Sardinia is savage. Yet, Costa Smeralda with its stabbing-blue waters the Aga Khan found, and founded out of swarthy surrounds a jet-set hot spot. Since the 1970s the rich and the famous have assailed Porto Cervo, the most scintillating point on the Costa Smeralda, during the July/August summer season. Whilst the rest of Sardinia (the second largest island in the Mediterranean) remains rustic and rugged, Porto Cervo sizzles with the hottest people during the hottest months. Yawning boats slumber in the port whilst their owners dissipate life and lucre on luxuries- obscenely priced hotels, clubs, bars, spas and choppers that fly them around. True, Porto Cervo is flash, but it is ever so fashionable and the jet set’s idea of fun.
Pitrizza: Harrison Ford’s preferred idyll is the intimate and extremely pretty. Rustic yet so exclusive, this is Porto Cervo’s most exclusive and romantic address. Stone-walled villas dot groomed gardens lacing the Blue. Thatched villa terraces overlook expanses of immaculate sands trimming ruffles of blue-green. A stunner infinity pool seems to seeps into endless waters. Extraordinary or petrifying (quite literally), the pool happens around a naturally rocky setting with stones strutting out from the water like a piece of artifice.
The resort’s fine dining restaurant in a deeply romantic setting faces the bewitchingly lit pool and seas. Society’s cream comes for authentic Sardinian cuisine Frenchified and fine-tuned. The new chef Andy, who has worked at 3-Michelin-starred Fat Duck and Michelin-starred restaurants on the French Riviera serves the expected traditional cuisine but also dishes out the unexpected as he gets adventurous. Passionate about breaking the rules and innovating, the chef spent a month unearthing a royal recipe for brown bread ice cream and another month perfecting it. He offers 16 ice cream flavours, but don’t forget to try traditional Sardinian dessert speciality, honey-laden cheese-stuffed pastry. Sounds heavy, but is luxuriously light. You will also be light in the head after the sommelier Antonello has splendidly matched superb Sardinian wines with every course. No, you haven’t had a glass too many, the restaurant by dawn arrays varietal Sardinian honeys: try honey-tasting conducted à la wine-tasting! That’s when you aren’t lounging around the outdoors bar where Bond barman Giuseppi shakes up boom-boom Bellinis. But don’t down so many that you don’t wake up in time for breakfast whose amuse-bouche menu includes the surprise “egg” that contains not whites and yolks but a quirky strawberry concoction.
Cala di Volpe: Is Pitrizza’s sister hotel. For those who come to flaunt their finances, fashion and form, it’s the only place to be. Should you think the setting very James Bond so did the producers of Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me, shot en situ. Porto Cervo’s first ever luxury hotel is apparently an attempt at a typical Sardinian village, never mind the Bond-style boats along the canals. The hotel seems so casual, and yet this is where you spot everyone from the bling bling boys and girls to Bruce Willis and Bill Gates and where power-dressed businessmen with their little-dressed accompaniments close earth-shattering deals amidst frivolous happenings. Rooms are tiny and the presidential suite can hardly accommodate the egos or the stupidity of its occupants. The suite at €30,000/night is always full. But naturally…
The poolside restaurant is THE jet-set lunch spot. Expect buxom buffets where multifarious and very particular Sardinian cheeses array. The desserts might be vulgarly sugared for some palates, but the slender-waisted don’t seem to mind. Maitre D Peppino’s wit titillates all palates, even if his gallantry can be chilling and less than thrilling, gents sometimes think: on wind-whacked days, he’ll swathe the fairer sex with hot towels but inform the males, “You must suffer in silence.”
Nevertheless, the charismatic Peppino is the man to know- he’s served VIPs galore in his 40 year career. You’ll also do well to make friends with the barmen at The Cala di Volpe Bar – they’ve knocked up cocktails for everyone who is anyone at what remains the most glamorous bar in town.
Hotel Cervo: Pitrizza and Cala di Volpe less glamorous sibling. It is for those who want to be right in the heart of all the action on the port. The two recently renovated new suites with indigenous décor are gorgeous but the rest of the rooms can be less than appealing. That’s the price you pay for unrivalled location. And for the Cervo Bar, quite the place for people-watching on the square.
Villas & Apartments
Villa Armony: Rentable. Secluded, select, sublime, it’s a mesmerising miracle of interior and exterior décor. The hilltop villa with Costa Smeralda at your feet is very zen. You wouldn’t believe that it’s owned by the people behind the Sotto Vento night club… But no parties here. Instead, you have privacy, paradisiacal setting, beautiful terraced pool and exotica including Balinese-style thatched pavilions perched atop sea-facing cliffs down which carved, colossal crocodiles slither. Exquisite Asian artefacts (like benches in the form of lizards and horses or antique swings) flirt with Mediterranean motifs and corral. The setting is sensual with lovely dining area, oriental courtyard and the to-die-for individually decorated suites. Shame about the stuck-up management. Also, if you don’t have a car, be prepared to pocket out for taxis because you’re in the middle of nowhere and the villa does not provide regular shuttle services. What the villa does serve though is ravishing home-made ravioli to be had in any of a variety of breathtaking settings scattered around its precincts. Villa Armoni classifies itself as a beauty farm that specialises in Indonesian massages done by staff “imported” from Indonesia. This all sounds very fancy, what with Bollywood music played during the massages. And the masseuses clad in Indonesian attire certainly look very exotic. But don’t expect top notch Javanese or Balinese massages at Villa Armoni (which also does Carita facials). For Thai massages done by an Italian therapist try the Pitrizza’s wellness centre.
Piazza del Principe right in the centre of Porto Cervo has a complex of traditional-style luxury apartments, most of which are for sale. However, some (to be completed for the July/August season) will be rentable. These residences have been created for those who want to entertain and have fab wooden dinner tables set on terraces overlooking the gardens of the complex (with pool and Jacuzzi) and the port beyond so you can enjoy the view from the privacy of your apartment. Like hotel suites, the apartments will be have “room service” from the restaurant that partakes of the complex. All’s perfect for private parties here. But the best Bellinis in the world are only at the new Café Prince that partakes of the Piazza dela Principe complex. Here’s where you get barman Stephan’s own original fresh lemonade. The dynamic young staff here with a Cala di Volpe background and rope in their old clients who can be spotted on the cafe’s al fresco terrace.
Café Prince’s first-floor fine-dining restaurant is the place to be seen at these days. The restaurant almost has a split personality with an enchanting and softly lit terrace looking into very modern interiors with eclectic décor. Expect the very best wine list from the expert sommelier who created the wine list at Cala di Volpe, where he worked for 7 years. The chef (formerly at the Pitrizza) offers stylishly presented cuisine of such rarefied texture (try especially the grilled aubergine). Besides Michelin stars, you can soon hope to spot other stars as the new kid on the culinary scene is fast gaining a reputation for being the exclusive haunt of the elite.
Aqua di Parma: Opened its very first spa operation in Porto Cervo. The ultra glam spa is arguably the most sophisticated amongst “branded” spas with a range of unique treatments and 20 new products launched exclusively for the spa and unavailable in retail boutiques elsewhere. Choose from 5 different fragrances for your treatment and then luxuriate in a 15 minute foot bath. Whilst you sip exotic teas (that come in silk bags), the therapist treats your feet with an all-natural scrub made of Sardinian rock minerals, local salts and olive oil. The 2-hour facial will have your skin glowing like the Mediterranean sun whilst the massages are something else. Book with the very lovely Sara who has magic hands.
Brad Pitt and Naomi Campbell prefer the homely ambiance and Sardinian specialities at the Grill with a terrace overlooking the port. Aqua has the trendiest terrace overlooking the water and is amongst the few smart restaurants open for lunch. The ginger and lemon semi fredo is interesting but you mightn’t survive until dessert- the food in the fashion restaurant is expectedly disappointing, even if it was good enough for Linda Evangelista. Best settle for drinks in the evening.
Gianni Pedrinelli: Is the most famous restaurant in all Sardinia and is amongst the most charming restaurants in the world. Subtly stylish with muted colours where pale gold alcoves somehow blend with grey walls and elegant white upholstery, the imaginatively converted Sardinian home retains a rustic and homely feel, despite the art work, classy decorative items and marvellous floral arrangements. The inimitable Mr Pedrinelli whose delightfully quaint manners and sartorial sense cannot fail to impress, flits amongst his guests ensuring all is fine whilst his sister supervises the kitchen. The restaurant is known for its exhaustive antipasti buffet (try especially the fennel and orange salad) and the dessert buffet. Mr Pedrinelli will tell you he serves the best ice cream in the world. He certainly serves the best tiramisu in the world. The restaurant is always full and full of the most glamorous people in town, who all seem to be regulars. And if you want to know when Laxmi Mittal will be in town, ask Mr Pedrinelli, who’s sure to have a reservation.
Fratti Rossi: Family-run and amongst Porto Cervo’s finest restaurants. The quiet, hilltop restaurant might not have a mega glamour quotient but is a favourite with the discrete elite and gourmets. This is the where you find the most delicious home-style food. Try the spinach and ricotta balls, a local speciality. Whilst the mother handles savouries, one of the two daughters does the desserts, all of which are fabulous but she’s proudest of her very original passion fruit and whisky parfait. Mmm… Keep room also for cool caramelised ricotta ice cream and the more banal but richest ever pistachio ice cream.
Lorsetto: Little-known and lovely. This is a favourite with football players, F1 drivers and Arabian princes who rock up in glaring gold cars for the wonderful service and the best wood-fired pizzas in town. Check out also their pastas and Sardinian dishes, especially the delicious stuffed cabbage. Of course, they say ladies turn up in hordes to check out Stephano, the playboy owner who’s 50 but going strong.
Billionaire: Has almost become a synonym for Porto Cervo. It’s one of the most famous night clubs in the world, owned by fun-loving Flavio Briatore of FI fame. Everyone who’s anyone has partied there and during the season, all roads leading to the most happening place in town are clogged with luxury cars. Porto Cervo is minuscule but if you think you can leave the club at 4.00 am and get into bed immediately, forget it- you might be stuck in traffic for 4.00 hours.
Sport: Pevero Golf Club Beautiful with lawns bordered by the sea at both ends that lure Colin Montgomery.
Best Buys: Esmeralda Bazar is a lovely boutique fusing a rustic, typically Sardinian feel with contemporary chic. Expect designer wear hanging from branches of trees. For traditional Sardinian artisanal products, head to Isola next door. Didi Bambi does cute kids stuff and Colombo’s best for men’s casuals. For beachwear, MC2 it is. Piazza del Principe has some of the top designer boutiques but will soon have Porto Cervo’s only exclusive wine shop focusing on supplying private yachts and villas. Panegonda is the best place for super sophisticated jewellery.
Salons: For a hair-raising experience head to slick and sexy new Aldo Coppola.
Best Kept Secret: Poltu Quato was once where boats were stashed to protect them from storms. The hidden little port, a stone’s throw away from the Pitrizza, is surprisingly little known to most, despite its many upmarket restaurants and bars. But it is soon to become the most sought-after place to be with its new luxury residences soaring in price. The enclave also harbours the to-be-christened
Jasmine Hotel (until now a hotel without a name managed by Mallya) whose architect supposedly descends from Gaudi, so expect Gaudiesque interiors.
Excursions: Cagliari is Sardinia’s capital and cultural centre in the South of the island. It will take you a few hours to get there by car, but the drive from Porto Cervo will take you past the world’s oldest olive tree, if that is any incentive…
Best Avoided: Thinking you can get around without hiring a car. Porto Cervo itself is very small but the best addresses are scattered around. There is little public transportation because the rich and famous don’t take public transportation (of course they don’t darling) and a single taxi ride from any of the major hotels to the centre of town is likely to cost a minimum of € 20. Unless you intend to stay put in your hotel or expect to get around in private choppers.
Photo credits – Samir Mody