SARDINIA, ITALY — From the pitch black of a dreamless sleep, I’m suddenly awakened by a fiery glow, insinuating itself through a narrow slit in my curtains like a red-hot poker.
After a brief moment of panic and a cautionary sniff for smoke, I realize there’s no cause for alarm. That’s simply the sun doing what it does every morning; it’s just that I’m not usually awake to see it.
It’s worth trading a few zzzzs for an abundance of ooooohs and aaaaahs, I reckon, as I watch this ritual unfold from my sea-facing balcony at Chia Laguna Resort’s Hotel Laguna, located on Sardinia’s southern tip.
As the sun stretches her tentative tendrils across the sky, her feathery strokes of pink, purple and luminescent gold are reflected in both the mirror-smooth surface of the lagoon and the softly rippling sea beyond, offering a dazzling, double-whammy dawn.
Above: Night or day, Sardinia's lovely coastline is one of the most romantic anywhere in the world.
Gradually, the rest of the world awakens, as well. First, a chorus of honking, guttural grunts arises from a distant swarm of skittish dots — which I’m reliably informed are flamingos — on the far side of the lagoon. Half a dozen small fishing boats have gathered offshore by the time the birds begin to sing, and finally, a rooster chimes in, like an MC announcing the main act.
Right on cue, Aurora herself appears from behind a seaside bluff, resplendent in blazing orange as she slowly ascends, like a diva on a hydraulic lift, to take the world’s greatest stage. Morning on this Italian isle has officially begun.
My three-night getaway at Chia Laguna is full of these quiet, reflective moments. The most stress I’ll face on this holiday is deciding how I want to relax. My options are impressive, given that the resort, which has enjoyed a 50 million euro investment in recent years, comprises nearly the entire village of Chia. The development even has its own train — an open-air choo-choo that looks like Thomas the Tank Engine’s kid brother — to whisk guests around.
To get a sense of Chia Laguna’s impressive proportions, consider this: The resort encompasses four hotels, two sandy beaches that are considered among the best in Italy, a central square with a large stage featuring live entertainment, at least half a dozen pools (one tends to lose count), and a Kids Club that helped Chia Laguna win the title of Italy’s Leading Family Resort at the World Travel Awards 2018. There’s also a posh spa, eight bars and nine restaurants.
Above: The lovely Chia Laguna resort and its elegant rooms look out on the splendour of Sardinia.
If you want to sample an unusual local specialty, try bottarga. Also known as “Sardinian gold,” bottarga is made of pressed grey mullet fish roe and is often served atop pasta. It is, admittedly, an acquired taste … which I never quite manage to acquire myself. But I highly recommend seadas, a Sardinian fried pastry filled with Pecorino cheese and topped with honey. Wash it down with a Sardinian wine, like Vermentino, a white varietal, or Cannonau, a rich, hearty red that tastes like sunshine itself.
For those with excess energy to burn, Chia Laguna offers tennis courts, a fitness centre, a football pitch, scooter and bicycle rentals, hiking, horseback riding and loads of water sports. It’s particularly popular with runners, cyclists and swimmers who come in the spring for Chia Sport Week. My own ambitions, however, stretch no further than a relatively short, steep huff-and-puff to the top of a bluff topped by a 17th- century watchtower, offering far-reaching views of the shore below.
Kayakers and windsurfers may choose to muscle their way through the azure waters that lap at the sandy crescents and sculpted cliffs along the coast, but I prefer to laze like a beached walrus in a boat captained by Cristian Fais. That’s not only because he bears a striking resemblance to Joey from “Friends,” but because Fais knows where to find the quietest, most secluded coves, where my friends and I float in the super-salty, crystal-clear sea.
As for the remainder of my stay, I foresee a daily workout regime beneath an umbrella on Dune di Campana beach, with an icy cold beer in place of a dumbbell. Lift, sip, repeat. The only burn I expect to feel is the sizzling Sardinian sun.
JUST THE FACTS
• Chia Laguna Resort is part of the Italian Hospitality Collection and typically opens late April through mid October. It features a range of accommodations: 5-star Hotel Laguna, 4-star prestige Hotel Baia, 4-star Hotel Spazio Oasi, and 4-star Hotel Village. All welcome families, but if you’re looking for something a bit more romantic, consider the recently renovated Hotel Baia, with its chic, modern, white-washed aesthetic. http://www.chialagunaresort.com.
• Sardinia Tourism Board: https://www.sardegnaturismo.it/en
• Italian National Tourist Board: http://www.italia.it/en/home.html