from the closest part of mainland Italy, Sardinia is the second largest island in the Mediterranean behind Sicily and offers the kind of peaceful escapes that Italians would love to keep for them.
With a total coastline of over 9,000 miles, Sardinia is large enough to accommodate three functioning airports (most flights departing from major Italian international destinations) and several busy ports accommodating tourist ferries from the west coast of Sardinia. ‘Italy. With an identity built on and around the sea, the island’s largest and most important cities (Cagliari, Olbia and Alghero) all face the Mediterranean.
Like other island offshoots of major continental European nations, Sardinia embraces its modern identity as a region of Italy, while honoring a unique ancient culture that flourished long before the Roman Empire. The Nuragic civilization took root on the island more than 3,000 years ago. In the years that followed, Sardinia welcomed the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Vandals and the Byzantine Empire.
Today, the Autonomous Region of Sardinia is one of 20 official regions in Italy with unique legal freedoms and its own endangered Catalan language (used in addition to the more commonly used Italian).
Due to its tumultuous past, the island offers a variety of historical attractions marking its different eras. Highlights include the Phoenician ruins of Nora and Tharros, as well as the Roman outpost of Alghero with its strong Spanish Catalan influences.
Whether it’s for beach getaways, hikes in the Dolomites or rounds of golf, tourists flock to Sardinia in the summer for peak season travel. While many attractions remain open outside of June, July, and August, travelers should confirm that their chosen locations are open for off-season visits.
It was a man on a mission who fixed the gaze of the world on the most famous luxury hotel in Sardinia. The Cala di Volpe hotel on the Costa Smeralda hosted Roger Moore as James Bond in The Spy Who Loved Me. The iconic scene in which a white Lotus Esprit ferries Moore and Catherine Bach through a mountainous highway battle against an armed helicopter – until the car turns into a submarine and plunges into the Mediterranean – takes place on the roads around the same hotel.
Designed in the 1960s to resemble a classic Italian villa, albeit very large, Hotel Cala di Volpe has taken advantage of the pandemic over the past two years to renovate its rooms and refresh its amenities. The site now includes an Olympic-size saltwater pool and a selection of 10 property-wide restaurants, bars and lounges.
The nearby 18-hole Paver Golf Club spans 6,107 yards and includes a full practice facility with putting green and driving range. A second putting green is tucked away within the hotel grounds for more relaxed practice.
Away from the golf course, Hotel Cala di Volpe offers indoor and outdoor fitness centers with trainers available and the Shiseido Spa.
Like so many island nations around the world, much of the Sardinian bill is centered around the sea. Fresh seafood abounds at the best restaurant in oceanside towns. Large Mediterranean lobsters appear on many restaurant menus, served either as a main dish on their own or in a unique Sardinian lobster stew prepared in a tomato sauce enriched with olive oil.
For diners looking beyond Pescatarian boundaries, a popular and traditional form of island comfort food is a rich mutton and potato stew, Pecora in Cappotto. The simplest of dishes, stew relies on slow-cooked meat and fresh herbs to brown Sardinians for seconds.
If a traveler wants to give the sheep a culinary break, pork fills a good portion of Sardinia’s plates. Suckling pig is a signature dish borrowed from Spanish visitors to the island. The local recipe calls for roasting the piglet on a spit for eight hours to soften the pork and make the skin crispy. The resulting meat is often served family style on a shared plate.
For wine, Sardinia is famous for Cannonau, a dry red wine made from Grenache locally renowned for its healthy properties. Away from wine glasses, the most famous alcoholic concoction is Mirto. Rendered from a mixture of berries and leaves, the Spicy Mirto is comprised of red and white fruits, with the darker version known for its more pronounced sweetness.
About an hour’s drive from Hotel Cala di Volpe, Sa Tanca e Bore is one of the most popular restaurants on the northeast coast of Sardinia. Nestled in the shadow of the impressive Mount Latu, Sa Tanca e Bore offers a mixed menu of Italian, Mediterranean and traditional Sardinian dishes, in addition to simple grilled and seafood presentations, all served in a dining room simple and lined with windows. offering views of the surrounding mountain and vineyards.
Further south along the eastern shore, Trattoria Pedra Longa was founded and built by native champion of local cuisine, carpenter and Michelin-starred chef Roberto Petza. Located along a rocky coastline with stunning views, Petza makes sure to use local ingredients to create the most faithful versions of Sardinian cuisine. From seafood to pork, pizza to pasta, the trattoria leans on an accessible selection of simple and healthy dishes. For dessert, try Petza’s selection of freshly baked local cookies and other pastries.