The history of the Costa Smeralda began at the end of the 1950s when the Prince Aga Khan discovered the north coast of Sardinia and, together with Patrick Guinness and four others, bought 12,000 hectares of land here with the aim of creating one of the most luxurious resorts in the Mediterranean. Every building, from grand hotels to petrol stations, was approved by a committee of architects who ensured that the new constructions involved the minimum possible environmental impact, before the term “environmental impact” had even been invented. Having celebrated 50 years of history, the Costa Smeralda can still be considered a unique social, entrepreneurial and architectural phenomenon, defined above-all by a strong and unmistakeable identity: the famous “Costa Smeralda style”.
In the heart of the region lies Porto Rotondo, a primary holiday destination for many celebrities in the past. Almost 50 years have passed since the foundation stones were laid and much has changed. Gone are the dirt roads, the road signs warning of turtles crossing and the rickety little wooden bridge. New investors and new projects have shaped Porto Rotondo. Its residential areas are now larger and better known, like the one that overlooks the famous Ira beach, named after Ira Von Fürstenberg. Even the little peninsula of Punta Lada, once completely untouched, is now home to beautiful villas. The locality of Porto Rotondo extends as far as the Gulf of Marinella at its southernmost border. The village centre, with its concentration of little architectural treasures is today livelier than ever. The renowned amphitheatre designed by Mario Ceroli hosts a packed programme of concerts, recitals and shows, as does San Marco square. Among the winding streets and lanes, which bring to mind a miniature Venice, life unfolds at a leisurely pace and resounds with the joy of being in one of the most beautiful tourist destinations in the world.
The Country Side
A short distance from the Costa Smeralda lies its hinterland, the Gallura region. A land famed for traditional stone houses and a paradise of brilliant light and crisp, fresh air, dotted with houses surrounded by vegetation: an orderly, shaded country criss-crossed by low stone walls held together over the centuries without cement or binding other than the skill of their builders. An unsoiled world of villages, these too built from stone, like San Pantaleo, Luogosanto, Sant’Antonio. The countryside near the Costa Smeralda plays host to “Tombe di Giganti” ancient necropolis that are well signposted, small “nuraghe” prehistoric dwellings, natural freshwater springs and charming country churches. Numerous streams run into the Liscia lake which becomes dark, choppy and sensual when the mistral wind blows. In Gallura it is good to stop and talk to the locals with their disarming straightforwardness. You may meet people who gather cork or who mine granite, or a farmer busy with the upkeep of his stone house. You can ask them about the thousand intricacies of their lives, and realize that they are not so different from our own.
Sardinian people are recognised as being distinct from Italians culturally due to a complex history and the island’s geographical isolation from the mainland. Thanks to this, the island has retained its own ancient traditions and even though Italian is the official language the indigenous Sardinian, with its two distinct dialects in the North and South, are still spoken by older generations and varies even from village to village, taking influence from different settlers. You may even here variations of Catalan and Arabic whilst exploring the island, a remnant of times past.
Sardinians take part in many festivals to celebrate their culture and like the rest of Italy, Sardinia is predominantly Roman Catholic. However, if you get a chance to witness a religious festival you will see magnificent pagan traditions that have remained throughout the island’s tumultuous history, adding to the Sardinian’s strong sense of identity.
Around a quarter of the island is National Park or protected reserve areas, leaving much of the island completely unspoiled to explore and spot some of the island’s native animals such as Sardinian Fox or Mediterranean Monk Seal. Small coves are dotted around the island’s rugged coastline as well as deep caves carved by the sea into the mountains.
Sardinia has a beautifully warm summer climate. On the coast, temperatures average 10 °C in January and 28°C in July, with the temperatures slightly cooler in the mountains. Typically Mediterranean, most of the rainfall falls in Winter and Autumn and the island is renowned for having seas warm enough to swim from May until October. Although the Season was once concentrated over just a few weeks at the height of the Summer, it now runs from April to October.
Sardinia is served by three international airports, including Olbia Airport located within the Costa Smeralda region itself, connecting the island with Italy and many European destinations, although services are significantly reduced in the winter. Ferries connect the island to Italy’s mainland, where the port of Olbia is the busiest on the island. Public transport routes serviced by trains and buses are provided on the island, where some more remote prehistoric archaeological sites would be easier reached by car.
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