In the 1950s, Prince Aga Khan chose Sardinia’s Porto Cervo on the Emerald Coast to be a private getaway from over-trafficked Mediterranean resort towns. With agreements that limited development, Porto Cervo became an exclusive playland for the rich and famous. Its tiny harbor was pedicured into a charming piazza of shops, restaurants and Yacht Club Costa Smeralda and, since 1963, it has been a favorite docking ground for Bardots, Beyoncé and billionaires. Twenty-first century Porto Cervo still has its 1960s jet-set allure that attracts visitors of all tax brackets from all over the world — and so do its gorgeous beaches and small towns. With the newly renovated Olbia Costa Smeralda Airport, getting to Porto Cervo for a weekend jaunt has never been easier.
Head immediately to Hotel Cala di Volpe, a property that, for all intents and purposes, should be its own world. The Cala sits on the edge of an isolated cove of emerald green water and soft white sand, a kind of terra-cotta sand castle with curves. Beautiful rooms with even more splendid views and incredible sporting activities (horseback riding, fishing, sailing) mean you want to stay here all day, unless of course, you hire a boat for beach hopping. If you need a lunchtime bite, Cala’s Barbecue Restaurant serves grilled fish and meats such as veal and chicken breast in a terrace overlooking the cove.
Once the sun starts to go down, head to Piazzetta di Porto Cervo for late afternoon shopping and appetizers. The small retail area is home to some of Europe’s best boutiques, including the usual suspects Dolce & Gabbana, Prada, Valentino, Cartier and Roberto Cavalli, along with top swimwear shops Eres and Miss Bikini. The piazzetta is also the perfect people- watching spot, so grab a seat at any of its three bars. At dinnertime, walk down to Il Pescatore for a traditional Sardinian meal with a focus on fish. No matter what you ultimately go with for your main entrée, make sure your meal includes an order of gli stagionati dell’isola, an antipasto of local salami and cheeses.
If you don’t want to spend the day on a beach or a boat, take a drive around the Gallura, the northeastern region of Sardinia. The local landscape is a gray cascade of hills made of huge granite rocks and verdant fields. Take a morning trip to Siddùra or Surrau wineries (approximately 35 minutes from Porto Cervo) to learn about Vermentino whites and Cannonau reds. The wineries often organize tastings onsite, with delicious local cuisine such as zuppa gallurese (pecorino cheese and bread soup) and porceddu (roasted pork) to complement your vino.
Dedicate your afternoon to San Pantaleo, a small town made up of a single piazza surrounded by stone-built cottages, set in a stunning granite backdrop. Over the years, San Pantaleo has become an artists’ enclave where painters, jewelry makers, sculptors and others take residence and sell their work. While the area is known for its fairs and festivities throughout the summer — late July’s celebration of local saint San Pantaleo and August’s Festa della Birra Trinitaiese folk event are two of its most prominent events — the fall captivates with its own kind of charm.
After perusing the pieces, it is time to get back to Cala di Volpe and take another dip in the luminous waters. In autumn, the temperature is generally pleasant, no matter what time of day. Dinner plans should be local and informal, though in Porto Cervo, “relaxed” still means stylish. Il Pomodoro is the resort town’s up-and-coming restaurant for a chill vibe, though return visitors will probably book a table at Finger’s, an old-school favorite that’s owned by former soccer star Clarence Seedorf and overseen in the kitchen by Brazilian-Japanese chef Roberto Okabe, a man known for his flashy sushi creations.
It wouldn’t be Porto Cervo without mentioning the Billionaire Club, businessman Flavio Briatore’s nightclub founded in 1998 that helped put Porto Cervo on the international party map. Billionaire was epic in its heyday for its bashes overflowing with models — Briatore’s ex-girlfriend is Naomi Campbell — and over the years, has evolved into a chain of nightspots around the world. Briatore’s creation remains the area’s most famous hotspot, and is a worthy address to conclude a visit to Porto Cervo.