a real dream
Everyone has heard about Porto Cervo and has an idea of this “tourist" village in northeastern Sardinia. A place that for more than sixty years has been the destination of a small number of extremely rich people. However, not everyone knows its history and in truth, few have really been there, even if for one or two hours.
The Sardinians themselves often do not grasp its essence or its material and symbolic importance. They talk about it with a certain sufficiency if not even impatience, considering the Costa Smeralda something foreign, alien in a certain sense.
Many books have been written on the history of the Costa Smeralda, on the birth of Porto Cervo which is its symbol and on the personalities who gave life to this place, which was then inhabited by very few families of that area named “Gallura” owners of those rocky and uncontaminated terrain on which today there are villas and dream hotels.
Beyond the legend, which tells of the electrocution, an authentic falling in love by His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan for these coasts, it must be said that, as in antiquity, Sardinia has many arrows to its bow and the location of Porto Cervo was and is very interesting.
A natural landing place in the centre of the western Mediterranean, close to all European capitals, in an area far from conflicts and geopolitical instability, in short, in the 60s it was a truly privileged place.
Even today, Porto Cervo is the best-equipped marina in Sardinia, able to accommodate over 700 boats of various sizes and on “pier A" it is able to accommodate pleasure ships over 150m in length.
Only the passenger port of Olbia has such availability, but it is a completely different landing and lacks the tourist services of the highest level that Porto Cervo is able to offer.
This fact has attracted over the years the most important owners of pleasure ships, substantially the richest men in the world. Around this, once called “jet set", a flourishing economy and a tourist chain was born, that stretches to have effects and influence throughout Sardinia.
Porto Cervo is part of a touristic system that in just over two generations has transformed in an extremely profound way this corner of Sardinia.
In Gallura the economy was, until then, essentially rural: a few huge families aggregated around very small towns and “stazzi" (the typical Gallura country house), dedicated to the breeding of goats, cattle and agriculture where possible.
On the coast, the city of Olbia was instead mainly dedicated to agriculture, mussel farming and fishing especially in its hamlet of Golfo Aranci, now an autonomous municipality.
The arrival of H.H. Prince Karim Aga Khan IV changed everything with the birth of the Costa Smeralda, although it is now history, maintains an almost legendary halo with fabulous and not always true anecdotes that have been circulating for decades.
The change was a very rapid process. The construction of Porto Cervo, of what we call the old port and the Cervo hotel with its natural dock, required the massive use of local workers. Artisans who under the guidance of the best architects of the time, learned new techniques, but above all, they had the opportunity to immensely improve their standard of living, often becoming small entrepreneurs themselves.
Around this initial nucleus, the new Gallura society began to grow with the demand for new professions, gradually the economic growth of the 60s set in motion that social elevator that led a very traditional community to be the reference model for the tourist development of the whole island.
Following the experience of Porto Cervo, other centres and other marinas have been built and compete in part for the market, without however reaching that particular level of exclusivity that seems to be unapproachable.
FICTION OR REALITY?
The criticism that we have always heard in Porto Cervo and Costa Smeralda is that it is a paradise for the weltiest, artificial and fake, in which every single stone is part of a representation aimed at pleasing tourists.
The other criticism, connected, identifies Costa Smeralda as something “other" and different from Sardinia.
As a child, I spent summers next to my father while building the Yacht Club and I never had the impression that it was fiction.
Years later I was myself engaged in the renovation of the same Yacht Club and Cala di Volpe, the feeling has always been that of something familiar, known.
THE NATURAL ENVIRONMENT
In Costa Smeralda, even in Porto Cervo itself, there are still completely wild corners, it seems strange, but it is possible to walk on the paths that were shepherds, crossing hares, partridges, wild boars and all sorts of wild animals that inhabit this countryside. The intervention of man has generally been very careful and the regulation of the consortium is very strict, so it is difficult (even if a few things have changed) that there is havoc like those we have seen in other tourist resorts.
Yes, because Porto Cervo has never lost a certain wildness, it was one of the essential conditions when it was imagined, and the names of the places that surround it recall this somewhat wild Gallura. In the port itself, from the beginning, a water circulation system was created to prevent it from stagnating, so much so that fish and cormorants quietly inhabit the waters and are among the constant presences of the bay.
A little further north in Cala Branch and in Capo Ferro, it is difficult to take a walk without running into partridges and late in the evening as in this whole area of Gallura wild boars usually cross.
Because the misunderstanding is this: Porto Cervo is considered a tourist resort but if it is, it is something very special as Cortina or Capri could be. Those who chose this place in the 60s were people of immense wealth and great influence who, having everything imaginable, wanted only simplicity and sobriety.
The extreme luxury was to be able to walk around in complete freedom, without having to prove anything, the houses were rather spartan and hidden in the Mediterranean scrub without any ostentation.
In Porto Cervo, which is right inside Porto Cervo, there are also beaches, there are several, small and not all frequented by bathers, the first is obviously the one we find under the square between the pier and the dock: a gem, always clean so that it would also be easily usable.
Opposite, beyond the port, we have the beach of the residence “La dolce Sposa" a little larger and more frequented, while a little hidden along the road that from the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda goes to the same village, there is another small beach quite secluded and set among the gardens of the villas. In Cala Granu and in Cala Romantica, respectively on the northern and southern edges of Porto Cervo, we have two other very nice small beaches.
Moving away then towards Romazzino and Capriccioli Liscia Ruja or further down towards Razza di Juncu it is impossible to count the number of wonderful coves, reachable in a few minutes by boat and for some, even possibly by car. [Ref. car rental Porto Cervo].
THE VILLAS, OLD AND NEW
The first villas of the Costa Smeralda both in Porto Cervo and in the hills around were designed by a few great architects who have marked the style in an unmistakable way, Vietti, Busiri Vici, the two Couelle (Jaques and Savin, father and son). All characterized by certain sobriety and totally immersed in the vegetation that although originally from the place, was adapted and arranged around the villas to ensure absolute privacy and detachment from the outside world.
The same landscape architecture according to some interviews released over time by J. Couelle, was aimed at creating “burrows", secluded places in which to regenerate without unnecessary frills, but rather referring to a traditional vision, often borrowed from the tradition of Sardinia, in an interpretation that all in all now may seem a bit naïve and forced.
However, these are very beautiful spaces, wonderfully inserted in the naturalistic context and with magnificent views of the sea, this too, an essential condition.
For some years some of the historic villas have been renovated or rebuilt according to a much more international style, with a predominance of modern lines, taut, use of marble and glass. Most importantly, they began to become quite visible, even from a great distance. Examples are some of the new villas on the hill overlooking the Pevero Golf Club, perfectly identifiable by those who are on a boat in the bay of Cala di Volpe.
This is a precise choice, which has made some old consortium members turn up their noses, accustomed to a certain understatement typical of the historical residents of Porto Cervo.
In my opinion, in fact, one of the most fascinating places is the hill of Pantogia from which it dominates the Gulf of Pevero and you have a wonderful view that goes from Porto Cervo to Monti Zoppu and Li Nibani.
Pantogia it is quite high and far from the clamour of worldly Clubs like the Billionaire, but a few minutes from the centre of Porto Cervo, downwind from the Mistral which here is one of the prevailing winds, exposed to the east sees the sunrise on the islets of Li Nibani and allows almost total privacy.
They are a bit the beating heart of the tourist system of the Costa Smeralda and have been realized in different phases since the beginning of this great entrepreneurial adventure, Hotel Cervo, Cala di Volpe, Pitrizza, Romazzino, Yacht Club Costa Smeralda, Pevero Golf Club, Cervo Tennis Club and then to follow all the others have made the history of Porto Cervo with their international guests: princes, heads of state, movie and culture stars, entrepreneurs large and small who in sixty years have wanted to spend periods here in Sardinia.
The style of these structures, despite its diversity, has some common traits that are due to the character that the architects of Aga Khan wanted to give to these places: something intangible but that you begin to understand in the forms, in the use of materials and in the finishes. An atmosphere that goes beyond the white of the lime and the roof tiles, the granite jambs, the pastel colors or the swimming pools with sea water. All things that over time have been imitated almost everywhere in Sardinia.
Around the World,It is possible to stay in hotels with facilities and services far superior to those we can find in Porto Cervo, but this was not the spirit that animated the Costa Smeralda, at least in the 60s.
If you look at some old movies like the famous 007 The spy who loved me in 1976 with Roger Moore who was staying at Cala di Volpe, you get an idea of how the Costa Smeralda was different from any other place: a very discreet settlement, almost hidden in the middle of a wild and sometimes harsh nature, where human constructions had to integrate without overpowering the surrounding environment. Porto Cervo is in fact a natural bay adapted to trying to keep intact the surrounding contours and rocks.
We all noticed in the 90s of the last century how Porto Cervo had changed. Suddenly it had become a well-known place, very well known and frequented no longer or not only by international princes and magnates.
In fact, show business personalities and those who today we would call VIPs began to be more and more present, a horrendous term that has now entered into common use, often also to indicate people whose importance in our lives is instead minimal or irrelevant.
The change took place after the collapse of the Soviet regime (a little later in reality) with the second half of the 90s and the arrival of the Russians, men who became immensely rich with the opening to the capitalist market and above all with the transformation of Russia into an immense oil and gas field. An event that gave space to a generation of billionaires.
The large yachts to which we were accustomed such as the Nabila and the spectacular Southern Cross, once itself a symbol of Porto Cervo, have begun to leave room for real giants such as the Lady Moura and today the Dilbar, now between the end of July and the beginning of August they cross in these waters many pleasure ships over one hundred meters in length.
Porto Cervo, in recent years also thanks to the Promenade du Port, the walk that from Cervo Tennis Club descends to the pier of the old port, has inaugurated a new season, much more attentive to culture and the artistic avant-garde: in fact, new spaces of great interest have been created, art galleries and unusual shops, very different from those of the top brands of the square and the classic promenade.
A much younger and more sparkling environment as well as very pleasant, for the many trendy clubs, both in the covered promenade and in the upper one.
The square from which the Promenade starts of the Port with its centuries-old olive trees and the works of art that adorn it, introduces a modern space, coloured by murals that mark a break with that tradition crystallized in the 60s that instead is the promenade and the square. Two complementary scenarios, connected by the famous wooden bridge over the dock of the Hotel Cervo.
Walking from one to the other along some paths half-hidden between the rocks and even here it is not uncommon to have the surprise of coming across some tortoise, which wanders undisturbed among the Mediterranean scrub.
Porto Cervo and the Costa Smeralda is undoubtedly one of the many fascinating places in Sardinia and although it cannot boast the centuries-old history of cities like Alghero and Bosa or millennial like Cagliari and Olbia, it has managed in just two generations to radically change the Gallura society and make it take a leap forward, in modernity.
The openness and liveliness of towns such as Olbia and Arzachena owe a lot to the intuitions of this enlightened Prince who brought a dream to Sardinia.
The Costa Smeralda has aroused an entrepreneurial and cultural movement that makes the northeast of Sardinia a hope of growth for the whole island.
The comparison with cultures of many different countries, the typical hospitality of Gallura and a generous industriousness, have created a unique context that after sixty years is still able to move the best forces towards continuous progress.