“A cent’anni!” said my Sardinian host as we clinked our glasses to good health. “May you live to a 100 years,” she beamed. I kept my fingers crossed. Sardinia’s traditional toast has served many inhabitants well, living life with gusto to a 100 years and beyond. The Mediterranean’s second largest island is renowned for having the highest concentration of centenarians in the world, making it one of only five Blue Zones on the planet. The eastern highland region of Barbagia, in particular, has been identified as the island’s longevity hotspot, and the other four are in Okinawa (Japan), Ikaria (Greece), Nicoya Peninsula (Costa Rica) and Loma Linda (California).
Despite their cultural differences, these five regions have many healthy lifestyle habits in common. For me, though, the Sardinian way sounds especially appealing, with their love of Pecorino cheese and a daily glass or two of red wine – particularly the Sardinian Cannonau, which apparently has over three times more antioxidants than other red wines.
Holding on to this positive thought, I relished my fortifying wine even more, soaking up the fresh breeze and deep blue Mediterranean waters from the sun-soaked terrace of Hotel Capo d’Orso Thalasso & Spa. Inconspicuously perched on the slopes of a secluded bay in northern Sardinia’s Palau region, this five-star property set within the Cala Capra park belongs to the Delphina group of hotels and resorts – the first Italian hotel chain credited with using 100 percent green energy from renewable sources. The brand was also named Italy’s Leading Hotel Group in 2020 and 2021.
BETWEEN HEAVEN AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA
Capo d’Orso Thalasso & Spa takes its name from Bear Rock (Roccia dell’Orso) – an iconic granite formation carved by nature in the shape of a huge bear watching over the Palau community down below. Not your typical luxury resort defined by minimalist, ultra-modern structures; instead, the hotel still retains remnants of a bygone era (it was built in the 80s) and was designed to blend with the natural surroundings.
In this intimate sanctuary, meandering footpaths are bordered by an abundance of Mediterranean scrub – juniper, pine and olive trees, myrtle bushes, laurels and cypresses, to name a few – plus the odd cacti. Like the protected habitat it stands on, the resort retains its rustic charm and undiluted character, dominated by solid stone walls, terracotta tiles and decorative accents showcasing Sardinian craftsmanship.
Visiting in late May was perfect timing. Jasmine blooms abound – on bushes, trellises, even on bungalow walls, filling the air with their sweet fragrance. All 86 rooms, alfresco lounges, restaurants, thalasso pools, spa and restaurants are spread across terraced slopes with panoramic views of the sea and islands beyond. It’s easy to get lost in the labyrinth of pathways and stairways, but by day two, I finally figured my way around.
ROMANCING THE SEA
Chilling out is effortless here with all its secluded spots, some with hammocks strategically placed for dreamy vistas. Sun worshippers can choose from one of five wooden sundecks spread across the water’s edge, and there are two white-sand beaches on either end of the resort – one close to the pier in Cala Capra, and then the more secluded Cala Selvaggia (Punta Cardinalino), which can be reached through a winding rocky path.
Bedrooms with verandas or balconies are most sought after, and the best ones have unobstructed views of the tantalising Tyrrhenian Sea. From our spacious Executive Sea View Junior Suite, we watched sailboats cruising by day and twinkling lights from distant islands at night. The interior is distinctly Sardinian – from the wrought iron headboards to diamond-shaped motifs on wall lamps, bathroom tiles and curtain prints.
The L’Incantu Thalasso & SPA Centre and three-level Thalasso pools with hydromassage jets were just a short stride from our suite. Thalasso thermal pools vary from resort to resort, and from my experience, bathing in temperature-controlled salty seawater rich in minerals comes with real health benefits. But if you’re not a health buff, there’s a cliffside pool at the other end of the resort, as well as a nine-hole pitch-and-putt golf course at the top of the hill where the only distraction is the arresting view over the archipelago.
Northern Sardinia is blessed with an abundance of pristine beaches dotted around the La Madalena archipelago, Caprera island, and the Costa Smeralda region. Most of these secluded coves are ensconced within huge rocks and boulders and are accessible only by boat. A regular ferry service transports visitors between the nearby town of Palau and La Maddalena, but the best option is to cruise around the peninsula on a private boat. You can even sail in vintage glamour on board the Pulcinella, Hotel Capo d’Orso’s very own 1927 ship with red sails. We took an exhilarating trip on board a motor yacht that sailed around nearby islands before dropping anchor at two secluded beaches.
Cala Napoletana, a small cove bordered by imposing granite rocks, is a sight to behold. Situated on the northernmost tip of Caprera, this remote beach can be reached on foot, and those prepared to trek through rugged terrain will be rewarded with exceptional panoramic views. Arriving by boat, we had a different perspective, and while some brave companions jumped into the cold water, I was quite content wading in the refreshing crystal clear waters while watching curious fish hovering around. On a good day, you can either hop on a ferry or charter a boat to take you all the way to Bonifacio in Corsica.
FLAVOURS OF SARDINIA
Starting a sunny day with an alfresco breakfast while live harp music played in the background was a rare treat. The hotel has a good buffet and cooked breakfast, but I was particularly impressed with their extensive range of gluten-free options (delicious breads, cakes and snacks), as well as dairy milk alternatives.
Hotel Capo d’Orso offers a range of intimate dining options. Romantic outdoor dining awaits at Il Paguro’s restaurant’s terrace overlooking the sea. The ambience here is relaxed, and I strongly recommend arriving just before 7pm to get the best table with a view. Guests expect nothing less than the freshest catch of the day, and it didn’t disappoint. Seafood specialities include juicy king prawns, tender octopus, lobsters, crabs and sweet langoustine.
Another romantic seaside setting is Gli Olivastri, surrounded by centuries-old olive trees. The buffet menu includes a reinvention of traditional Gallura dishes and fresh seafood, but it’s worth trying the traditional Sardinian dish, ‘Su Porcheddu’ (roast suckling pig), cooked on a spit for several hours and served with crackling. Dine closer to the sea at Île Flottante, or grab a quick bite from L’Approdo’s selection of sandwiches, salads and pizzas baked in a wood-fired oven. All in all, the level of service at Hotel Capo d’Orso is excellent – the staff are friendly and always ready to help.
Sardinians can’t get enough of their pasta, so they created an original dessert called ‘Seadas’, a scrumptious ravioli lightly fried and filled with soft cheese, topped with honey and drizzled with sugar. A popular pre- or post-dinner drink here is Mirto, Sardinia’s answer to the Limoncello. Mirto is distilled from the berries of the Myrtle plant and tastes similar to blackberries but sharper. It’s an acquired taste, although I found the less intense Mirto-flavoured sorbet quite refreshing, especially on a hot summer’s day.
Northern Sardinia’s exceptional beauty has undoubtedly won the hearts of countless visitors, and the fact that this region has so far remained under the radar of big developers is quite remarkable. It’s also reassuring to know that luxury hotels such as Capo d’Orso and its Delphina sister hotels are dedicated to protecting the environment and preserving Sardinian traditions. Far from the hustle and bustle of touristy spots, this tranquil haven is the place to escape to when we want to de-stress and recharge. It’s worth noting that the Wi-Fi connection around the resort, particularly the suites, can be erratic. But for those wanting to escape their phones for a while, that might not be such a bad thing.
The good citizens who have lived to the ripe age of 100 are indeed lucky to be living on this island, and they have a few lessons to share when it comes to living a happy, healthy lifestyle. But in the long run, it’s not about how long you live. It’s about living life to the fullest – and that should include visiting Sardinia more often, eating Pecorino cheese and enjoying a glass of Cannonau wine. Because life’s too short not to.
Hotel Capo d’Orso Thalasso & Spa is open until 15th October 2022. Rates per person per night in a double room start from €220 on a half-board basis. The nearest airport is Olbia, and helicopter transfers can be arranged. To book at the hotel and find out more, visit Capo d’Orso Thalasso & Spa’s website here.