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Exploring Sardinia in the Summer

Cedric Angeles

Photo: Cedric Angeles

SARDINIA OFFICIALLY BECAME PART of Italy when the country was unified in the 19th century. Until then it had a history all its own. The island's many megalithic ruins (called nuraghi) suggest that shepherds and their families thrived here in prehistoric times. Then, in 1000 b.c., the Phoenicians arrived to take over, succeeded by the Romans, who reigned for 700 years. Byzantine, Vandal, and Arab conquerors followed, as did administration by the nearby republics of Genoa and Pisa. The Spanish ruled between 1479 and 1708, leaving the west coast port of Alghero with its distinctive Catalan character. Austria, Savoy, and Napoleon all came and went. By the time of Italian unification, in 1861, Sardinia was plagued by malaria; and so it remained neglected until after World War II.

Despite all the development in the northeast, most of the island is unspoiled. Farmers still work vineyards and tend hillsides where cork and almond trees grow. Religious processions file through every town, with musicians singing a cappella and playing wooden flutes called solitti. For these traditional experiences, Angela recommends several specific areas in the Gallura region. The Maddalena archipelago, for instance, is easily accessible (ferries run regularly from Palau) and thus, says Angela, better to visit during the off-season. But it is a low-key change from the Costa Smeralda, with its own remote beaches and a thriving old port city. The place also has some history: Napoleon came through and Garibaldi retired here; old buildings, inhabited by non-jet-setting Sardinians, line the streets.

From there, Alghero is a very pleasant half-day drive across the island's mountainous interior. "It's a beautiful town, with an old Spanish center," Angela says. "You have both the sea and the river, and because it's Catalan, it's different from the rest of Sardinia." Still an active fishing port, the city is alive with locals and visitors who walk along the ramparts by the water and shop on the Via Principe Umberto. Nearby are beaches, grottoes that rival those of Capri, impressive vineyards, and untrammeled ruins. And there's a frontier feeling of wildness that is found nowhere else in Italy.

On much of Sardinia, in fact, it is possible to see flamingos and peregrine falcons, wild horses and boars. Scuba divers treasure Sardinia's waters, among the cleanest in Italy. They're alive with dolphins, monk seals, flowering sea grass, and red Sardinian coral.

The same waters also supply the revered Restaurant La Gallura, in Olbia, with lobsters, octopus, squid, and bass. "It's not a scene, but it's considered to be one of the best restaurants in Italy," says Angela as she, her boyfriend (Bruno Ragazzi, who manufactures accessories for Missoni and Versace), and entourage enter for dinner on a Saturday night. The food, praised by the Academy of Cuisine in Rome, is exquisite. But even as the group enjoys local wines and strange and delicious Sardinian delicacies—mussels in yogurt sauce, fried sea anemones, a rubbery mollusk called sea lemon, pasta with tuna eggs, and sea bass baked under a mountain of salt—Margherita and Marina, Bruno's teenage daughter, are fixating on Porto Cervo.

"The disco we're going to is the hardest to get into in all of Italy," Margherita claims. "But if we do get in, I will dance for hours and lose two kilos."

Angela rolls her eyes. "You can't lose that much weight by dancing," she says. As there would be in the Hamptons, there is a plan: Margherita has a "cousin," Tania, who has put her on a list. And sure enough, after a long drive in the rain up the coast, Margherita and posse breeze past an impatient crowd outside Sopravento, the only club open this early in the season. Air kisses are exchanged; a Britney Spears song is playing; a VIP table is offered; and, in full view of at least one paparazzo, Margherita throws herself into dancing. Her green sultan pants brush the floor seductively—they're Missoni, of course.

SARDINIA IS A PLACE WHERE CHIC and sheep coincide, where a vacationing fashion designer like Angela Missoni is as native to the environment as a cork farmer. Olbia's airport is the place to witness an authentic Sardinian see-and-be-seen departure. "It's the only airport in Italy where you see private 727's, good luggage, and women who still tan in the old-fashioned way," says Angela. "Sometimes I see people carrying Missoni shopping bags from our store in Porto Cervo. I want to ask them what they bought, but I'm too shy."

It's Sunday evening, and Angela is out of her beach serape and into her black city clothes. Her family and entourage wear a motley mix of Missoni and denim. Daughter Teresa has a bouquet of wildflowers. Important (and self-important) people are waiting for flights to Rome and Milan. A woman in a Missoni skirt passes; Angela looks her over and her brain shifts gears to her office and factory across the sea.

"I really don't want to go home," she says, sighing. "But I have work to do."


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