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When it comes to Italian destinations, the island of Sardinia might not be top of mind. Frankly, most travelers will probably need a map to pinpoint its location, which is 116 miles off the coast of western Italy in the Tyrrhenian Sea.
But for those looking for an idyllic, Italian retreat after battling the crowds of Rome, Florence and Venice — Sardinia and its azure waters await.
While perhaps unknown to the average traveler, Sardinia has been welcoming the world’s rich and famous for decades. In the 1960s, Prince Shah Karim Al Hussaini, Aga Khan IV — the Ismaili Muslim spiritual leader and one of the wealthiest men in the world — and a group of investors bought and developed a 35-mile stretch of coastline here, later named Costa Smeralda (Emerald Coast). Since then, sleepy Sardinia has become a playground for jetsetters and their multimillion-dollar yachts that pack the island’s marinas in July and August.
But you don’t have to have a seven-figure income to experience Sardinia. Especially if clients visit during the shoulder season — Easter through June or September — they, too, can walk the white-sand beaches, swim in the Caribbean-like waters, tour Bronze Age archaeological sites, sip award-winning wines and eat lots of pasta.
The following two family-owned properties near Costa Smeralda in the Gallura region of northeastern Sardinia are ideal bases for exploring the island and its hidden treasures.
Villa del Golfo Lifestyle ResortBest for: Discerning travelers looking for serenity and killer views
Perched on the hills overlooking the Gulf of Arzachena and the terracotta roofs of Cannigione, Villa del Golfo Lifestyle Resort offers beautiful vistas. The view from my seaside suite was jaw-dropping — regardless if my exact position was in the private plunge pool, on the expansive terrace, by living room picture window or in the bathroom shower.
While this family-owned, boutique hotel offers 38 rooms — all decorated with the nature-inspired ceramics of celebrated local artist Caterina Cossu — the luxury suites high on the hill are worth the splurge, particularly suites 83 and 85.
Each morning, I was treated to a spectacular Sardinian sunrise that silhouetted a grove of olive trees on the shoreline where the resort has a platform for afternoon sunbathing. Then I would simply ring the front desk. Within minutes, a buggy would arrive to transport me down the winding path through the property, which resembles an authentic Italian village. Breakfast was served at on-site restaurant MiraLuna on a large, sun-kissed veranda next to the pool framed by vibrant bougainvillea.
Nearby AttractionsOne of my favorite things about Villa del Golfo is the ability to book uniquely Sardinian experiences right from the property. This includes day trips focused on local art and crafts, Neolithic archeological sites and, of course, wine — Sardinia produces some of the finest vintages in all of Italy.
I highly recommend spending the morning at La Colti Farm and Restaurant. Like the resort, it is owned by the Filigheddu family. The owner’s sister, Prisca, guided my companions and me on a pasta-making odyssey of local recipes including seadas, a traditional dessert made from Pecorino cheese and lemon zest. Our culinary accomplishments were toasted with a glass of prosecco and Italian cookies.
Another must while visiting Sardinia is a day on BonAria, Villa del Golfo’s sailing yacht. During its season (July and August), clients can sail past some of the largest and most expensive boats in the world as they jockey for position along one of the outlying islands’ pristine beaches. But in September, they can enjoy the Maddalena archipelago in relative solitude. Depending on the wind, captain Andrew will take them to the pink beaches of Budelli, the turquoise coves of Spargi or the rock formations of Cala Corsara. He’ll drop anchor for a swim, an onboard lunch and time to marvel at the crystal-clear waters of Sardinia.
Finally, if clients are visiting during the peak season, they’ll want to visit the Costa Smeralda towns of Porto Cervo and Porto Rotondo, which are hubs for high-end shopping, dining and socializing on Sardinia.
Gabbiano Azzurro Hotel & SuitesBest for: Beach lovers who love extravagance
Farther south along the Gallura coastline, you’ll find Gabbiano Azzurro Hotel & Suites, owned by the gracious Datome family. For more than 50 years, Sergio Datome — along with his wife Antonella, brother Marco and now son Tullio — has been welcoming guests who return year after year. Understandably, they are beckoned back by the resort’s perfect location, luxurious accommodations and perennial Italian hospitality.
The 80-room resort is divided into two sections: the older, more traditional hotel and the new luxury suites. Again, I think it’s worth the expense to book a luxury pool suite. As I toured my suite, I repeatedly found my mouth agape — first with the view from my balcony overlooking the village of Golfo Aranci to the east and then the saltwater, zero-entry pool directly ahead. But I never made it to the hotel pool, because on the upper level of my suite, I had my own infinity-edge pool complete with a deck of loungers. Simply put: It was extraordinary.
Clients shouldn’t miss spending time at the hotel’s private beach where they will have reserved loungers underneath a cheeky, fringed umbrella that perfectly matches the white sand.
But it’s the water and its various hues of blue and green that are the stars here. Nearby, you can snorkel or dive the MuMart, an underwater art museum. In the evening, clients can dine by candlelight under a white-curtained gazebo, with their toes in the sand, or join other guests in either the White or Blu restaurants, where fresh Sardinian seafood is always on the menu.
Nearby AttractionsEncourage clients to take an early morning walk to Golfo Aranci to see local fisherman preparing for their day at sea; in the evening, they should return in the evening for a sunset promenade. Also recommend heading up to the mountains to visit the candy-colored cobblestone streets of Tempio Pausania, or spending the early evening sipping a glass of wine in the piazza of tiny San Pantaleo to watch how the light bathes the surrounding granite peaks.
Another activity is booking a wine tasting at one of the local vineyards, such as Vigne Surrau or Siddura Winery, where the views are as stunning at the vintages.
And, again, don’t miss an opportunity to take to the water. Clients can book a sunset cruise from the hotel to see the local pod of bottlenose dolphins, or hike to a secluded beach in nearby Capo Figari Nature Reserve.