Sparkling Sardinia

by Jeanette.Scott

Sardinia’s Costa Smeralda, playground of the rich and famous, is known as a place to splash the cash - but it's also possible to visit without a billionaire's budget

One day I hope to be rich and famous. Until then, it’s nice to just play in the playground. Continental Europe is packed with them. Monte Carlo. St Tropez. Cannes. They all conjure images of the bronzed and beautiful. Places where the sun bounces off shiny bonnets of fast cars and paparazzi lenses wink in relentless pursuit of elusive celebrities.

I can’t claim I frequent them, I’m sorry to say. But just for a while I decided to slap on the sunscreen, put on my best playtime clothes and step into the millionaire’s playground of Sardinia’s Emerald Coast. The Costa Smeralda, as the locals would have it, is an extraordinary playground. The toys are glittering white yachts, a row of giant Hollywood smiles in the harbour. The sandpits are clean beaches, with sand that looks like crushed diamonds. The water that laps the sand sparkles like aquamarine jewellery. And all of the rich kids playing in the playground are dressed immaculately.

But it’s not an overwhelming parade of pomp and prosperity. The people are welcoming and generous and the warm seas of the Costa Smeralda wash everyone’s feet; rich or poor, celebrity or mere mortal. Just to drop a few A-list names, however, the likes of Elle MacPherson, George Clooney, Cindy Crawford and Richard Gere have all been spotted enjoying the sunshine on the northeast coast. So that’s the rich, the famous and the ridiculously good-looking. Italy’s paparazzi make their living here every summer, with enough celebrities each week to fill an entire edition of Heat.

The Aga Khan saw Sardinia’s potential in the 1960s when he developed the coast into what it is today. Of all the Italian islands, Sardinia is only beaten by Sicily in terms of size, and it has a rugged beauty. Mountains of green peak across the island and run down to the beautiful coast. You’d be fooled into thinking you’d gone too far and hit the Caribbean when you reach the beach. The perfect picture-postcard image of clear water and white sand will surprise you every time.

I hate to reveal what seems to be a locals’ secret. But if you want to enjoy one of the finest beaches you’ll find in Europe, you’ll need to drive out to Capriccioli. Ignore the dodgy handbag vendors and you’ll be in seashore seventh heaven. The beaches are free to sit on and there’s no fee to swim in the warm azure water.

But if you really want to play with the big boys on their turf, you’ll need a giant wad of cash. Accommodation prices are sky-high, especially in July and August, and a frothy cappuccino in Porto Cervo – the main port where the A-listers meet – will set you back more Euros than you have fingers. The boutiques will take the shirt off your back to give you a tie and the property dealers will need to see your platinum card before you even get in the door. A meal at the glorious Sottovento restaurant and club will sap your savings. And Formula One boss Flavio Briatore’s nightclub is not called Billionaires for nothing.

But you can play in the playground for cheap, if you’re willing to make sacrifices. OK, so it’s not glamorous to pinch the pennies, but don’t be fooled into thinking that everyone hanging around the port has fame and fortune. A lot of them are normal people too.

Hertz and other rental companies will provide you with your wheels. My hair swam in the breeze as I sped along coastal roads. OK, so I was behind the wheel of a budget Fiat Panda with the windows down, but if you park it far enough away and walk the rest, no-one will ever know. Visit outside the months of July and August and you’ll also save a wad of Euros (although your chances of spotting George and Elle will be reduced too). And if you stay in one of Costa Smeralda’s coastal villages, and not in Porto Cervo itself, your holiday bill will drop again.

Holiday company Just Sardinia gave me the lowdown on what would be open and when while visiting outside the busy summer months. I stayed in a self-catering apartment at I Giardini di Porto Cervo, which offers stunning views of Pitrizza bay. It was three kilometres from the port but some of the glamour and chic, albeit diluted, still leaked out to the tiny resort. And anyway, supermarket-bought vino tastes just as good as a bottle marked up by about €50 in a flash restaurant. In fact, it tastes even sweeter.

Jeanette.Scott

As a travel writer and photographer I've contributed to the LA Times, Lonely Planet, Real Travel, The Australian, The Herald Sun (Australia) and, of course, as an editor and writer on www.simonseeks.com. Following a stint in hospitality, I started my media career in 2002 in newspaper journalism, and I've written for the Guardian, Metro, Coventry Telegraph, Coventry and Warwickshire Times and Living magazine.

According to a fairly pointless Facebook application, I've visited 24% of the planet. Good to know, although there are ten minutes of my life I'm never going to get back. I'm fascinated by our planet and whenever I visit a place that's new to me - be it Barbados, Burkina Faso or a previously unvisited corner of Britain - I want to capture it. I want to keep the confluence of smell, noise and vision; the expressions on the faces of the people; the layers of history; the unfamiliar food and drink. I fasten it in my mind's eye - but when my memory fades, I've got a stack of photographs and a thousand furiously jotted notes to remind me.

Favourite places - my home town of Chester, New Zealand's south island, Malaysia, Fiji, Melbourne, Norway's fjords, Italy (mainly the restaurants), Greek Islands, London, Edinburgh, the Lake District, and home (Chester, though my true "home" will always be Warwickshire).

My Chester

Where I always grab a hot drink: A coffee with the grand (and quite surreal) decor of Oddfellows as the backdrop is a treat; but when my sweet tooth is raging the Blue Moon Café can’t be beaten for hot chocolate with lashings of whipped cream and marshmallows.

My favourite stroll: Treading the wooden slats of the Queen’s Park Bridge is pretty unique. I cross it every morning and evening to and from Simonseeks HQ. For a look at real life in Chester, cross the bridge from the city, drop down to riverside and head away from the direction of the racecourse. You’ll find grand homes and, eventually, the meadows (the scene of a very special New Year’s Eve midnight picnic for me).

Where to be seen: At the races of course! After a day at The Roodee get your hands on one of the coveted Bedouin tents to dine/drink/people watch from in the outdoor space at Oddfellows.

The most breathtaking view: Get the lift to the fifth floor of Abode and check out the view from the Champagne Bar. It’s both unique and breathtaking. If you’re not thirsty, stand on the steps of the High Cross (the pointy monument where the four main streets – Watergate, Eastgate, Northgate and Bridge – meet). Behold The Rows and let the history of the buildings and the buzz of modern life around you slip into your memories.

The best spot for some peace and quiet: Grosvenor Park is perfect in winter but the first rays of sunshine draw picnicking crowds. Act like a local and cross the Queen’s Park Bridge to find your haven in the meadows.

Shopaholics beware!: Visit any of the stores (ground and first floor level) on The Rows and shop accompanied by centuries of history.

Don’t leave without...clocking some time with the Eastgate Clock. Put your shopping bags down, take a picture if you must, but make sure you climb the steps and simply stand and watch the world go by for a while.