On LinkedIn, I noticed an opportunity for travel writers to join a group to visit Olbia. I immediately replied, expressing my sincere interest in the destination, then waited (and waited) with great anticipation to be accepted. What did I do as I waited? I tried to find out where in the world Olbia was located.
Now I Know
There it was, clearly on the map of Italy (actually off the coast of Italy), in Sardinia. I had no idea that Sardinia is the second largest island in the Mediterranean Sea (the largest is Sicily) with nearly 2,000km of coastline, beaches (perfect for water swimming, wind surfing, yachting, kayaking) and mountains (for hiking and biking). Look for mountains and cliffs surrounding the Tyrrhenian Sea, and the scent of wild laurel, rosemary and myrtle covering the landscape. It is also possible to spot bougainvillea, hibiscus and hydrangea along the roadside and in private gardens.
Sardinia lies 120 miles west of Italy, 7.5 miles south of French Corsica, and only 120 miles north of the coast of Africa. The mountains and hills are composed of granite and schist, making the soil an interesting and challenging foundation for excellent wines and mirto (a popular liquor made from myrtle plants).
Weather or Not
There are better/best/even better times of the year to holiday in Sardinia and the choice is very personal. Although the climate is Mediterranean and runs from warm to very hot and dry during the summer the winters can be cold and rainy.
If you are counting sunny days, weather experts have calendared 135 days of sunshine. The summers are dry and warm; however, unlike Greece, Sardinia does offer shade and wind. The summers are perfect if you like temperatures that hover in the mid-80s and want to mix/mingle with lots of Italian tourists as they populate the beaches, restaurants and shops.
Visitors fill their days with boat excursions, kayaking, diving and water sports including kite and windsurfing and shopping. Hotel rooms fill up quickly (even with seasonal high rates) and if you plan to arrive via ferry, make early reservations as space sells out fast during this peak season.
Visitors who want space and value priced accommodations will schedule holidays in Sardinia from April – June when flowers are blooming. sea waters are not so cold and the weather is not as hot and humid as July and August. This is also excellent weather for hiking, rock climbing, cycling and motor biking. If you don’t mind wearing a wet suit, the season is also good for scuba diving.
September and October are beautiful for walking and biking, as well as sailing and yachting – with keen eyes looking for dolphins. In late October, November and December many resorts are closed and the weather may be dismally grey and wet, although (I am told), during Christmas the towns are festively decorated with lights and local artisans open their doors to sell homemade goodies.
How Many Tourists
Tourism accounts for approximately 10 percent of Sardinia’s GDP (2006) and each year approximately 2 million visitors select this destination. In previous decades there were attempts to introduce manufacturing and other industries, but the options did not gain traction with the locals and tourism is the major economic engine for the island. While tourism is a great source of revenue, at the moment it is a seasonal business, concentrated in the summer months. The main tourism products centers on hotel accommodations and holiday resorts, agricultural and wine tourism, plus archaeological excursions and offer memorable opportunities for holiday-seekers.
Resorting to Resorts
In 2018, Sardinia was awarded 43 blue flags for high-quality beaches and sea waters. When selecting a Sardinian resort, determine location to nearby beaches, attractions, wineries, as well as handicap accessibility and then select your personal adventure: rocky or sandy beaches for sunning and work-outs; access to fishing, snorkeling or SCUBA; yachting, kayaking or wind/kite surfing equipment rentals, or (my favorites) wine and mirto tasting paired with cooking classes.
If you are rich (famous also helps), then your hangout is Costa Smeralda (Emerald Coast), and Porto Cervo – considered to be one of the most expensive resorts in the world. Sardinia was “discovered” by the Aga Khan (1960s), the spiritual leader of a sect of Muslins known as the Nizari Islamaillis. Khan was born in Geneva, owns a private island in the Bahamas, lots of race horses, and reported to be worth in excess of $800 million.
The Aga Khan and his friends bought land in Sardinia, and then brought in important architects to design hotels and homes. The high-profile new residents attracted the attention of chic brands who opened boutiques, cafes and restaurants and Robert Trent Jones was encouraged to design a golf course.
Before the island was embraced by Khan and his friends, Sardinia was a sleepy farming community, populated with sheep and shepherds. Now mega-yachts at the Yacht Club Costa Esmeralda and lavish boutiques, art galleries, gourmet dining options and villas owned by Formula 1, Flavio Briatore and former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi dot the landscape. Other celebrities that find this part of the planet their special destination include Beyoncé, Will Smith, Rihanna, Elton John, husband David Furnish and their two sons; as well as Victoria Secret model Irina Shayak. If you watched The Spy Who Loved Me with Roger Moore (Bond) you may remember it was filmed in Sardinia at the Cala di Vope which is also noted for having suites that hover in excess of $30,000 per night.
Shopaholics will not have to go into detox for latest fashions from Gucci, Bulgari, Dolce & Gabbana, Rossetti and Valentino as they are all clustered in a walkable outdoor mall. If you cannot live without a new Hermes or Prada, hang out in the Cala di Volpe lobby.
Where to Stay: Curated Favorites
It is not necessary to have the Aga Khan or Elton John as your BFFs for a holiday in Sardinia:
- Gabbiano Azzuro Hotel & Suites.
For over 50-years, owned and operated by the Datome family, this 89-room property is located 20-minutes from the Olbia Airport, in a residential area off the Via Dei Gabbiani. It is a short drive to the charming town of San Pantaleo with boutiques and cafes and only 18 miles to Porto Cervo.
This low-profile, charming boutique, 4-star hotel, offers sea views to the islands of Tavolara and Molara and guests enjoy a private beach, cold sea-water swimming pool, gourmet-level dining, architect inspired guest rooms and suites that include wi-fi, flat-screen TVs, air-conditioning, and showers and/or bathtubs with mirto-scented bath products. From Frette robes and slippers, Lavazza coffee machines, to suites with private roof-top infinity swimming/lap pools, the Sardinia life-style can easily become a habit.
An abundant buffet breakfast on the sea-view terrace includes a wealth of charcuteries and cheeses, an assortment of cakes, pastries and breads plus a wide array of cereals and jams/jellies. For modest additional fees, omelets and salmon specials are offered.
The dining room has been awarded an Espresso “chef’s hat” – one of six in Sardinia, creating and presenting a creative approach to traditional Sardinian cuisine. Food/beverage service is available for lunch and dinner.
The staff is extraordinarily helpful, kind and resourceful. The marina for the hotels’ boats and yachts is within walking distance of the property. If holiday plans expand beyond sunning and swimming, the hotel offers a wealth of “experiences” that range from cooking classes and wine tastings, to island hopping under-sail or via a speed boat. Yachts can be reserved through the hotel concierge for snorkeling, SCUBA, and dolphin watching. Special event planning is a feature of the property offering the perfect setting and menus (including kosher cuisine) for weddings, anniversaries, and family reunions.
Nearby attractions include visits to archeological Nuragic sites (dating back to 1600 BC).
Hotel Villa del Golfo
This is a charming 59 room/suite 4-star, adult-only property that captures the Sardinian lifestyle by creating the ambiance of a small Italian village. It is the perfect locale for discovering Cannigione and the beautifully landscaped location provides views across the Gulf of Arzachena, the island of Caprera and beyond to the Costa Smeralda.
The family -owned property is 19 miles from the Olbia airport and 11 miles from Porto Cervo. The charm of Sardinia is captured by the use of local materials and terracotta tiled roofs. Creamy stone is used on the terraces under Moorish-style arches and spaces are highlighted by original works of art and design by local artist/ceramicist, Caterina Cossu.
The very attractive accommodations run from a perfect size for singles/couples, to suites – many with private balconies and/or gardens and patios.
Free shuttles take guests to/from local beaches and nearby restaurants. The on-site dining offers an abundant gourmet inspired breakfast buffet, plus epicurean-level dining for lunch and dinner. Have allergies, special dietary needs, or just want to indulge your palate, the chef is more than ready to meet every wish and want.
The cold-water pool and terrace offer amazing sea views that are only stopped by the horizon. The hotel offers guests access to the sea via their sailing yacht and the charming captain and his mate offer relevant information on rock formations, private beaches, and other interesting bits and pieces of local lure, along with delicious picnic dining options and Sardinian wine.
In addition to gourmet on-premise dining, the excellent La Colti restaurant is a very short drive and accessible by the hotel’s complimentary shuttle. Cooking classes and gourmet dining are offered at the La Colti Farmhouse.
- By air and sea: Getting to Olbia (Sardinia’s closest international airport to the Costa Smeralda), Sardinia. Flights from the US are through the UK, or European cities including Rome, and Milan. Already in Italy? Ferries are available by reservation.
- Ground Transportation. Best to rent a car or motor bike or bicycle as public transportation is very limited. Be cautious when using Google maps – they are likely to incorrect.
The Sardinia Lifestyle
© Dr. Elinor Garely. This copyright article, including photos, may not be reproduced without written permission from the author.