Lay of the Land
Sardinia, the second largest island in the Mediterranean (after Sicily), is about the size of New Hampshire. The Costa Smeralda is on the island’s northeast coast, with Olbia Costa Smeralda Airport being the closest arrival point. (It’s also possible to fly into Alghero on the west side of the island or Cagliari in the south.) In terms of landscape, the island’s interior is rugged and mountainous; north of the Emerald Coast, the wind and sea have sculpted a valley of granite into a setting something like the surface of the moon. South of the Emerald Coast, the mountains drop dramatically to the sea and you’ll discover hidden beach coves accessible almost exclusively by boat.
At the southern tip of the island is Cagliari, Sardinia’s capital, which is surrounded by lagoons and salt flats dotted with flamingos. Like Cagliari, the town of Alghero, on the northwest coast, has a picturesque old town with narrow cobblestoned streets and ancient stone buildings. Because the northwest was at one point controlled by the Aragonese, it has a strong Spanish and Catalan flavor.
While most Sardinia high-flying regulars rarely leave the resorts and beaches of the Emerald Coast, more and more adventurous travelers are discovering the rewards of venturing beyond its borders. Drive toward the island’s center or south to the small city of Olbia and you’ll find traditional restaurants like Ristorante Gallura (a favorite of such epicures as Victor and Marcella Hazan). Farther south, Cagliari, the island’s capital-on-the-sea, has excellent vineyards and, in the town of Chia, one of Sardinia’s most beautiful stretches of beach.