Costa Smeralda became an iconic retreat for the rich and famous, the 12-mile stretch on Sardinia’s northern coastline was just another corner of the region’s wild terrain. Untouched and wild, the Emerald Coast wasn’t “discovered” until the 1950s, when the Aga Khan fell in love with its rugged coastline and beautiful translucent, emerald-colored waters. He bought hundreds of thousands of acres of land to protect, but making sure to nd transform just 5,000 acres into the most famous coastline resort in the Mediterranean.
A collection of coves, towns and beaches, the Costa Smeralda is a destination for those looking for an honest and insightful experience, whether they prefer adventuring or recharging, eating or meeting local artisans, or just enjoying that ever-so-easy Sardinian lifestyle. And the area has is international crossroads whose boundaries extend to the water, as the port itself is a floating city of hundreds of the world’s most enviable boats, yachts and super yachts.
Whether budget vanlife or private yacht, Costa Smeralda has something for everyone.
A stunning stretch of coastline in the north-eastern region of Sardinia, Italy, Costa Smeralda is known for its crystal-clear emerald green waters and pristine beaches, but it’s also home to several charming towns that are worth exploring.
Porto Cervo is probably the main hub of the Costa Smeralda, where you’ll find Jay Z and Beyonce living it up on a yacht and then dancing the night away at Billionaire. The charming town was designed to be picture perfect and its centers around a marina at the Piazzetta. Here you’ll find beautiufl boutiques, fabulous fine dining and yassss,,yachts. Want more? Check out my guide to Porto Cervo.
Postcard perfect Porto Rotondo is a port village just as charming, with pastel buildings, the turquoise water, and reddish rocks. Its a scene day and night for its art galleries, boutiques, and restaurants.
My favorite village is slighty off the radar, though not to Romans. Poltu Quatu has the same vibe as Porto Rotondo and Porto Cervo, even the same wealth, but it’s just a little more quiet and with better sunsets.
The emerald waters and natural terrain of the Costa Smeralda are meant to be enjoyed, especially by those who love the outdoors. The area is famous for its stunning beaches, which are among the most beautiful and pristine in the world. Life aquatic includes dolphins, sea turtles, tuna, swordfish and sunfish, rare mobulas (Mediterranean mantas) and schools of whales. So it’s no wonder these beaches are paradise for divers, as well as sun-bathers and nature lovers.
One of the most popular beaches in the area is Liscia Ruja, which is located in the north of the Costa Smeralda. The beach is characterized by its long stretch of white sand and its crystal-clear waters. It is surrounded by lush vegetation and granite rocks, making for a truly breathtaking landscape.
Another noteworthy beach is Capriccioli, which is actually a group of small beaches located near Porto Cervo. The beach is known for its shallow waters and fine, white sand, making it a popular spot for families with young children.
Cala di Volpe is another popular beach, known for its turquoise waters and picturesque surroundings. The beach is located near the luxurious Hotel Cala di Volpe, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Costa Smeralda, decidedly the most beautiful and exclusive location in Porto Cervo for its immaculate white beaches, incredible setting and lineup of activities from flora and fauna spotting to boat rides to Maddalena Island.
Other notable beaches in the area include Spiaggia del Principe, which is characterized by its emerald green waters and granite cliffs, and the long, sandy beach of Porto Istana.
For land lovers, the countryside is lined with nature hikes, including the local favorite Pevero Health Trail. Starting from the grounds of Hotel Romazzino, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Costa Smeralda, a series of pedicured trails circumnavigate Pevero Golf Course, with fitness stations, inclines and more. The coastline and surrounding hills offer scenic hiking trails that vary in difficulty, from leisurely walks to challenging treks.
Along with hiking, there are a lot of activities including cycling, horse riding, and golfing. The calm, clear waters of the Mediterranean make for perfect conditions for water sports such as sailing, kayaking, parasailing, windsurfing and snorkeling.
By its nature, the Costa Smeralda is romantic. Any sunset will inspire a poem, or declaration of love at the very least. Though Porto Cervo is all about seeing and being scene, I’ve always felt that Costa Smeralda and its quieter corners is perfect for a romantic getaway or a sexy affair.
Where would I stay for a tryst? Probably Costa Smeralda’s s best kept secret Hotel Pitrizza, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Costa Smeralda. Nestled in a grove of pine trees and cascading to the bay of Liscia di Vacca, this is a sprawling complex of suites and rooms with its own private beach.
When I want to remind myself of my nonna (she was a hottie who rocked a leopard print bikini in the 1950s),I’ll head to Hotel Cala di Volpe. 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.
My former boss, an A+ list actor whose credits range from TV Private Eye to DC superhero, always hid out at Hotel Romazzino. And I agree, its private beach Piccolo Romazzino is perfectly sequestered for whatever you want to do with whoever.
The natural beauty and peaceful exclusivity make these hotels the most coveted areas for total recharge, which can be as easy as taking a dip in their beaches’ emerald waters.
Surprise, surprise, the Costa Smeralda is a foodie destination, more like stellar chef showcase. Chefs like Antonio Mellino, Andrea Berton and Italo Bassi all have restaurants in the luxe area. And once the season kicks off May, more chefs arrive for special evenings and masterclasses.
Chef Nobu Matsuhisa just opened Matsuhisa Beach at Cala di Volpe, and it’s gorgeous. Designed by architect Matteo Thun, Matsuhisa Beach has incredible views at Li Itriceddi.
Porto Cervo hosts an annual Wine & Food Festival, an exhibition of Italian food and wine products.
A version of this article originally appeared in Marriott Bonvoy Traveller, June 2019.