Life Travel

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Travel: Sardinia is a dream family destination

Leaving the beautiful sands and sun sparkled turquoise seas of Sardinia brought a tear to Sarah Caden's eye...

Sarah Caden

Published 26/05/2014 | 02:30

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The Beach at Forte Village Sardinia
Sardinia's old-world charm
San Benedeto Market

Crying at the end of a holiday was a personal first. Just one tear, maybe two, but the older daughter saying she wanted to stay there forever tipped me over the edge. Most times, I roll along firm in my position that it's nice to go away, but it's also nice to go home. This time, as ever, the latter held true, but it was harder than usual to leave the away bit.

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That sense of a moment ending was stronger than usual as we left Forte Village in southern Sardinia, along with the sense that we'd never again be the same foursome that we were on this particular holiday.

We had been to Forte Village in Sardinia before, as a different foursome. Last time, the youngest of us was a toddler, in a travel cot and a high chair. This time, she was very keen to be a big girl, in a big-girl bed beside her big sister's, in a big-girl's chair, staying up late and shunning her buggy for the week.

It was the first holiday where it felt like we'd left the baby world behind and the feeling of time flying was acute, along with the sense that time together, at our leisure, is to be cherished. And wept over a little bit at its end.

Simple sentimentality aside, it's not difficult to put your finger on why one would weep on leaving Forte Village. It is, I reckon, the dream family holiday, for the very fact that everyone in the family gets to feel like they're getting a break that caters for who they are and where they are in life.

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The kids get an extraordinary sense of freedom in the safety of this lush 55 acre holiday haven with its multiple swimming pools, safe beach, kids' rental bikes and the amazing Kids' City and partly thanks to the fact that the children are so thrilled with themselves and, crucially, thanks to the Kids' City, you get a break too. We never did kids' clubs before Forte Village, and now there's a danger that we've been spoiled for anywhere else.

Forte Village, located close to Cagliari, the Sardinian capital, is a holiday haven, against which you can't help but measure your other holidays. It's a resort that grew organically in what was once woodland, and a lot of the very old trees add to the lush effect, boosted by the lavish planting and cone-laden pines in which parrots squawk. There are eight developments within the complex, ranging from four-star hotels and self-contained bungalows, through five-star hotels and secluded, luxury bungalows, up to beach-front suites and villas, three of which have their own swimming pools.

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This time, we stayed at il Castello, the five-star hotel that has been treated to the first wave of a huge renovation programme, which has rendered it in cool whites, greys and pale blues. It's chic, but still child-friendly, which is one of the key things about this place.

Our balcony overlooked the open-air Cavalieri restaurant, where we took breakfast and dinner every day as per our half-board arrangement. The two girls would peep over the parapet in the morning, trying to see if the doughnuts were cooked and on display yet and they loved the pianist who played morning and night, dancing in front of him as we finished off our coffees or, later, glasses of wine.

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The food is very well executed here, with plenty of variety. At high season, there are several buffet options for dinner, there is a Brazilian restaurant, a fish restaurant, lovely white-linen and fine-dining options and plenty of great local and Italian food. There's variety, but there's a high standard throughout and it's good food, not rubbish, with not a chicken nugget in sight. But plenty of ice cream, obviously.

Personally, I love how a daily pattern develops when you're on holiday, a rhythm that you find once you wind down into the holiday zone. Morning was breakfast and then the heated swimming pool below il Castello, which looks over the beach. Then we hit the beach, where my husband swam long lengths up and down in the clear water with its small waves, the older daughter was in charge of fetching buckets of water from the shoreline, and both girls made friends with a family of girls from the "Neverlands", with whom they would hit the kids' club in the afternoon.

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We were at Forte Village shortly after it opened for the summer season, so it was relatively quiet and a few of the restaurants had not yet opened. The beachside pizza restaurant was open, though, and we marked out 'our' table for the week, from which we could watch the beach action and people-watch around us. Everyone from wealthy Russian families and posh older Italian men with younger, beautiful partners, to incredibly fit and well-behaved teenagers, who were on-site for a tennis tournament, and a smattering of English, German and Neverland families.

On our second last day, we gazed out to sea from the pizza restaurant – which also serves pasta and delicious stuffed focaccia – and speculated as to just who might own the super yacht that had anchored in the bay.

We observed the people on board in the distance as they were having fun on jet skis, then a speedboat, then the onboard helicopter took a spin, then they played some loud music. And I mean that some musicians played some music, not that they turned on the stereo. Curiously, none of the staff could be drawn on who was on the yacht, though we did ask. Their polite discretion didn't surprise us, though.

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When you notice how nice the staff are on holiday, it's a sign that they're really doing something right. Otherwise, there's nothing to notice. But everyone here contributes a little bit of magic, from Giuseppe in the Cavilieri – who, mortifyingly, rustled up freshly cooked doughnuts for the older daughter one morning – to Raimundo, whose job is, specifically, to know who every holidaymaker on the entire complex is and to make them feel wanted and looked after.

And then, I can't emphasise enough, there are the girls in the Kids' City.

Between them, Marzia and Silvia – who are the backbone of the 12 girls who run the City in high season – have more than 20 years experience at Forte Village. They are kind and very funny and so loving that you'd nearly want to hang around with them yourself for a couple of hours, making pizza and cookies, riding the kids' train, paddling in the kids' lagoon pool and, for the first time this summer, bustling around the huge Barbie house.

For older kids, there are Rugby, Cricket and Tennis Academies and loads of other sports over the summer season, and no shortage of age-appropriate diversion. You can book the children in for morning or afternoon sessions with them, or both, and our two really looked forward to their burst of action with them in the afternoons, as did we.

Uninterrupted book-reading on the beach was the chief activity while the kids were off in the City but, on this visit, we also tried out the Thalasso del Forte hydrotherapy spa, which a friend had highly recommended.

I had tried saltwater spas before, but never outdoors and never, ever quite like this. The sequence of six pools starts with an extraordinary 10-minute dip in a hot pool containing so much magnesium that your skin tingles and your body floats almost disconcertingly.

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Then, as you pass through each pool for between 10 and 20 minutes each, the temperature and the magnesium levels drop, until you end up in a refreshing pool of cool water and invigorating jets. It's quite something and, that day, we returned to the children slightly dazed and with great appetites for dinner.

The three-year-old's catchphrase for the holiday was, "This is the best ... " "This is the best beach in the world." "This is the best pizza in the world." "This is the best sister in the world." "This is the best swimming in the world." We didn't disagree.

TAKE THREE

Culurgiones

This typical Sardinian pasta looks like a miniature calzone pizza, in that it's rolled over on itself and stuffed with deliciousness. Fillings range from meat to slightly sharp local pecorino cheese and mint and a simple tomato sauce on top makes for a Sardinian primo to lead you into a secondo of, naturally, jumping-fresh grilled sardines.

Teurredda

A 10-minute drive from Forte Village is the beach at Teurredda, which some consider one of the prettiest in the world. The water is spectacularly blue and made for swimming, even for small kids or not-so-strong swimmers. The view as you drive up is spectacular, as the sea shimmers turquoise against the white sand. Well worth a spin and a swim.

The Market

Cagliari is a half-hour drive from Forte Village and its laid-back, dusty charm is a break from the sunshine and sparkling sea. The city's San Benedetto Municipal Market is Europe's oldest covered market, where fish and meat traders yell at each other over stalls of sometimes unrecognisable delicacies and you can pick up quality dried meats and Parmesan to bring home.

GETTING THERE

From now until June 20, Forte Village Resort, Sardinia, has a seven night stay from €5,775 based on two adults and two children under 13 sharing a family bungalow at Il Villaggio on a half board basis, with a 50% discount for children up to 13 years. From June 21 - August 29, Forte Village Resort has a seven night stay from €7,245 based on two adults and two children under 13 sharing a family bungalow at Il Villaggio on a half board basis, with a 50% discount for children up to 13 years.

For reservations please visit www.fortevillage.com or call +39 070 921 8818.

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