Costa Smeralda: Chasing Sardinia’s Old-School Luxury

The exclusive enclave of Europe’s moneyed elite, Costa Smeralda pairs old-school luxury with an abundance of natural beauty.

Perched on the rocky northeastern tip of Sardinia, Costa Smeralda has been luring the rich and powerful since the Sixties. Untouched until Prince Karim Aga Khan (the leader of the Nizari Ismaili Muslims) began to finance development on the coast, the paradisiacal stretch is now synonymous with luxury, its sea-green coves and terracotta roof tiles seemingly straight from a Dolce & Gabbana advertisement. Cue, the continual flow of the world's one per cent to its shores: the Clooneys, Obamas, Princess Margaret, Roberto and Eva Cavalli, Elton John and Naomi Campbell have all come to breathe in its juniper-scented breezes and tiptoe these powder-soft white sands.

Planned and polished, the area’s well-dressed appearance gives it a fantasy feel

Building first started on the previously uninhabited coast in 1962, with a vision to develop an eco-sensitive, isolated paradise. Today, the region lays claim to one of Europe's most expensive property markets - it's a billionaire's playground, and very content in that label. Porto Cervo, the glitzy village at the centre of this rapid change, is the lifeblood of the area, surrounded by numerous satellite hotels painted in sorbet shades, and offering an array of unique architectural expressions - the result of well-funded artistic experimentation. Five-star stays are de rigueur, as are restaurants with the Michelin (and A-list) kind on display out front, with spacious terraces perched above rocky outcrops and sparkling wave breaks. The assonant clink of mastheads is the predominant soundtrack; bleach-white yachts pepper all 20km of the crystal-clear shoreline.

Planned and polished, the area's well-dressed appearance gives it a fantasy feel: this is a theme park for the high-flying, albeit a tasteful one. Captured in the images and words of Assouline's latest title, Costa Smeralda, is the destination's uniqueness, and aspirational allure. In its azure seas, rugged outcrops and laid-back hedonism, the origins of summer pleasure-seeking on southern European islands become clear.

The Lowdown

Costa Smeralda by Cesare Cunaccia is published by Assouline and is available to purchase at

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