Forte Sardinia: Is this the best family resort in the Med?
Gavin Caffrey checks into Forte Village, where luxury infuses everything from pizzas to private spa...
A small crowd had gathered outside the Mahiki bar as a group of stunning actors and distinguished directors wrapped up their interviews on the sun-drenched lawns. But there was one Hollywood celebrity everybody was craning their necks to see.
Eva Longoria was even more striking in the flesh as she made her way to the awards ceremony in a '70s-inspired white jumpsuit. The Desperate Housewives star was at the Sardinian Film Festival at the five-star Forte Village resort to receive a gong for her humanitarian work. We spotted our host Raffaella, who started to apologise for not spending more time with us due to the demanding festival schedule. Not that she needed to - Ms Longoria wasn't the only one who'd been treated like Hollywood royalty. It was our last day and we'd experienced hospitality that went above and beyond.
Please log in or register with Independent.ie for free access to this article.
This is something Forte Village has built its outstanding reputation on. "We have a 50pc rate of repeat customers," said our guide Alessandro, as he gave us a quick tour of the main attractions on the 47-hectare site in Pula, Sardinia.
It was easy to see why.
The luxury resort tucked away on a stunning stretch of the southern coastline has recently undergone a €50m facelift, with a major refurbishment of its impressive list of amenities that includes a piazza, concert arena, go-kart track, Acquapark, two all-weather football pitches, 13 tennis courts, a bowling alley, numerous pools, a beauty centre, shopping plaza and Acquaforte Thalasso & Spa.
The latter specialises in wellness services - from detox packages and medical assessments to beauty treatments and laser therapy for muscle complaints. But it's the thermal seawater baths that make Forte Village's spa unique, a form of therapy dating back to the Romans, the ruins of which can be seen along the picturesque Nora beach a few kilometres away.
"Most people would normally spend up to four hours in here," the therapist had told my wife and I as she led us into Acquaforte's outdoor Private Spa. His and hers changing rooms to the left of the entrance were equipped with robes, slippers and Acqua di Parma toiletries. A hammam, sauna and "emotional" showers (LED lights change the colour of the water) led to a cobble-locked stone pathway lined with a sheltered dining area - set for two with a fruit platter and holistic teas - a solarium and three thalasso pools set behind round stone arches.
If the setting was a picture of paradise, the first pool was nothing short of arresting in its ugliness, the engine oil- coloured brown liquid somewhat reminiscent of what my daughters would leave behind at bath time. But this combination of oils, seawater and heat (37°C to 38°C) was the first step on our bodies' journey of "extraordinary renewal and deep relaxation". Taking the latter quite literally, we drifted off for one of many naps, aided by the high buoyancy levels and neck-pillow float.
We awoke to overhanging palm trees and a cloudless blue sky. How long had we been out?
The kids! We were due to pick up Lois (seven) from the Chelsea Football Academy. I called reception. "No problem, Mr Caffrey, we'll get Maurizio to collect her and bring her to the Children's Wonderland." And that is Forte Village in a nutshell. Guests experience unrivalled levels of relaxation while the kids are entertained.
Two more thermal baths and we'd officially been seduced into the Sardinian way of life. Tears were shed in the emotional showers as we left the oasis of the Private Spa and picked the kids up from the Children's Wonderland - a sort of Disney World of crèches, where you can leave your offspring from 9am to 6pm if desired. The staff boast endless reserves of patience, but they have a serious arsenal at their disposal - a giant chess board, arts and crafts, a kids' pool and Mario's Village, where budding Ron Burgundys can read the news in front of mini TV cameras: "Stay classy, Sardinia." And for the little ones with an ounce of energy left, there's a mini disco at 6pm.
The Barbie Academy (running from Mon-Fri) features different activities every day, from jewellery making and purse decorating to cooking classes, but it doesn't come cheap. VIP Packages, which include Barbie toiletries, a doll and the kids' rooms kitted out in Barbie bedding, start at €450 per child per week. And that's one of the few criticisms that can be levelled at Forte Village - the extra costs involved. Unfortunately, the downside to the resort's fantastic facilities is that you have to pay an extra supplement to experience a lot of them.
If the spa sets the tone for guests at Forte Village, the accommodation plays an important supporting role. Our family bungalow featured a tree-lined private front and back garden with sun loungers in the Castello Garden - one of five five-star hotels in the complex, which also offers a choice of three four-star hotels, 13 luxury villas and 40 suites. Our youngest daughter, Holly (six), could barely contain her excitement in announcing we also had a kids' sink in which she'd washed her feet - a bidet to the wise.
The restaurant selection is impressive too. The resort may be the location for the filming of the Italian edition of Hell's Kitchen, but it's a foodie heaven with 21 eateries to choose from. We became regular visitors to the beachside pizzeria at lunchtime, where we were treated to stunning views of Santa Margherita di Pula's turquoise waters and Holly's gleaming feet. An 18-inch pizza topped with anchovies, olives, pepperoni, Italian salami, caramelised red onion and herbs was pick of the pies. The chefs even prepared a gluten-free batter for my other half (coeliac, God love her) after eyeing up a guest's fried calamari.
Dinner was a bit more formal - we even risked potential disaster when dragging the kids to the Heinz Beck Restaurant, the fine-dining eatery run by the three-Michelin-starred German chef. The kids duly drowned their prime fillet of beef in ketchup while the waiter served the adults exquisite dish after exquisite dish as we worked our way through the tasting menu, the highlight of which was a dessert of ricotta ice-cream and passion fruit meringue served with tiny cubes of watermelon, cucumber, ginger and cherries marinated in a port wine.
The more casual establishments were no less impressive, the Cavalieri buffet winning our hearts early in the holiday, where complimentary prosecco lifts the mood in the mornings and a piano man follows suit in the evenings.
The average length of stay is 10 days to two weeks, we learned. We had just five days, but somehow I think Forte Village's repeat customer rate is about to increase.
And the highlight for the children? "The Acquapark," they both shouted. "And the kids' sink," chimed Holly.
What to pack
While the dress code at Forte Village is beachwear throughout the day, adult guests must wear suitable evening attire for dinner - that means trousers and shirt, etc. Shorts and T-shirts are a no-no. Bring decent trainers for sporting activities. As for the mosquitoes, they were non-existent in mid-June.
Ryanair flies from Dublin to Cagliari every Tuesday and Saturday from June 1 until October 26 (ryanair.com). Forte Village provides a free airport transfer for guests.
How much does it cost?
Forte Village offers family rates from €260 a night (minimum stay two nights) per person (children up to 12 years go free, maximum two children), which includes half board, daily entrance to the Acquaforte Spa, a voucher for €100 to spend on a sporting activity, bike hire and airport transfers. Gavin and family were guests of the resort.
See fortevillageresort.com for more.
Read more:A perfect beach and Premier league coaches for kids - Is this the best family resort in Italy?