A perfect beach and Premier league coaches for kids - Is this the best family resort in Italy?
Our travel editor checks in...
A lagoon with pink flamingos. A honeycomb-sandy beach with warm, clear water. Five pools, tennis courts, and a soccer academy run by a former Premier League player.
Sound like a fun family holiday?
Chia Laguna, an hour from Cagliari on Sardinia's southern coast, was voted 'Italy's Leading Family Resort' in the World Travel Awards 2018.
You won't find it on many holiday brochures in Ireland (there are no direct flights to Sardinia, sadly), but it's a star of the Italian Hospitality Collection, a group of swanky, individual and distinctly Italian resorts, and I got the chance to put it through its paces last year.
Forget Bunga Bunga parties and the Costa Smerelda. Chia Laguna is a world away from souped-up Sardinia, a resort sprawling around not just one but four hotels - each subtly differentiated by design, service and price. You can stay at one - the Hotel Laguna, in our case - but a 'Dine Around' programme allows you to move between nine restaurants (including a wood-fired pizza place on the piazza), averting the risk of buffet boredom.
The beach is a beauty (we saw an octopus while snorkelling), and linked with the resort via a regular mini-train or private shuttle. There are several pools, a large spa and - crucially - kids' clubs that cater separately for toddlers, children and teens.
Activities go beyond the norm too - think overnight sleepovers to 'Mini Mindfulness' ideas like outdoor painting, 'smiling yoga' and homemade spa treatments "to help little ones step away from screens".
Best of all was the Campioni Football Academy (campioni.co), run on selected weeks for six- to 15-year olds. Although pricey at €550, it includes two daily coaching sessions with former Prem stars like Man Utd's Wes Brown or Everton, Crystal Palace and England's Andy Johnson. The standard was high and the heat stinging, but our eight-year-old loved it, parents got a breather, and he slept like a log.
Downsides? Wi-Fi was a little sluggish on our visit (Netflix was tricky), you can expect all those drinks and ice-creams to add up, and I needed to book separately to swim in the Hotel Baia's 25m pool.
But mostly, service was super-friendly - staff remembered my wife was coeliac after being told just once, for example, and we were welcomed smilingly each evening at the piazza shows or for aperitifs overlooking the moonlit Med. And that's not even starting on the gelato...
How to do it
Pól was a guest of Chia Laguna Resort (italianhospitalitycollection.com), where nightly rates start from €166pp. A seven-night package is priced from €2,099pp on a half-board basis this October (inspiringtravelcompany.co.uk), including return flights from Dublin via Milan's Linate Airport.
Read more:The Italian Bucket List: 25 things to do in Italy before you die!