The small town of Santa Teresa di Gallura on the northern tip of Sardinia held significant strategic importance for various Italian and Sardinian rulers over the ages.
Traces of its history can still be spotted in the surrounding towns and villages, although today the economy is supported almost entirely by tourism. Santa Teresa’s population explodes from around 5,000 in the off-season to between 10,000 and 15,000 in the summer.
Northern Sardina reeks of foreign wealth – from the private jets and helicopters scattered across Olbia airport’s runway on our arrival, to the town of Porto Cervo, home of boutique designer shops and villas, yachts and super-yachts belonging to politicians, footballers and film-stars, where the apartments cost €16,000 per square metre and a humble gelato will set you back a cool €26.
Venture out a little into the classically Mediterranean countryside, though, and the environment becomes more laid back. The fertile soil is home to various species of cacti, flora and aromatic herbs, as well as the famous white Vermentino di Gallura grape used to make the island’s only DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) accredited wine. The pace of life is slow, although drivers on the winding roads will think nothing of cutting across lanes on blind corners, almost colliding with the coach taking me to and from the hotel.
Our destination, the Valle Dell’Erica hotel, is as hospitable as you’d expect from a region so dependent on tourism. Its main appeal is its panoramic setting, and it’s cleverly designed so that almost every room has a view of the ocean.
Exploring these turquoise waters by boat is a must. I’m told you can charter your own vessel from various suppliers, but I opted for a guided excursion around the archipelago. My ludicrously attractive guide Antonello points out the islands around us – Razzoli, Spargi, Maddalena, Santa Maria, Budelli – as well as a weather-worn granite rock shaped like a witches head (it is a curious quirk of the area; various guides over a five day period pointed out rocks shaped like an elephant, a bear, a dog, another witch’s head and, my favourite, a humpbacked priest). When I reached the shores of a secluded white sandy beach, I stripped down and took a dip in the cold, clear water.
Whether it was a stop at one of the touristy cafes for an espresso and amaretti, or a formal sit down meal accompanied by fine wines, the food was uniformly excellent. On my first night, I was treated to a six course meal consisting of traditional recipes with an experimental twist, but Sardinian food is actually much better when it goes back to basics. Traditionally, the island was inhabited primarily by shepherds, and the cuisine today reflects this. At the Valle Dell’Erica buffet, everything is prepared in front of you in a glass-fronted kitchen, with staff waiting to serve – be it to cut a few slices of roast suckling pig from the spit, serve up locally sourced fish, or prepare fresh pasta with meat, vegetables or seafood. The Sardinians have a ferocious sweet tooth, and sugary deserts, fruit juices and biscuits are in abundance, while croissants at breakfast are served glazed and covered with sugar sprinkles or hundreds and thousands.
At each meal, bread and cheese is never too far away, and it has its own regional flair. On every table is pane carasau, a crispy flatbread with a texture similar to that of a poppadom, originally designed to keep shepherds nourished during long stays away from home, and can be served plain or brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with salt. Also widely available is Sardinia’s own pecorino sardo, a hard cheese made from sheep’s milk, whose protected designation of origin status means it sells for over £20 a kilogram in the UK.
Evenings consisted of live music and dancing, fuelled by more wine, limoncello, and the heavy, sweet, and distinctively purple Mirto liquor. Latin American dance styles are popular among the locals, and I was given a quick tutorial in the basics of salsa, rumba and meringue before being set loose on the dancefloor. My feisty Sardinian dance partner tells me I have “natural rhythm”, which filled me with so much confidence that I forgot all of the steps and immediately trod on her toe. All was forgiven though, and I decided to retire on a relative high, heading back to the room for one last look at that view before bed.
WHERE TO STAY
The resort Valle Dell’Erica is priced starting at €140 per person per day for a standard room off-season, rising to €680 for a presidential room between 10 and 16 August (half board, drinks not included). The hotel has a nursery and junior club catering for children aged 12 and below, and is perhaps best suited for young families.
Couples might consider instead the smaller, quieter and more intimate Capo D’Orso, with day rates ranging from €150 to €760 per person.
WHERE TO GO
The Vigne Surrau winery in Porto Cervo hosts guided visits and wine tasting. Try award winning names like Branu Vermentino and Sincaru Cannonau, and find out where it’s made and how it’s aged.
The windy Porto Pollo beach is well-suited for watersports, while sun-chasers could visit Rena Bianca, sheltered from the wind on both sides and characterised by fine sand and clear blue-green water.
History buffs might consider the Ethnographic Museum in Aggius, where you can learn about the ancient traditions and way of life of the people in the region, with clothes, tools and furniture out in the open to touch and feel.