In search of some late summer sun, Nick Hammond discovers the sun-drenched island of Sardinia meets his every desire…
This is how I like to spend my thinking time; dawdling a foot over the edge of a boat and staring into the turquoise depths beneath.
Small fish dart here and there; black and spiny sea urchins undulate. And I can’t tell how deep the water is, because it is so clear and magnified by refraction that the distance could be 10ft or 100.
I don’t really care, either, to be honest. That’s the effect Sardinia is having on me.
Valle Dell’Erica is my base; a hillside resort, some two kilometres of sun-drenched coves and bays along this glorious archipelago.
Relaxation has reached its current zenith through careful application of sun, sea, food and wine. Especially food. And wine.
And now I’m lounging in the back of one of the resort boats, having just moments ago leaped overboard to swim, Bond-like, to a sandy inlet all of my own 100 yards or so away.
As I let the sunshine dry the sea salt on my skin, a bottle of Italian fizz is cooling on deck beside me and freshly grated bottarga – dried roe of the Grey Mullet and an Italian sensation – is being liberally sprinkled over oil-infused pasta.
La dolce vita, indeed.
Not for me the utterly crass mega yachts that vie for space in the deep-water marina at Puerto Cervo. It’s fun watching them mind, and almost as much fun marveling at how much their occupants are prepared to spend in the jewellery and handbag shops liberally sprinkled nearby.
But the real Sardinia awaits you when you take a drive out of the towns and tourist hotspots and head for the rocky and wild-planted countryside. The real Sardinia hits you in regular doses throughout your day; in the form of olive oil and fresh fruit and veg; oysters and octopus; bread in every form imaginable; condensation-kissed dry whites and deep, fruity, lingering reds.
As I may have mentioned, the focus here is food. No one does food quite like Italy – and Sardinia classes itself as very separate to the mainland. Food is an obsession, a religion, a tumultuous passion that occupies every conversation and creeps into every thought. It’s what drives this island.
A Sardinian will tell you, at length, how they prefer any particular dish to be prepared; they’ll describe, in intricate detail, each and every part of the process.
There is no such thing as a light meal here. Sardinians eat gargantuan amounts. And that’s just the women.
But they are, in general, a fine and healthy bunch, enjoying as they do, regular doses of sunshine, fresh air, seafood, vegetables, fruit and exercise. Indeed, people tend to live so long and so well on the island that scientists are investigating why.
They needn’t bother, for I can give them their answer now. People live a long time here because they’re happy.
While it may get a little cool in the winter months, it’s never really cold on Sardinia. And for the vast majority of the year, the place is shrouded in a peace-inducing veil of turquoise, above and below. You have to see it to believe it; sunlight shimmering across the sea, that trance-inducing colour.
There are hundreds of beautifully appointed lodges at Valle Dell’Erica, though it’s such an enclave of peace that you wouldn’t know it, even at peak season.
Lodges are built of natural materials hewn from the surrounding rock. Gnarled and ancient olive trees nod somnolently in the afternoon warmth. The sweet smells of wildgrown herbs and spices mingle with offshore ozone and drift in eddies around the pathways of this place. I get lost several times on my meanderings, but it’s not a problem.
Every pathway leads eventually to a pool; a bar; a restaurant or a sea inlet. Getting lost is somehow part of the fun. And there’s a regular shuttle of golf buggies driven by staff, which stop to make sure you’re okay as they pass.
Did I mention the food? There are several restaurants here, serving everything from handmade pizza to dripping, slow-roasted suckling pig.
You can hire a resort boat for the day and explore the coastline or take the short trip to Corsica; you can book a candlelit table for a water’s edge romantic meal at sunset; you can wine taste or just sunbathe in one of the dozens of convenient hammocks dotted along the coast. If you like swimming in the sea, there are multiple beaches which delve gently into the cool, refreshing water.
There are umpteen swimming pools, too, all fed with saltwater; there’s a beautiful Thalasso spa with masseuses waiting to ease tired limbs and a children’s club led by an irrepressibly energetic pied piper.
Valle Dell’Erica is Elysium. My advice to you is to start packing immediately.
Just be sure to include clothes with elasticated waistbands.
For more information about Valle Dell’Erica, its 4 pools, 5 restaurants, golf course, children’s club and excursions, visit www.delphinahotels.co.uk.