If you haven’t been to Sardinia before, you’ll be forgiven for thinking that’s it’s all glitz, glam and grown-ups. On the contrary, this jewel in the crystal-clear turquoise seas of the Med is as child-friendly as mainland Italy, just smaller. We spent a fantastic week in the peaceful north east of Sardinia on the Costa Smeralda. Characterised by rugged terrain, dramatic coastline and lots of white sandy coves, it has lots to offer.
Although Porto Cervo with its celebrities and super yachts isn’t far away, this hotel isn’t showy. The Park Hotel & SPA Cala di Lepre is a 45 minutes easy transfer from Olbia. It’s set in its own massive park, teeming with delightful little animals from wild grouse to turtle doves and hares, not designer shops.
It’s part of a small group, Delphina, that owns a handful of high-end four and five-star properties in the north of the island. Their offering is varied, from serious spas to kids clubs and sports to laid back couples’ retreats. But they all have one common theme – environmentally friendly hotels that embrace nature and cook low food mile produce when possible. Food is a passion here and Sardinia has huge amounts to offer, especially when you start to travel inland.
The Park Hotel Cala di Lepre is one of Delphina’s finest family offerings. It is quite a large resort and has over 160 rooms, with all of the facilities although none of the feel of somewhere this size. Instead, you can imagine you are staying in an individual villa set into a hillside. There are five swimming pools (one for children only), three very different restaurants, a destination spa, kids’ club and beach. One unique feature is the nursery – 24 hour access to fridges full of freshly prepared purées, stocks, yogurts, milk and fruits, plus bottle heating and sterilising and changing and feeding area. It’s a godsend – no need to lug heavy equipment on holiday. Provided free of charge, it makes taking a baby away a pleasure not a chore.
Delphina prides itself on its green credentials and this extends to aesthetics too. Respecting nature and blending the indoors to the outdoors is something they do well. The accommodation is all single storey, each with its own entrance, muted stone colours and generous outdoor seating areas. It is scattered across the hill, hidden behind bougainvillaea and masses of fragrant herbs and trees. Walking to dinner, breathing in the balmy night air is a simple pleasure we soon discovered and relished! Joined by pathways flanked with foliage, there’s also a fleet of electric buggies that ferry anyone who doesn’t fancy or can’t manage walking.
We stayed in a newly refurbished family suite, sitting high up on the hill, hidden from view but looking out to sea. The two sizeable bedrooms both had their own separate bathrooms, with huge walk-in showers – spotless, sparkly and new! Both bedrooms sharing a sitting room opening out onto our sizeable veranda complete with the extremely useful swimwear drying rack, a table, chairs and two sun loungers. Perfect for sipping a cold glass of Sardinian vermentino at sunset. The decor is whitewashed wood. Very natural, very calming.
Italian children never seem to sleep so thankfully, Leprottoland, the supervised kids’ club, is open seven days a week until a ridiculously late 11pm. It’s also free, with age appropriate activities galore and a daily changing program. The kids’ club itself is set in a huge grassy area with a playground, volleyball pitch, ping-pong and tightrope on site. There’s a huge amount of shaded area for arts and crafts and the staff to child ratio would keep any Ofsted inspector happy.
Children can practice football with the resident coach, learn archery or even horse riding at the hotel’s stables. What’s really special here is the ecological leaning. Of course, there’s lots of the usual play and games but children also get to learn about the world around them with outings to the beach to collect plants and observe nature. The animators are young, keen and energetic. The sense of fun is almost contagious. Once a week, the children and animators put on a show in the outdoor amphitheatre. From the tiniest giraffes, noses painted black, to the strapping teen pirates, they danced along to a fantastic show, extolling the virtues of looking after the environment.
The hotel caters deliciously to families of foodies. Breakfast can be taken in the large but open Arcipelago, the main restaurant above reception. There are views out to sea and a fabulous buffet laden with pastries, cakes, fruits, meats, cheese and almost anything you could care to eat, hot or cold. For a quieter affair, head to Le Terrazze, the more intimate a la carte restaurant, high on the hill, with even better views and even more bougainvillea.
For families needing a full three meals a day, the hotel offers a brilliant value, full board option with a huge buffet lunch in the main restaurant. They call it brunch but it’s really a full on lunch. We couldn’t manage to remove ourselves from around the huge pool, so instead we ate most days at the rather refined pool bar and grill. White tablecloths and umbrellas in the garden or under the shade of the bar, fresh catch of the day, mouth-watering pasta or light salads and frozen drinks of every kind made to order – it was a no-brainer. And there was service with a smile – we got to know the staff well. They make it their business to make the adults and the children feel equally welcome.
Dinners we split between the à la carte restaurant with its more sophisticated and luxurious table service menu, and the main buffet restaurant.
It offered the freshest, most delicious antipasti – fish, meat and vegetarian, melons, hams, plus many gluten free options. Each night there was a selection of marinated fish and meats, a huge salad buffet, pasta courses and then main courses of fish, meat or vegetarian. There were cheese boards with plenty of local cheese, chutneys and honeys, fresh fruit and fantastic desserts. What stood out was the quality of the ingredients and the preparation.
Thalassotherapy pools hidden amongst the juniper trees and tranquility are all to be found at d’Ea Marina, the hotel’s destination spa. They offer blissful massages, both indoors and out, a wellness garden, gym and Turkish bath and sauna. It’s a real escape and treatments are worth every penny.
Lazy mornings by the pool, lunch spotting yachts, then to the beach in the afternoon, you need never leave. The pretty port of Palau with its traditional square, gelaterias and night market is only a five-minute taxi or hotel navette-ride away and well worth a visit. Northern Sardinia as a whole has much to offer for those with itchy feet but we were firmly staying put in our little natural playground!