Sardinia is the second largest island in the Mediterranean Sea (after Sicily), yet it remains relatively unspoilt and less touristy than its neighbours. And while most visitors head to the northern coast for its dramatic landscapes and beaches, the southern region is making its own mark, notably the capital, Cagliari, the gateway towards discovering the island’s historical monuments and authentic traditions, not to mention its charming coastlines.
Before heading off to the coast, I spent some time exploring the capital’s Castello district, an ancient fortress where two imposing towers once protected the citadel from waves of invaders. The main attractions here are the Cathedral of Santa Maria and the Cittadella dei Musei, home to the archaeological museum and its extensive collection of artefacts dating back thousands of years. Panoramic vistas of the city and mountains beyond can be viewed from the heights of Castello, while down below, a vibrant lifestyle thrives against a backdrop of centuries-old structures.
After a dose of culture and city life, it was time to head to Forte Village for some serious pampering. Less than an hour’s drive south of Cagliari, this coastal oasis rimmed by a long stretch of white sandy beach is home to over 3,000 species of flora, including 15,000 trees, Mediterranean bushes and exotic flowers, providing an expansive habitat for wildlife.
It was hard to imagine this village could accommodate eight luxury hotels, 13 villas with pools and 40 suites. Sprawling across 50 hectares, each enclave is enclosed within its own private gardens to provide seclusion, privacy and space for guests. Initially, the village seemed like an enormous maze of pathways lined with towering palm trees. But after spending an afternoon meandering on foot and hopping on board an electric golf cart, I quickly became familiar with the resort’s geography.
Choosing the right abode can be a conundrum. The Waterfront Suites are ideal for small families or couples, while ultra-luxurious villas with pools would appeal to larger groups. The grandest of them all is Hotel Castello’s Presidential Suite overlooking the ocean. The cosy Le Dune bungalow suited me and my husband for its close proximity to the beach, seaside rooftop pool and adjacent Le Dune Restaurant. Rustic Sardinian features are evident in the wooden beams and earthy tones, accented with contemporary details. Each bedroom looks out onto a private patio and garden with loungers, and bikes provided by the resort came in handy for exploring the village. A swim and long walk along the beach certainly worked up our appetite for dinner.
Gastronomy is serious business here, and again, the choices are mind-boggling. The last time I counted, there were 21 dining establishments, ranging from Michelin-star cuisine from the Heinz Beck Restaurant to informal pizzerias and outdoor barbecue stations. Dining at the Cantina del Forte wine cellar was a culinary highlight not just for the intimate setting but also for the creative Italian dishes from Michelin-starred guest chefs who arrange special menus with wine tastings. Each course, whether it be a Gambero Rosso with melon, a Calamarata stuffed with clams, or a deconstructed Tiramisu— enhanced the flavours of authentic Italian fayre with flair.
Le Dune restaurant’s elegant seaside location sets the tone for romantic evenings. This is fine dining in a relaxed atmosphere, with an à la carte menu catering to seafood lovers. Highly recommended is the “Culurgiones”, a traditional Sardinian pasta dish originating from the Ogliastra region. This moreish ravioli stuffed with potato, mint, garlic and Pecorino is served with prawns and a delicate tomato and citrus purée.
More traditional Sardinian dishes await at Ristorante Sardo, and it’s worth saving space for the Seadas, a pasta-based dessert stuffed with cheese and served with honey and myrtle sorbet. Myrtle is an indigenous berry Sardinians consume in copious amounts as an aperitif. It’s an acquired taste, but I prefer the sorbet version for its zingy flavour. Meat lovers head for Ristorante Brasiliano, where various types of meats are spit-roasted over a charcoal grill and then sliced straight from the skewer onto the plate. Not to worry, vegans and vegetarians are well-catered for in most restaurants.
Life is one big balancing act, even when it comes to indulgence, and this time it’s about the gratification of a healing kind at the Acquaforte Thalasso & Spa. This 55-acre haven of wellbeing set within sub-tropical landscapes has something pretty special: a circuit of six Thalasso pools that harness the healing powers of thermal waters. Each one varies in temperature, specially formulated to contain differing levels of salt and mineral content.
Pool one is heated to 38 degrees Centigrade and contains a high sea oil and magnesium salt concentration, making floating effortless. Submerged up to my neck in this dense concoction initially felt like being in a vat of hot oil, but definitely worth the effort for its myriad benefits. Time in each pool is limited to 10 minutes, but a lot of goodness happens in that short period. Sluggish blood flow is given a good kick to relax stiff muscles and ease joint pains, while the metabolic process is fired up to help the body eliminate toxins that cause inflammation. Pool two is just as hot, but phytotherapeutic elements, such as aloe and mint, are added to the mix — a potent formula effective in healing skin problems, such as psoriasis, while also stimulating the production of feel-good endorphins. A word to caution to those with a skin cut or wound that is still healing: the high salt content could cause stinging.
Those who persevere will be rewarded at the sixth and last pool, which is relatively cool at 25 degrees. Multiple massage jets finish off the task of revitalising and relaxing the entire body as the healing process ensues. To get the maximum health benefit, I was advised to do two to three sessions. And even though I only managed to do it once, I already noticed a marked improvement in my skin allergies in such a short period.
Not to be missed is the spa’s Honey and Salt Signature massage, combining healing honey and exfoliating salt with essential oils to detoxify the skin. Following the massage and while still lying on the waterproof bed, the oily mixture is gently rinsed off with specially designed showerheads – a heavenly ritual I didn’t want to end.
There’s no time to get bored at Forte Village. When not chilling out on the beach or pool, adults and children can choose from myriad leisure and sports activities. Parents also get some time off while the little ones are being looked after and entertained at ‘Children Wonderland’, a multi-themed park which includes a Barbie™ Vip Experience. Evenings spent under the stars come with live music from various bands performing at the open-air piazza.
Forte Village is also a perfect base from which to explore the southern region’s historic landmarks. In the Archeological Park of Pula in the nearby city of Nora, Sardinia’s first Phoenician city, remnants include ancient baths, the Piazza del Foro, colonial temples, the necropolis and an amphitheatre. Oenophiles can also arrange visits to vineyards, such as Argiolas Winery and other family-owned wineries.
Forte Village is a gem of a retreat where you can easily forget about life’s stresses. I like the fact that everything is within easy access in an idyllic, safe environment. It also made a difference to see staff smiling and greeting each other, not just the guests. This is my happy place in southern Sardinia.
To find out more about Forte Village and make a booking, visit the links below:
Forte Village, Sardinia offers rooms from €540 per room per night based on two adults sharing a Deluxe Bungalow on a half-board basis, excluding drinks. For this rate, babies aged up to two stay for free, and children between two and 13 receive a 50-percent discount.