“Stessa spiaggia, stesso mare!” Sardinia. The Writer’s Cut

150 150 Rob McGibbon

This is a slightly extended version of the article that appeared in the Mail on Sunday newspaper…

Our jolly, mahogany-tanned captain glides the dingy tender to some rocks, then directs his group of excited day-tripper explorers to head for an indiscernible path between the tall reeds.

I lead the way with fearless vigour and a few minutes later we emerge at a beach of cinematic beauty, with alabaster-white sand and a glimmering sea of the palest emerald.

But the magical desert island spell is instantly broken by a vexed Italian woman striding towards us, clutching a walkie-talkie and snapping orders in comically accented English. “NO stop! NO towel! NO sit! Walk!” She then instructs our bemused troupe to follow her. 

Welcome to Budelli island’s Cavaliere beach, a stretch of sand so precious that it requires its own security guard.

Cavaliere beach on the island of Budelli

Budelli is one of more than 60 islands that make up La Maddalena Archipelago, a protected national marine park just off the coast of northern Sardinia. The entire area is gasp-out-loud gorgeous and has been a magnet for flotillas of sea-faring tourists for decades. 

However, mindless souvenir hunters have stolen so much sand, shells and stones over the years that local authority officers are now stationed on a few ecologically fragile beaches during peak season. Fines can hit 3,000 euros for removing irreplaceable treasures.

I first went to Sardinia in 1977 (yes, I go that far back) and have re-discovered it in recent years as the idyllic European family holiday destination. It has everything: perfect weather, sea and beaches that match the Caribbean, delicious cuisine, plenty of culture and history, and a warm welcome wherever you go. And it’s only two hours from Gatwick.

We are here this time to discover the lesser-visited north and are using the hotels of Delphina Resorts, the island’s oldest hotel group, as stepping stones. It has eight luxury coastal properties in this region and is still owned by the two families who founded it 30 years ago. It has won numerous industry awards, most notably for its environmental initiatives.

Our first stay is at Capo d’Orso, a discreet hotel of only 80 rooms hidden amongst a woodland leading down to the sea. From the hotel, it is a short walk to a legendary local landmark – Roccia dell’Orso (Bear Rock) – a natural rock sculpture that has formed into the shape of a bear during the past million-or-so years. 

After a gentle 500 metre ascent up steps, we stand beneath the belly of the beast and look down the Straits of Bonifacio that separates Sardinia and Corsica. An impressive vista. Safety ropes are on hand in case the wind gets too strong.

A short drive away is the port town of Pilau where we take a 15 minute ferry to La Maddalena island itself (60 euros with the car). We drive the length of the island in only 20 minutes and marvel at stunning coves that appear around almost every corner.

After Capo d’Orso, we take the SS125 and head to Le Dune resort on the far west. It is less than 50 miles across the entire width here, but we happily drag out the drive for most of a day to take detours. Driving is so easy and a joy in Sardinia. During a 10-day stay we did not encounter even one traffic light, let alone a traffic jam. As for speed cameras – Ha! – such malevolent, money-making machines belong to another, sadder world altogether. I think they call it Britain.

One stop along the way is to Aggius, a beguiling little town celebrated for its stone houses and for crafting the finest rugs on traditional looms. Sadly, the rug shops were closed when we arrived – the old fashioned lunchtime shut down – but we had the pleasure to stumble upon another local legend: Paolo Sanna, the doughnut maker. A cheerful and sprightly 81-year-old, Paolo has been frying his hand-made doughnuts from a little kitchen off the main street in the centre for the past 60 years. He rolls and fries one for me – one that is big enough to feed three. We happily devour it in the shade whilst sitting on slabs of granite with faces of angels chiselled on their sides. Sweet bliss – and the best two euros I have ever spent.

Le Dune, a sprawling resort on the far west coast, has copious sporting facilities and activities for children of all ages. It is perfect for families and is right beside Li Junchi beach, a stunning, uninterrupted stretch of 8km of white sand. Unfortunately, this is red-flagged for two days due to strong winds, so we head back to more tranquil waters on the northern coast.

On the way, we stop at Santa Teresa – Sardinia’s most northerly major town – and climb over and in-between enormous grey granite boulders to hike down to the sea’s edge. Here, we dunk our tired feet in the cool water and gaze at Corsica, just seven miles away.

Le Dune Resort and Spa on the far west coast of Sardinia is by the 8km Li Junchi white sand beach

A dreamy boat trip is really the only way to appreciate the beauty of the Sardinian seas and our next hotel has the perfect answer. Valle dell’Erica – the five star jewel in Delphina’s portfolio – has its own elegant 1927 wooden sailing boat called La Pulcinella exclusively available for guests.  

It was aboard La Pulcinella that we visited Budelli and cruised around other islands, dropping anchor at breath-taking bays, to then dive off the side and swim in warm, crystal clear waters. A delicious lunch of seafood pasta and crisp local Vermentino white wine is served on board. On the way home, our deckhand flags down a passing Algida branded speedboat (Italy’s version of Wall’s ice cream), so we can buy Cornettos. A truly unforgettable day. 

Most of our time at Erica, is spent kicking back on the serene Licciola beach, or in its spa and salt water swimming pools.

As we say goodbye to Sardinia, a member of the reception staff says with the warmest of smiles: “Stessa spiaggia, stesso mare.” She explains that this is a typical Italian summer farewell, imparting a simple wish to see you again next year at “The same beach, the same sea”.  The phrase derives from a vintage Italian song of the same name that has had many popular cover versions over the years, most notably by Piero Focaccia in 1963.

Well, if the holiday gods shine on us again, we will definitely be to Sardinia – and we promise not to steal any of it!

Visit Delphina Hotels & Resorts at www. https://www.delphinahotels.co.uk/index_en.html