Holidaying back the years in sunny Sardinia
Daylight fades in a cataclysmic colour explosion over the ocean and in a secluded white sandy cove on the northern tip of Sardinia, I’m in the most idyllic restaurant on the planet. Li Zini is the al-fresco dining jewel in the crown of Valle Dell’Erica, a divine spa hotel flanked by 1,400-metres of unspoilt coastline and set amongst 69-acres of rich botanical parkland.
The ambiance seems spiritual, like being immersed in a meditation app, peppered with the chatter from fellow diners and divine aromas from a four-course seafood feast. It’s no surprise that since the mid-20th century, Sardinia’s quality hospitality and breathtaking beaches have been a magnet for the rich and famous.
SURROUNDED BY CENTURIONS
Yet the allure of Sardinia goes beyond five-star luxury. Visiting here is actually good for your health. Alongside Okinawa in Japan, Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula, Icaria in Greece and California’s Loma Linda, Sardinia is one of five “Blue Zones” in the world, areas populated by an unusually high number of centurions. One explanation for their longevity is a rare genetic quirk. Experts also believe indigenous factors promote good physical and mental health. For example, many natives live in close-knit, isolated communities where stress and unhappiness are virtually unheard of.
They’re also fit as fiddles: inhabiting Sardinia’s rugged terrain isn’t for the faint hearted. The Mediterranean diet, abundant in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and olive oil, plus lean sources of protein, is so healthy it is apparently more effective at lowering cholesterol than statins. Heck, even the wine is good for you. Sardinia’s Cannonau grape contains three times more antioxidants than usual and locals swear by one glass a day to preserve youthfulness.
The hotel is one of the most relaxing places I’ve ever stayed. Our room is bungalow-style, complete with a private veranda and discreetly positioned along a walkway lined with oleander, bougainvillea and ancient olive trees, which smell as good as they sound.
The Le Thermae hilltop thalasso spa is my first port of call. A half-day pass provides access to the “Thalasso Circuit” (four differently heated saltwater pools, a Turkish bath and sauna). There’s also an open air gym, which I lazily bypass in favour of a dreamy 50-minute Relaxing Massage.
After months slaving over a computer, my body and soul is in dire need of TLC and using oils from aromatic plants and herbs grown in the hotel garden, my therapist quickly soothes the tension from my entire body.
À LA CARTE BLANCHE
Boasting seven restaurants, Valle Dell’Erica is a foodies’ paradise. From formal fine dining, to bar
snacks and a spectacular à la carte buffet, you’ll be wowed wherever you eat. At Li Ciusoni, the hotel’s traditional Sardinian restaurant, you can even enjoy complimentary cooking lessons.
As well as all the Italian classics, there is also scope to taste typical Sardinian delicacies sheep milk cheese (terre libere), seadas (a pecorino cheese pasty sweetened with honey or sugar) and pane carasau, a dehydrated flat bread made from pure mountain water and Sardinian flour.
In between attempting to eat and drink my way to a longer life, I contemplate booking a mini boat tour of the La Maddalena Marine Park, a beautiful collection of islands off the nearby Costa Smeralda, kite surfing, mountain biking and a round at the hotel’s three hole Par-3 golf course. But tearing myself from the achingly beautiful coastline is impossible. On this leg of the trip at least, sunbathing is the sport.
Everything changes when we head 56km south to the Marinedda resort, near the pretty fishing community of Isola Rossa (‘red isle’ in English). The weather turns unseasonably cloudy so we swap sun lounging for sightseeing, exploring the plethora of quaint local villages.
Historic Castelsardo, packed with medieval cobbled alleyways and stone buildings and topped by a castle that houses a basketwork museum, is postcard perfect. Climb to La Guardiola restaurant for the best panoramic snaps of the bay, and follow with gelato at Gelateria Millevoglie. Another day, we discover Cala Sarraina beach, a tranquil stretch of fine pebbly sand where we snorkel away the morning before lunching at Lino Bar in Costa Paradiso, washed down by complimentary Limoncellos.
THINKING OF THE LONG TERM
Come rain or shine, the Marinedda staff go above and beyond to ensure guests feel at home. An
arrival gift of flip flops, slippers and a beach bag in our sea-view room is a generous touch. Of course, it’s the luxurious Elicriso spa where I feel most at peace. The pressures of daily life dissipate the moment I glide into the first of four thalassotherapy pools, where minerals in the water are thought to boost circulation, accelerate metabolism and eliminate toxins.
My relaxation finale is an anti-ageing “elixir of youth” facial using oil from that legendary grape Cannonau. The facial massage alone, which from beneath the towel draped over my forehead and ears sounds like the ebb and flow of sea waves, is so hypnotic, I’m cat napping within minutes.
Later that evening as I sit on our balcony adhering to my favourite blue zone rule (sipping a daily glass of red wine), I ponder whether all this serenity will make me live a little longer. If it does, it will be one beautiful holiday bonus.
Booking info – The 2019 season runs from 18 May – 28 September 2019. Prices in the 5-star Resort Valle dell’Erica Thalasso & Spa start from £145 per person, per night in a double room on a half-board basis. The 5-star Hotel Marinedda Thalasso & Spa starts from £118 per person, per night in a double room on a half-board basis. For more info, visit delphinahotels.co.uk