Prehistoric pines, Italian thalassotherapy and even the occasional slice of pizza are on the menu at a Sardinian family-friendly beach resort, where wellness and la dolce vita go hand in hand, Sarah Freeman discovers.
As close to North Africa as the Italian mainland, the wildly rugged and beautiful island of Sardinia also happens to be one of the world’s five blue zones, where people live longer than anywhere else. I’m not convinced spending a week here will add days or weeks to my life, but I’m rather hoping it’s health-giving magic will rub off!
My destination is Forte Village Resort in Sardinia’s sun-drenched Southern tip, a scenic 45-minute drive from the capital, Cagliari, which begins with the surreal sight of flamingo colonies padding in the marshes. Rosy pink morphs into emerald green as the landscape transforms from wetlands to wild forests, the shimmering Tyrrhenian Sea always in view.
The same 50 shades of blue (worthy of a Maldivian island) dazzles at Forte Village, specifically from its alabaster white beach, where the daily grind feels a million miles away. Stretching between Pula and Capo Spartivento, the powdery sands back on to a vast 116-acre plot, endowed with putting greens, nine pools, tennis courts, a go-kart track, 14 bars, a stateof- the-art diagnostics centre and a teen nightclub (and that’s just for starters)! We waste no time in hopping aboard a zippy electric golf buggy to explore the centuries-old sprawling grounds, developed into a destination resort almost five decades ago by Charles Forte (Sir Rocco Forte’s father). Well-manicured, car-free pathways snaking through lush Mediterranean Gardens make biking here infinitely more relaxing than London’s traffic-choked streets. Not before long, we’ve arrived at (the Beckham-approved!) Hotel Castello, a stunning, red-stoned Italianate building, shaded by towering prehistoric pines.
It’s one of eight resort hotels that range from positively Palm Springsesque palatial villas with butler service, to cheery blue and white decorated bungalows camouflaged by trees. Our sea-view Prestige room embodies a more contemporary aesthetic, with crisp linens and clean lines, ornamented with locally crafted ceramics and lace wall hangings. But the real piПce de rОsistance is its terracotta-tiled, 27 sqm terrace, blessed with the sort of views that inspired English writer D.H Lawrence in the 1920s. My nose twitches in approval – it must be the heady scent of juniper and olives that infuses the air, Forte Village’s very own eau de parfum!
BUILDING AN EMPIRE
They say all roads lead to Rome, and in Forte Village’s case, that’s a huge central piazza, modelled on a Roman amphitheatre, no less! From here I cycle to the resort’s vast four-acre Acquaforte Spa, a veritable Garden of Eden where sport’s elite come to re-energise between seasons. They offer everything from Sisley facials to watsu, carboxytherapy and open-air massage under a star-studded sky. Its main draw card, however, is its thalassotherapy – a series of six seawater pools, enriched with varying saline compositions and temperatures, designed to cleanse and detoxify. Inspired by the Greek belief in the healing powers of the sea, Forte Village’s Italian School of Thalassotherapy is backed by 20-years of inspiring research, led by wellness doctor Angelo Cerina. Its USP is merging traditional thalassotherapy with the ritual of thermal bathing.
It’s no coincidence that 11km from here lies the ancient city of Nora and its Roman thermal bath ruins, which, much like Forte Village, were fed by freshly drawn seawater. My own hydrotherapy journey begins by flailing inelegantly in a pool of thick dark salty sludge, where I half expect a hippo to emerge! Boasting a salt content three times that of the Dead Sea, the buoyant marine mud solution is probably the closest thing I’ll ever get to zero gravity! Watching clouds drift overhead, I float between inside and out, immersed in a Jurassic Park-like scene of huge boulders, tropical foliage and the raucous squawks of lime-green parrots. Slowly but surely, I navigate the 90-minute circuit of progressively cooler pools, each serving a specific function, from helping produce endorphins to improving circulation.
My second dip in skinhealing aloe vera and mint sea oil is my favourite, whilst pool four’s pulverising hydrojets (great for stimulating those vital reflexology points) come a close second. An hour-and-a-half later, my skin is polished smooth like a stone and I’m very ready to slip into an oversized fluffy towel.
MAMA MIA, PIZZARIA!
Revived, I silence my grumbling stomach with a wood-fired pizza at Pizzeria Restaurant’s suntrap terrace. Despite my gluten and cow’s milk allergies, I don’t miss out one bit. Billowy wheat-free crusts and pecorino cheese toppings are molto delizioso! It’s one of 21 restaurants that include a Gordon Ramsay outpost, dedicated kids eatery and a cavernous dining at Cantina del Forte, the resort’s atmospheric wine cellar. Guests can dine on Spanish, Brazilian and Japanese cuisine, but it’s the Sardinian specialities like sea urchin, lobster pastas and bottomless gelato (according to my five-year-old niece!), that have me craving seconds.
Whilst I was bobbing up and down in murky waters, she was boarding the resort’s toy-train shuttle between Mario’s Village (a real-life play town), and La Casa di Barbie – a temple to all things pink and girly! Like a nurturing Italian nonna (grandma), Forte Village makes children feel very much at home. As well as being able to freely and safely roam the grounds on two wheels, they can sign up to the resorts acclaimed Sports Academy Programme – one day taking a tennis lesson with Pat Cash, the next, tackling British rugby legends!
A WELL-OILED MACHINE
Sardinia is probably the last place you’d expect to find Ayurveda, but the ancient practice is very much alive and well here, thanks to the resort’s distinguished Indian doctor.
I prepare for my Forteveda Signature Massage treatment in the spa’s Swedana bath, where the steam sets to work purifying my body, one pore at a time. I’m then coated in a blend of prescribed Ayurvedic oils, designed to calibrate my earth, fire, water and air – the building blocks of life. As the oil soaks into your skin, it binds to the ama (toxins), which our bodies set about releasing. Firm, slow strokes elongate my muscles, and by the end of the treatment, my joints feel lubricated, my skin; silken, and my mind; lighter.
I welcome in a new Sardinian day with some healing asanas in one of the spa’s cosy log cabins, submerged in the healing power of trees. Harnessing energy from the early morning sun that pours through the shutters, my teacher Valeria leads some gentle sun salutations, using guided breathwork to open each pose. Calm, yet energised, I refuel with a nutritious breakfast at Cavalieri amidst beautifully scented pine groves, pomegranate and colourful bougainvillea.
The edible delights continue at Le Dune restaurant, where we graze on fresh-off-the-boat-fish for lunch, and drink in the endless sea views with a glass of aromatic Vermentino; one of 50 different grape varieties grown on the island.
SALT OF THE EARTH
Over the next few days, I ebb and flow between more thalassotherapy circuits, barefoot beach strolls, alfresco asanas and my new guilty pleasure: long Italianstyle lunches! As for my wellness journey, fittingly, that winds up with a salt-inspired treatment: the spa’s signature ‘Salt and Honey’. First, I’m rigorously scrubbed with exfoliating sea salt, then slathered with warm, skin-nourishing organic Sardinian honey and sweet almond oil. The best part is being gently rocked like a baby on a special ‘emotion bed’ that’s pumped with tepid water and lit with soothing chromatherapy lights.
Monday heralds my departure and as I scrunch my toes in the sand one last time, I reflect on my Sardinian sojourn. Before arriving, I wondered how a retreat the sheer size of Forte Village could achieve personalisation. But to my relief, rather than being some Goliath holiday resort, true to its moniker, Forte exudes a more ‘village’ feel, where staff will know you by first-name basis, within a few hours. No wonder generations of families return year after year. A destination unto itself, Forte Village’s ‘magic’ is realising you didn’t step one flip-flop out of the resort, all week.
Forte Village Resort offers various different wellness packages, including a Thalasso Detox, Anti-aging and Weight Loss, starting from 3-nights. For more information, contact: www.fortevillageresort.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, +39 070 921 8818
SARAH FREEMAN On the road with no fixed abode, British-born Sarah’s appetite for both adventure and spiritual enlightenment has taken her to some pretty far-flung corners of the earth. The internationally published travel writer and photographer regularly racks up air miles on assignment for titles like Emirates Airlines magazine, Stylist and Bloomberg Pursuits. When she’s not locking eyes with mountain gorillas in Uganda or hanging off a cliff-face shooting rock climbers in Malta, Sarah writes about health and wellbeing.