Italy's Costa Smeralda, Uncovered

How A Prince Transformed This Previously Untrammeled Coastline Into Sardinia’s Crown Jewel
The Purest Green

Long before the Costa Smeralda became the iconic retreat for the rich and famous, home to Relais de la Costa, this 12-mile stretch on Sardinia’s northern coastline was just another corner of the region’s wild terrain. If the area was named for its beautiful translucent emerald-colored water, the land was unacknowledged, with acres of undeveloped, uninhabitable terrain. That is until a late 1950s visit by Prince Karim Aga Khan.

The Aga Khan arrived and envisioned a community of homes, resorts, restaurants, and businesses centered around a beautiful state-of-the-art port. Together with investors, architects, urban planners, and designers, the Aga Khan worked to preserve the integrity of Costa Smeralda using strict design standards where new buildings were created to blend in to the natural landscape and rigid zoning regulations prevented any overbuilding. Following an intense decade of development, 5,000 acres of land were transformed into what we know now as Porto Cervo, the most famous coastline resort in Sardinia, if not the world.

The Porto Cervo landscape cascades into the hills of the area. Photo courtesy of Eduard Diaz i Puig via Flickr.
A prestige room at Relais de la Costa.
Porto Cervo's rugged coastline. Photo courtesy of Winkelbohrer via Flickr.
Relais de la Costa, a boutique hotel designed with the freshness and brightness of the Mediterranean in mind, enhances the region’s best assets: sun, sea, and, chic.
Porto Cervo

Porto Cervo is both a village and destination. Though official surveys count little more than 400 residents, from April through September, the port city is a busy, international crossroads where mellifluous, multilingual conversations overflow around the Piazza del Principe, the small town square, and at the 18-hole Pevero Golf Club, or the many walking, hiking, and horseback riding trails that converge in Porto Cervo.

During the stagione, as Italians call the spring and summer season, Porto Cervo’s boundaries extend to the water as the port itself is a floating city of hundreds of the world’s most enviable yachts and super yachts, solidifying the town’s reputation as a playground for the rich and famous. Even without the yachts, the Costa Smeralda is a playground, especially for those who love the outdoors. Its mesmerizing waters are always just warm enough for snorkeling, scuba, and free-diving, a centuries-old island hobby. Its aquatic life includes striped bass and dolphins, sea turtles, tuna, swordfish, and sunfish, rare mobula rays, (the manta rays of the Mediterranean) and schools of whales—fin, beaked, and sperm whales. On land, the countryside is lined with nature hikes and vineyards to explore.

The Aga Khan may have put Porto Cervo on the map, but Sardinia still remains a beautiful mystery, the second-largest island in the Mediterranean Sea with a history that dates back more than 8.5 million years and a quiet, inscrutable culture that rarely reveals its secrets.

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