By Annick Dournes & Frederic de Poligny
If walking in the foot-steps of stars and millionaires, is an important part of your dreams, you only have a limited choice. Fly to Saint Barth in the French West Indies, the real top, or get to Saint Tropez that sadly is now too crowdy to be lucky enough to meet anyone. The last option and maybe the best one is simply to travel to Costa Smeralda near the village of Porto Cervo, in Northern Sardinia, where the jet-set awaits you.
In 1962, the Prince Karim Aga Khan IV discovered by chance this almost uninhabited region of Sardinia, only ranged by local shepherds and their herds of goats. Straightaway he fell in love with the pristine beauty of such an incredible landscape. Under an infinite blue sky, a dark green Mediterranean vegetation meandered between countless pink granite rocks and hills, going down a long gentle slope ending in the sea whom color hesitated between turquoise and emerald.
Naming this region “Costa Smeralda” (Emerald Coast) Karim Aga Khan soon decided, in association with two wealthy businessmen, the owners of Guiness and of San Pellegrino, to buy a huge piece of land, approximately 35 miles of coast line, to create from nothing a paradise to share with the international elite of that time. The Smeralda Holding was born.
For this fabulous project, he hired Luigi Vietti and Jacques Couelle, two renowned architects to create a village, a marina, a golf, plus luxury villas and top hotels. But Karim Aga Khan was not only an investor, he was also very respectful of the romantic beauty of the place, and he asked them to keep the spirit of the surrounding countryside, copying the style of the old small Sardinian villages, using traditional materials, stone walls, natural pigments and promoting as far as possible curved walls… This idea of curved forms came from the local rugged landscape, where it’s impossible to see a straight line.
In less than 10 years, the village of Porto Cervo became the place to be for artists, actors, top-models and wealthy people. Soon politicians joined, as Berlusconi who organized there, in his own Villa Certosa, his famous “Bunga-Bunga parties”. Poutine went a few times to Costa Smeralda to visit Berlusconi, his good friend.
Now numerous tourists come to visit the Emerald Coast that offers so many rocky creeks and sandy coves facing an emerald sea sprinkled with red rocky islets. These islets are a real paradise for free divers and scuba divers. Offshore the sea from spring to autumn is always spotted by numerous luxury motor yachts and beautiful sailing boat with their big white sails. The large strait between Sardinia and Corsica creates a windy zone where nice breezes offer great time for sailors. For those whishing a less crowded place, don’t hesitate to enjoy a full day in the really near-by Archipelago la Maddalena, a group of small islands sheltering, close to the nice village of La Maddalena, many small sandy coves and beaches but with less visitors.
The village of Porto Cervo, is the charming capital of this little kingdom, a pedestrian village and harbour where you will find fine restaurants and luxuous bars with next door shops presenting all the most famous and luxury brands of the world. The Piazetta is the center square of Porto Cervo. On the Piazetta, Il Portico is a bar very “fashion” with very comfortable and attractive white couches, serving tapas and incredible cocktails – try the Bellini!- but prices are incredible too. Nevertheless, clients love this place for the view and also because it’s the best place to be seen! So, very often, you have to wait and queue to have a seat.
Close by, the Nuna Al Sole, offers a very similar atmosphere, another place to be seen. I tried the same evening to compare their Bellini and their tapas… but honestly, at the end, I was not able to give a fair verdict… Sadly I could not come back the day after for another double test to be sure! Down below, close to the harbour, the Nikki Beach Waterfront Bar attracted the Champagne addicts, but I didn’t test it.
During my three nights stay in Costa Smeralda, I went for dinner at two restaurants in Porto Cervo, both offering a nice cuisine, elegant and tasty. The Novikov, also on the Piazetta, and the Quattro Passi al Pescatore, down below the Piazetta, the only restaurant directly on the seaside. As quite all restaurants around, obviously, these were not places for budget travelers.
Costa Smeralda hotels are also dedicated to a certain type of guests, those who can afford high prices for a top-quality service. The best ones are a few kilometers outside Porto Cervo directly on the seaside with their own private beach. I stayed at the iconic Hotel Cala di Volpe, a prestigious 5-star hotel, managed by Marriott International.
Cala di Volpe was the first one built for Karim Aga Khan’s friends and guests along the spectacular Cala di Volpe Bay. Itt’s part of the Luxury Colllection Brand. In 2019-2020, an important campaign of renovation redesigned the lobby, the bar and modernized the rooms and suites but however the hotel kept its original curved lines and forms. No straight lines, even the pillars show an irregular design. On the hotel’s top floor an unrivalled suite has been created last summer, the Harrods Suite, an ultra-luxury apartment with a private infinity pool and breath-taking views over the Cala di Volpe Bay.
The main restaurant is close to the huge swimming pool along the seaside where a dock allows the arrival of clients by boats. Very often, passengers of luxury yachts anchored in the bay, used the tender of their boat to get there for a drink or for dinner. Due to the frequent ballet of these boats, the hotel decided to install the hotel private beach a little further on a more-quiet sandy cove, away from the dock. And to avoid to walk to get to the beach, an all-day-long shuttle boat takes client there, offering them a nice little cruise in the bay.
Hotel Cala di Volpe shows a unique balance between tradition and the very last innovation, and the excellence of its service makes it a brand renowned all over the world. Hotel Cala di Volpe is part, from the beginning, of the Smeralda Holding that has been sold in full by the Prince Aga Khan to Qatar Investment Authority, the sovereign wealth fund of the state of Qatar, that is also the owner of two more Luxury Collection hotels, the Romazzino and the Pitrizza, plus the Cervo Hotel. This last one is managed by Sheraton. The Qatar Holding’s portfolio includes retails shop, the Porto Cervo Marina, the Porto Cervo shipyard, the world renowned Pevero Golf Club as well as a wide collection of stand-alone bars and restaurants in Porto Cervo.
To get to Costa Smeralda, you have to fly to the international airport of Olbia, at 35 km from Porto Cervo. There are many direct flights to Olbia from a lot of European airports.
Text and photos: ©Frederic de Poligny