“I’ve been coming with my family to Sardinia for more than 30 years and what I love most is that the island hasn’t changed that much. The quality and colour of the sea, the dramatic landscape, the diving, the variety of beaches both sandy and rocky are of a Caribbean level and beauty. Each region is infused with tradition; it might be one of the last places in Italy where men and women still wear costumes for weddings and special holidays. The richness and detail in the textiles, as well as in the local filigree jewellery, literally changes every 10km. It can make you feel like you’re travelling back in time.
The food changes from region to region as well. The Costa Smeralda – the Emerald Coast on the northeastern part of the island – is largely known for its creamy goat’s and sheep’s milk cheeses, as well as the pork that comes from the surrounding mountains. No one used to live on this coast before the second world war because it was malaria-infested – people tended their herds up in the hills and looked down on the beautiful white-sand beaches and lagoons below. Luckily, the disease is gone and the area has been well preserved, but classic pasta dishes like orecchiette with pork ragù and ravioli stuffed with potatoes and cheese remain island favourites. On the west side of Sardinia, in Cabras, there is a large salt lake, and this is where the famous bottarga – fish roe – comes from. The bottarga di muggine is considered the most delicate, and it’s in many pasta dishes all over the island.
In the northwestern part of the island, in Alghero, you’ll find fishermen who specialise in lobster and tuna. There was a great Spanish influence in this part of Sardinia and surrounding islands such as San Pietro are full of descendants from this part of Europe, as well as from Genoa and Africa. Many of the fishermen still use an old Genoese dialect, and the food is a wonderful mix of all of these cultures.
The area where I live, just south of Olbia, is all about beautiful beaches and nothing else. In the summer there are some tourists, but if you go in the winter, you won’t even be able to buy a coffee or a newspaper – and that’s the beauty of it. A lot of places here were built in the 1960s and ’70s, including the Due Lune hotel. It has four stars, a very high‑end clientele and incredible views of the blue‑green sea and the nine-hole golf course in front. People appreciate the serenity here and the fact that it doesn’t have the sparkling lights of Costa Smeralda. Sardinia’s finest hotels are well‑known – Cala di Volpe, for example, is five-star and fantastic – but for a really special place to stay look to Borgo Lianti, a small rental property in the hills near Porto Rafael, a lovely, authentic village with views out to the Maddalena archipelago. There is also excellent seafood close by at Il Kalamaro in Palau. My number one spot to eat near home is Ristorante da Pasqualina, which serves the best pasta with fresh sea urchin. It’s in a basic, rustic house, so you’d never notice it, but all the food is outstanding. For a more sophisticated setting, I love Il Portolano in Porto San Paolo, where you sit outside and watch the sun set, and the speciality is an amazing crusted tuna.
Ristorante La Tavernetta is another great fish restaurant with a little bar that serves a delicious aperitivo and has fantastic views of the island of Tavolara. This is all national park area, so the scenery is stunning. I’m not particular about drinks, but I will enjoy a Campari Spritz here; it matches the colour of the sunset for one thing. On the island of Tavolara there is a lovely spot for lunch called Ristorante da Tonino Re di Tavolara that’s easily reached by tender or its own water taxi. There you eat simple but perfect spaghetti with clams and mussels and have views of the boats.
One of my favourite places to eat, though, is Cafè du Port – not least because it’s close to one of my favourite shops, Sigfrido. It is actually two clothing shops – one for men and one for women and children – and we are friends with the couple who own it. Three generations of Missonis buy their clothes here, and even the fourth generation is now wearing its handmade cotton dresses. Foresta G is another wonderful shop that’s owned by a mother and her artist daughter; they create their own prints for summery kaftans. Yashu e Prem is owned by a couple who divide their time between Sardinia and Goa; they produce unique and very beautiful garments in an array of solid shades and wild patterns.
The best way to see the island, which is quite vast, is by car, as there are only a few roads and there is virtually no traffic, even in August. One village that is worth a detour is San Pantaleo, particularly on Thursdays when there is a market. I tell friends to come here to watch real Sardinian life; have dinner at Ristorante Giagoni in Piazza – a special spot set in a traditional Galluran-stone house on the Piazza della Chiesa, facing the perfect little church; and then stay at Petra Segreta Resort & Spa for the night.
September is the best month to be here because the weather is perfect. It’s also the month for special celebrations called Cortes Apertas – or “open courtyards” – in which local people open up their homes to offer regional wines, cheeses and crafts. Everyone dresses in costume and there are festive parades, and while it’s considered more special in certain parts, it is a Sardinia-wide holiday. Even in areas that are typically more insular, such as the high interior, Sardinians are so proud of their heritage that they will invite you in.
The island has a rich history of migration, as a result of which there is an eclectic mix of archaeological sites; among them are the 3,000-year-old ruins of the Phoenician village of Tharros on the island’s west coast. There is also the incredible National Archaeological Museum in Cagliari, with its collections of pre-history relics, and the Museum of Costume in the inland town of Nuoro. It’s always a hit, as it highlights the island’s unique and very beautiful folkloric clothing.
But it’s the natural beauty that sets Sardinia apart. When friends are here on boat, I always send them to the area around La Maddalena and other nearby islands – Isola Tavolara and Isola Molara. For snorkelling and diving, La Tavolara is the best because of its exceptionally clear waters. It also has numerous hiking trails – I’m not one for early-morning guided walks, but many of the Missoni adventurers are. Piscinas in the southwest, with its white sand dunes, is another place not to be missed – it’s wild and the sea can be rough, but it’s very special. The hotel Le Dune Piscinas has been around for years; it’s right on the beach, very simple and secluded, and the quality of the spaces, rooms and beach are unmatched on this side of the island.
It’s amusing – if you are from another part of Italy, Sardinians often don’t ask if you’re from Milan or Rome or Florence; instead, they say, “Have you come from the Continent?” Because for them, there is the island and then the rest of the world. There are unique traditions here, and a unique sense of pride. I hope that’s true of the island for a long time to come.”