Sardinia's northern soul

The island's uppermost reaches have spirit – and style – in abundance

Sardinia's northern soul
By Mark Smith

From virgin white coastal sands to the brawny beauty of its granitic interior, the northern portion of Sardinia – the Mediterranean’s second-largest island – offers up eye candy far beyond its bling ring epicentre, the Costa Smerelda. But you won’t want to miss out on that, either…

Chicken out

With its white sands and azure waters as inviting as anything you’ll find in the Caribbean, Porto Pollo beach (literally, ‘chicken port’) is a finger licking feast for the eyes, offering spectacular views out onto Corsica’s chalky cliffs. It’s the proximity to that island which creates a funnel effect, inviting winds that register up to eight on the Beaufort scale, making it ideal for surfers and kite-surfers of all stripes.

Drink in the scenery

Theories abound as to why Sardinians are apparently three times as likely as the average westerner to live for an entire century. After a visit to Vigne Surrau – the super stylish glass-fronted wine tasting rooms, replete with cork and bottle inspired artwork, overlooking lush green pastures – I’d like to believe that Sardinian longevity is all down to being permanently picked on the exquisite local vino. Apparently, the darker vino nero varieties, when combined with other Mediterranean dietary staples (think fruit, nuts and veg) have some kind of artery-scrubbing effect. Sold.

Hop the archipelago

My lazy preconception of Sardinia as a sort of Viagra-popping retired mafioso’s playpen wasn’t shifted by a brochure, acquired at the airport, proudly describing the north of the island as bordering ‘the most limpid archipelago of the world’. Having since done some discrete googling, I now know that to be limpid is to be ‘characterised by transparent clearness’ and ‘calm untroubled serenity’, both of which apply in spades to the Dolce & Gabanna ad-worthy waters of the Maddalena Archipelago, the group of islands dotting the straits of Boniface between north-eastern Sardinia and Corsica. A private charter, though pricey, can take you to uninhabited Spargi, whose crystal clear waters and deserted coves take limpid to new levels of loveliness.

Say ‘hey’ Maddalena

La Maddalena – accessible via car ferry from the Sardinian port of Palau – boasts the aforementioned archipelago’s largest town, La Maddelena, an enchanting settlement which (and this, surely, can be no bad thing) appears to boast an ice cream parlour for every three inhabitants. Cone-in-hand is undoubtedly the best way to trip the rustic, sun-dappled streets of the Old Town, most of which lead, sooner or later, to the Piazza Umberto I (pictured) with its handsome cafés and delis. Life here wasn’t always this leisurely; the town developed towards the end of the 18th century when its strategic importance as a military base became apparent. In fact, in 1793 a certain Napoleon Bonaparte cut his maritime teeth here as part of an unsuccessful French expedition intended to occupy the island.

Shed in seven

The diet credited with shrinking mother-of-the-bride Carole Middleton to royal wedding-levels of minuteness, Dukan is the regime that promises to turn devotees from piggy to Twiggy without renouncing the joys of chowing down. Apparently, with simple, protein-rich natural foodstuffs coming out the wazoo, the Sardinian store cupboard is particularly well-suited for ‘doing’ Dukan, which is why Doctor Pierre Dukan’s sylph-like acolytes frequently descend on the five-star Valle dell’ Erica Thalasso & Spa to minister to guests over the course of a one week stay that also incorporates indulgent bouts of Sardinian thalassotherapy. That's the practice of using sea water (there’s quite a lot of it around, you see) at various temperatures, to health-promoting, beautifying effect.

Hang with the have-yachts

Costa Smerelda is a lesson in canny property development, if ever there was one. On account of the fact that malaria flourished here until the second world war, Sardinia’s coastal stretches were long undervalued by the health-minded locals who had mostly chosen to live amid the dramatic inland landscape of huge granite outcrops. Enter the current Aga Khan (I like to think of him astride a lustrous prize racehorse) the spiritual leader slash business mogul who, in the 1960s, spied the potential for a 50km stretch of coast and proceeded to buy up swathes of it as a picturesque playground for his superwealthy cronies. He’s since sold up and shipped out, but Porto Cervo, the heart of that ritzy undertaking, remains a pleasantly flashy vision of the Eurotrash good life, complete with giant yachts belonging to oligarchs, plus dinky boutiques stuffed with Prada, Gucci et al that are scored into the remarkably un-gaudy, Gaudí-esque architecture.

Where to stay

Delphina is a Sardinia-based company specialising in spa and family orientated four- and five-star resorts. The chain currently has eight properties.

Get there

EasyJet flies direct to Olbia from Gatwick.