I hope that’s got your attention. Just got back from a holiday in Sardinia. I could’ve titled this ‘Adventures in Sardinia‘, but that’s a bit obvious and a little boring.
You might have guessed correctly, and I’ll own up – its true I did take a copy of that sexy chick lit trashy novel by E.L. James on holiday with me on the ‘recommendation’ of a friend who had already read it. But what made the most impact on me were the amazing colors and shades of blue that were everywhere around me in Sardinia – and there were none of the grey skies that we had left behind in the UK. I found it easier to indulge in the fantasy of the Sardinian high-life than the characters in that pulp fiction.
This blog post is a celebration of Sardinia. I have never been there before, and only came to book a holiday there because we saw one advertised on Secret Escapes and decided to push the boat out and choose what we hoped would be a stunning holiday. And we weren’t disappointed. We knew in advance that we wanted to get out of the UK during the Olympics. Our holiday choice was through Sardatur Holidays who chartered a BA flight from Heathrow – the worst possible option given we were flying out early on the day of the Olympic opening. So rather than get up in the early hours of Saturday, we went to Heathrow on the Friday afternoon and stayed at the Sheraton Skyline for a night, and arranged to park the car there for the week we were away. Some idiot decided to have an accident around J16 of the M25 which caused us to be stuck in a traffic jam for 2 hours! We were grateful that we weren’t rushing to catch a flight in all that chaos.
I took my Canon 50D and my 24-70L lens, plus a 10-22mm and also my Samsung EX1 compact. The 10-22mm didn’t even get taken out of the bag. Lesson learned for next time.
We also took up an offer from Sardatur Tours to upgrade our flight to Club Europe. A bit more money, but given that we were going from Heathrow the attraction of a fast track check in, priority luggage, extra allowance and a quiet Club lounge seemed a sensible choice. And we didn’t regret it. The service on-board was well worth it, too.
When we were in the air, the pilot told us that the special ‘flame’ livery of the aircraft we were on meant it was the actual plane that had picked up the Olympic flame from Athens and brought it to RAF Culdrose accompanied by Locog chairman Seb Coe, the Princess Royal, David Beckham, Olympics minister Hugh Robertson, London Mayor Boris Johnson and five young people from the UK. Of course, the ladies were very curious to know which seat David Beckham had sat in.
It became a bit cloudy around the mountains as we neared Olbia. The ride got a little bumpy, too.
Again, I found the Samsung EX1 a brilliant camera and got some good shots through the little aircraft window.
I am not the most serene of flyers, so taking photos out of the window was a good distraction for me.
Sardinia is a big island with several airports. We flew into Olbia on the North East coast. First impressions were of a very aggressively rugged rocky landscape with lots of green, totally unlike Gozo from last year. It was hot in Sardinia, and a minibus was waiting for us, arranged by Sardatur Tours agent, Gilles Caluwaerts, who was very helpful. In less than an hour we were at our destination. The short trip to the hotel confirmed the mountainous terrain, hairpin bends and hills, and a lot of green shrubby vegetation and pretty well tended resort areas.
We stayed at Colonna Resort hotel, Cala Granu near Porto Cervo situated on the north-east of the island, not far from the white pointer on the map below. Porto Cervo is the main town along the Emerald Coast of Sardinia (known locally as the Costa Smeralda). The coastline lies between Palau and Olbia. Porto Cervo was created by Prince Karim Aga Khan in the 1960s. The whole area is home to some of the worlds most beautiful beaches, no doubt why it attracts the rich and famous. The many harbours and marinas were full to bursting with expensive super yachts. The beautiful sapphire blue waters were constantly buzzing with the sound of roaring outboard motors on speedboats, motor yachts and jet skis. The sight of the white sails of the hundreds of sailing yachts serenely meandering mixed with the speedboats zig zagging in between them was a daily, almost all day, spectacle to behold.
A closer view of our location.
Our first activity, after unpacking in our room that had a view over the bay, was to go and check out the swimming pools.
I took this picture as the sun set and the colors are truly amazing. There are lifeguards on duty almost all day around the pools, which is a comfort for parents with lively children. The pools aren’t particularly deep, not for diving, and some are gently shelved, some have steps down, and there is a ‘spa’ pool with the power bubbles. The pools are on different levels, and cleverly designed so that you can almost feel you have the space to yourself.
The hotel didn’t seem overly busy, and it was mostly very peaceful. The lifeguards handed out hotel towels for guests and kept the place pristine, cleaning the pools every day. The last day was the only time we saw any clouds in the sky!
There was a little beach bar and the waiters would get you a drink or a snack from the beach restaurant too. Pure indulgence.
There is even a little white private sandy beach leading to a little bay.
We didn’t quite appreciate how much of a bonus this was until later in the week when we explored along the coast and saw some of the public beaches. Colonna Resort has extensive grounds, with lawn and flowers. The groundsman had his work cut out keeping the lawn mowed and plants watered.
The interior of the hotel was cool and spacious.
On Sunday we took the courtesy minibus from the hotel into Porto Cervo. We were the only passengers, so it felt like our ‘limousine’. Porto Cervo is window shoppers paradise. On the same sort of level as Puerto Banus in Spain, but a lot classier.
I guess the showcases are for (most) of us who know we can’t afford their stuff and wouldn’t dare enter the shops. We can press our noses to the show cases and dream of winning the Lottery! Perhaps you needed an invitation to enter the shop.
There were armed police patrolling in a leisurely fashion around the place, but I imagine crime is pretty rare.
There are all manner of sculptures on display around the ‘village’ and shops have little display cases outside of the shop encasing all sorts of watches and jewels. It really is a stunningly beautiful place, gorgeous flowers, neat and tidy, a pleasure to stroll around.
Name a Bond Street retailer and they are probably there – Gucci, Prada, Bulgari, Faberge, Cartier, Louis Vuitton, Versace, Dolce & Gabbana and so on.
There were lots of window shoppers. Even coach parties. And yes, that’s a carpet on the floor and watches in the showcase.
Oddly, the clothing shops had done with their summer stock and were now displaying winter jumpers, boots, furs. And in 35 degree C August heat.
We had a couple of hours to mooch around the village and the harbour/marina and had a cold drink in one of the cafes. What surprised me most wasn’t the price, but the loos. They were just the ‘hole in the ground’ type. Completely unexpected in the centre of one of the most exclusive resorts.
Looking back towards the cafe area where we had our iced tea.
Unfortunately the minibus didn’t operate after 6 p.m. so as we didn’t get to see the place at night. Parking would have been impossible – it was busy enough during the day.
While we were walking over a wooden bridge over the bay looking at the fish in the clear blue waters, I saw a shape swimming under the water. It didn’t look quite right for a fish. Then it suddenly surfaced and was identified as a brown-feathered bird. It was chasing the fish under the water. It sat on the rock in the picture above, and a closer look made me think it was some sort of cormorant, but I’m no expert on wildlife. It was the only time we saw this, and it appeared to be alone.
The annoying bird refused to turn towards me, so the only shot was of its back. It then few off.
We walked around towards the small marina. There’s a much bigger marina on the other side, but it was far too hot to walk it and we were running out of time.
We had planned to take the sailing boat day trip on Monday, but there was quite a strong wind blowing and the decision was taken to postpone for a day. We had arranged to hire a car for 4 days from the Tuesday, so re-arranged our boat trip for Wednesday.
Philippe Starck’s Destroyer, named simply “A” after billionaire owner Andrey Melnichenko’s wife Alexandra, appeared off Porto Cervo and then vanished from our view and we saw it later at Porto Rotunda, not far away. This was one of the times I wished I’d brought my zoom lens.
We were trying to figure out if the boat was too big to moor in Porto Cervo or whether it was by choice moored isolated outside in the bay. It is a stunning if unique design and I wished I had a longer lens with me. I read that it cost £300 million and uses nearly 700 gallons of diesel an hour. And I thought my car was a bit heavy on fuel!
Driving in Sardinia
We hired a Renault Clio car for a few days so we could get out and explore the island a bit more. We couldn’t run to a Ferrari!
On Tuesday some nutter decided it was cool to deliberately start some fires around Olbia. Much of the land is tinder dry, and there was a pretty big and scary conflagration, and Olbia aiport was closed for a time until the fires were under control. The event made a full two pages on the local newspaper. Mercifully it seems the person responsible was arrested. That incident didn’t impact on us on the Costa Smerelda, but it was easy to imagine someone flicking a cig butt out of a car window and starting a similar fire.
We followed the advice of Gilles and with a road map took the hire car for a spin along the coast. We first discovered that the bendy roads were a challenge, particularly since the ‘locals’ seemed to want to drive on the white line down the centre. The eccentric driving style was illustrated by the number of times we saw black rubber tyre skid marks on the centre white line around the roads. The “B” roads are quite narrow and in most places have no pavement. Keeping out of the way of oncoming traffic was a constant distraction. We first came to Baia Sardinia, about 15 mins drive from Porto Cervo. We were looking for a Farmacia for something my husband wanted. We came on a small market area and found a Farmacia within the nearby shops.
It seemed much less trashy than some markets we’ve seen in the past, selling lots of local meats and cheeses.
After that we headed off towards Cannigione. This country road introduced us to the stretches of metal armco along the road sides which seems to proliferate around Sardinia. I guess the farmers get fed up with finding motors skidding into their land. Along this road we found a recommended restaurant, Agriturismo La Colti. We went back for an evening meal on the following day.
Cannigione is a small town and negotiating a route through the parked cars, stray pedestrians and general busy thoroughfare made us glad to escape out the other side. We found the road hugged the coastline, and came across some little sandy beaches, populated by just a few people.
We then made our way towards Palau. We detoured towards Palau Barrage and climbing up quite steeply found a magnificent viewing point giving a spectacular panorama over the La Maddalena Archipelgo, with Palau down below. We were looking forward to the boat trip that would take on those inviting-looking waters. A wider panorama is on my Flickr album.
We decided not to go into Palau and headed towards St Teresa di Gallura. We found a parking spot in the main square by the church, luckily, and the parking attendant indicated that we didn’t need to pay. How refreshing! We had a cold drink in a nice bar and then made our way down a steep hill towards the beach. From the top of the hill you can see to Corsica in the distance. It was a hot, exhausting walk back up the hill to the car.
Sardinian roads have no speed humps, no yellow lines, hardly any traffic lights, no speed cameras. However, Sardinian drivers are completely bonkers. They overtake on bends, cut the middle line, park anyhow, drive up the bumper of the car in front and don’t indicate stopping or turning. You need a pretty powerful car to get up the steep bendy hills, but a big car is more of a hindrance than a help. There were plenty of motorbikes, suicidally speeding and keeping too near the centre line. All in all, the driving experience is somewhat stressful. And Air Conditioning is essential.
On the way back to Cala Granu we took a wrong turn near Porto Cervo and ended up driving down a residential area. Realising we needed to back track, we noticed the size of the properties along the road, noticeably one villa with high wooden gates and a hired security guard sitting outside under a canvas shade, no doubt to keep away the double glazing salesmen!
Sardinian Boat Trip
We had a day sailing around the Maddelena islands with Velieri Valentina on a traditional wooden yacht built in 1975. There were just 12 guests on the yacht, which was a comfortable number. We arrived at Porto Qualto and were welcomed on board. As we set off, the rib and outboard trailing behind attracted a big seagull who seemed content to hitch a ride. Seemingly a regular, the bird was happy to take some cheese from the hand of the captain. I never knew seagulls ate cheese!
I’d like to think that my football match action shooting skills enabled me to capture the above shot, and it wasn’t on multi-burst!
Roberto Cavalli, the ‘inventor’ of sand-blasted jeans, has a summer retreat on the coastline in this beautiful part of the Costa Smeralda. See what a career in the rag trade can bring you!
There are so many more pictures from this trip, so see them on my Flickr album.
On Thursday we ventured out with the car again, this time in the opposite direction, towards Olbia. We found some super beaches, but they were public and quite crowded even at 10.00 in the morning. And there was a plague of itinerant pedlars trundling their wares up and down the beach endlessly. And it was hot! We didn’t stay long there. Every twist and turn in the road up and down the mountains brought another spectacular view over the bays and the boats gleaming white on the sapphire blue sea. Absolutely stunning. We ended up in Porto Rotunda, which was a bit like Porto Cervo but with fewer expensive shops.
I couldn’t leave out a bit about the food. The hotel provided the most spectacular morning buffet breakfast, including smoked salmon and champagne if you had the appetite. A ‘set’ evening menu of 4 courses cost €50. There was a good choice for each of the courses, and they were beautifully cooked and presented. Full marks.
The evening meals were beautifully presented, equally tasty and to give you an idea, some are posted below.
Wine varied between €35 for a bottle of decent Prosecco to €600 for champagne. Most of the day I downed glasses of ice cold Lipton Peach Iced Tea or water.
The agriturismo La Colti dining experience was equally tasty but more rustic, sitting on wooden benches and wine came in a jug.
I am probably a bit old fashioned, but it quite shocked me the number of little kiddies at the Resort who had iPads. One little terror created merry hell in his high chair at dinner until he was given his to play with. What are we doing to our future generation? They will ruin their eyesight by constantly staring at a small screen close up. As a DSE assessor I know (and plain old common sense should tell you) its definitely a bad idea. The number of people taking their iPads into the water to take pictures of their buddies and kids was quite noticeable. We were glad of the free wifi at the hotel, but didn’t use it constantly!
On the last morning I wanted to make the effort to get up early enough to photograph a sunrise. I had set my alarm the day before but accidentally disabled it. On the last morning it duly went off, but tragically there was no spectacular sunrise as the sky was full of cloud! Shame.
If you’ve followed my tale this far, I hope you enjoyed it as much as we did. In conclusion, Sardinia is amazing. The Costa Smerelda is beautiful. Cheap it is not, but I thought it was well worth the money. I’d go again, no hesitation.