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“Running roughly 35 miles along the northeastern shores of Sardinia, the Costa Smeralda boasts one of the most pristine stretches of shoreline in the Mediterranean, and one of the most exclusive. Every summer it attracts yachtfuls of film stars and models, playboys and princes, Arab sheikhs and Russian oligarchs. The paparazzi flock here to capture the likes of Pierce Brosnan, Julia Roberts, and Donatella Versace.

Costa Smeralda was the creation of jet-setting Prince Karim Aga Khan IV, the spiritual leader of Isma’ili Muslims. He stumbled upon the charms of this empty coast in 1958 when his yacht sheltered from a storm in one of its inlets. Within four years he had formed a consortium to buy more than 12,000 acres of coastal property to create a resort destination of villas, marinas, and luxury hotels.

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It may sound like a great way to ruin a virgin coastline, but long before such things were fashionable, Costa Smeralda was a model of sustainable tourist development. Strict controls governed everything from building design (traditional materials only) to electricity cables (buried underground). This wasn’t all far-sighted eco-consciousness, however; it was also simple self-interest. The rich partners in the consortium planned to holiday here themselves, and they wanted to keep it pretty much as they found it—a wild shore of pink and gray granite, of thorny prickly pear and juniper, of hidden coves with pocket beaches. A land magnificently apart.

One can follow the winding road past red-roofed villas tucked discreetly behind banks of blooming bougainvillea. Beyond the world-famous Pevero Golf Club, take the turnoff for the Costa Smeralda’s unofficial capital, Porto Cervo. A re-creation of a Mediterranean village, this upscale port village is all cobbled lanes, picturesque archways, and elegant loggias—without a lot of locals. In place of fishing boats the harbor floats yachts the size of small cruise liners. Instead of butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers, the cute lanes are crowded with Versace, Prada, Gucci, and Bulgari. It’s a shopping mall for millionaires: Park your boat and unpack your credit rating.

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Then treat yourself to a lazy afternoon on the sands of the nearby resort village of Liscia di Vacca, watching white sails drift toward the Maddalena Archipelago. The evening can be spent at arcaded Ristorante Fior d’Acqua, overlooking the harbor at Porto Cervo, where Italian celebrity chef Michele Farru has tried to bring a modest authenticity to the over-inflated culinary expectations of this bejeweled coast. Dine on a sea bass that will cap off a sublime first day.

From the Gulf of Asinara to the Costa Smeralda

From the Gulf of Asinara to the Costa Smeralda

Instead of traveling by car, try a motorcycle…. On the Ducati you will feel, smell, taste Sardinia. Ascend and glide down the island’s smooth contours, follow its inlets and bays, feel the wind blowing off the sea coursing down from the mountains. Inhale the freshness of the mornings and breathed the drowsy heaviness of the early evenings. The “touch” of the landscape lay in subtle details. On the road north from coastal Cannigione, winding through macchia scrub, you will pass through invisible chambers of scent, one moment rosemary, then myrtle, lavender, thyme, and then, round a corner, the sudden salt tang of the sea.

On the heights of Capo d’Orso, or Cape of the Bear, the morning is perfumed with oleander blossom,
Follow on along the north shore through the sleepy town of Palau to Santa Teresa Gallura, a relative newcomer as Italian towns go—it was founded in 1808—but with beaches that have become popular in recent years as an alternative to the pricey Costa Smeralda. Climb the long, straight road to the town’s main piazza and rounded a corner to find the Caffé Mediterraneo.

The winds of Sardinia are famous, cooling through the hot summer months, bitter in winter, and unpredictable year-round. Santa Teresa overlooks the Bocche di Bonifacio, the “mouths,” or strait, of Boniface, which lies between Corsica and Sardinia. Barely seven miles wide at its narrowest point, littered with islands and rocks, the strait is a funnel for wayward winds, a threat to all but the most experienced sailors. Still, one sailor’s danger is another’s opportunity. Each summer, the strait is the venue for popular sailing races, including several sponsored championships. “With the Ponente wind blowing at your back, or the Libeccio coming across your starboard stern,” the waitress said, “these offer some of the most exciting runs in a sailor’s life.”

Heading south along Sardinia’s west coast, the road and the landscape open up. Before a succession of macchia-cloaked headlands cradled bays of unnatural blue and beaches backed by low dunes and tall umbrella pines. Stylish holiday villas, usually set within gated communities, lay scattered along this coast, now branded Costa Paradiso in response to the more famous Costa Smeralda. The ruins of watchtowers, where ancient Sards once scanned the horizons for the ships of Saracens and pirates, commanded the promontories….”
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Source: Excerpted from “Sardinia’s Carefree Coast”, by Stanley Stewart, NatGeo Traveler.