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Sardinia: Slow Food, Fast Boats. Helen Hokin Checks In At The Five-Star Valle Dell'Erica Resort

Valle Dell Erica
Santa Teresa Gallura, Sardinia
Cuisine: Mediterranean
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Helen Hokin: For an island with a history rich in tales of invading seafarers, there’s surprisingly little evidence of tourism having conquered at all.
 
For an island with a history rich in tales of invading seafarers, the Romans, Arabs and Catalans all came and left their mark, there’s surprisingly little evidence of tourism having conquered at all. At least, that is, so far.
 
Sardinia, with its wild and mountainous interior, unspoilt coastline of dazzling white beaches and perfectly cerulean sea remains one of the least discovered islands in the Mediterranean.
 
Checking in at the exclusive five-star resort of la Licciola (one of 8 hotels and resorts from the Sardinian-owned Delphina group) I see for myself the almost deserted bracelet of glistening horse-shoe shaped beaches lacing their way along the coast before me.
 
It’s almost twelve months since my last beach holiday and I cannot wait to get down there.
 
The beach is reached by a criss-cross of sandy footpaths leading downhill to a turquoise sea. As I wander down, a warm breeze lifts the scent of the Mediterranean evergreens growing along the trail  - of myrtle, juniper, laurel and sage - and gently floats them my way.  Across the horizon, the pink granite rocks of the island cluster of La Maddalena come slowly into view.  
 
Small and secluded, my beach is dotted with just a handful of smart, white loungers still pleasantly uncrowded. It’s barely midday but with the mercury steadily climbing I let slip by a lazy couple of hours languishing blissfully in the sun or taking dips in the crystalline waters. The only interruption is the sound of the gentle pouring of ice-cold peach tea from hotel staff, also on hand with fresh beach towels, should you need a new one.
 
Eventually defeated by the heat, a zippy little golf buggy pulls up beside me, as if by magic, to whisk me effortlessly back uphill to my suite.
 
Cool and airy, the spacious room is calming in natural cream and slate tones with just a few bright colours - granite pinks, evergreens and midnight blues - tastefully picked out in textured wall hangings and ceramic tiles. From the verandah, jaw-dropping views unfurl across the horizon, all the way west from Corsica across to the archipelago of La Maddalena, and on, to the wild and uninhabited island of Spargi. Below, the manicured hotel gardens are ablaze with crimson blossom nodding rhythmically in the breeze.
 
At a mere two hours from Gatwick, catching a dawn flight ensures my first day is spent on holiday, not in transit. It’s only Friday afternoon, almost three glorious days lie ahead. Beach aside, I’m here to explore Sardinia’s cuisine; a curious hotch-potch of dishes shaped by island ingredients and peppered with the culinary imports of ancient Roman, Arabic and Catalan invaders.
 
With Delphina Resort’s pledge to turn local and seasonal produce into authentic Sardinian cuisine, it’s barely necessary to venture outside to find out more.
 
All those centuries of constant attack gradually drove the island people inland. From their mountain refuges they evolved a diet based on wild boar, lamb and goat meat, preserved vegetables, wheat and cheese made from the milk of sheep and goat. All this came to be known as ‘Cucina Povera’, the staple diet of hill-dwelling farmers and shepherds accustomed to eating on the hoof, and in the open air.
 
Li Ciusoni, one of the five resort restaurants, promises guests a taste of this rustic Sardinian cuisine.
 
Sequestered away amongst wooded land in the uppermost reaches of the resort, the restaurant’s al fresco cooking area looks like something from a medieval film set.
 
On arrival guests are handed a welcome glass of Prosecco and a moment to take in the rustic scene where everything we are about to eat is being theatrically prepared. The centre piece is a suckling pig, roasting on a spit turning slowly over an open fire. Dried branches of juniper and myrtle stoke the flames infusing the slow-cooking meat with their delicate fragrance and flavours.
 
Chefs proffer melting slithers of crackling sliced straight from the spit or tasters of wild boar sausage and crispy flat bread known locally as pane carasau.
 
Quirkily, someone rings a cowbell - a sign for us to finish our Prosecco and move inside to a table overlooking natural terraces of wild greenery tumbling down to the shore.
 
To begin, there are antipasti of preserved vegetables including asparagus with firm and vinegary bite; miniature red onions, soft and sweet that collapse on the tongue, Sardinian artichoke hearts – each one peeled painstakingly by hand from its outer layers of thistle-like leaves. What are now delicacies would have once been patiently preserved over the summer saeason ready to furnish store cupboards throughout the winter months.
 
And here comes that suckling pig, lifted carefully from its spit, sliced into rough hunks of lean meat, the crackling still attached, it falls to tender pieces in the plate after hours of slow cooking over open flames.
 
Earlier, a cookery demonstration had revealed the secret to making lasagne Sardinian-style. Now we are given a plate of the finished version: layers of bread, cheese and herby breadcrumbs soaked in meat stock and slow-baked. This is the epitome of Cucina Povera – simple dishes made from carefully sourced ingredients and expertly fashioned into five star dining. In similar fashion, handmade pasta shells are paired with a meaty, wild boar stew. These historic and hearty dishes from inland Sardinia are given a light and contemporary touch for today's discerning guests. Shots of fiery myrtle liqueur round off the meal. How did anyone get up and go farming after that lot.
 
Over time, invasions became a thing of the past leaving the Sardinians free to move back down from the mountains to inhabit their beautiful shores, delighting in a bounty of fish and seafood on offer from the plentiful sea.
 
To try the local catch I head down, on another evening, to the resort’s beach restaurant, Li Zini. Now this is an elegant, barefoot dining experience. I’m talking toes in the sand, linen-covered tables, little candles flickering in the dusk and nothing but the sound of tinkling Champagne glasses and waves gently lapping the shore.  
 
This spectacular al fresco meal, paying homage to local seafood, begins with a quartet  of ‘raw and marinated’ fish and crustaceans. I love the sparkling fresh swordfish sashimi paired, unusually, with smudges of shiny peach jelly. It makes sense – local catch with seasonal fruit. On the same tasting plate a slice of bright tuna, marinated in dry martini and balanced with a smattering of sweet and sour cherries is outstanding, as is a whole raw langoustine still briny-fresh from the sea. How can you top that, I ask myself as a Champagne risotto is placed before me. Astonishing to think the chef designed the sophisticated menu just that morning and only after considering how to use the day’s catch.  
 
And so goes a balmy evening of Sardinian food, wine and hospitality, while over the horizon the sun sinks silently behind the islands of La Maddalena unfurling her pink and gold streamers to light up the night sky.  
 
Culture and Adventure
 
Aggius: Make time for a day trip to the historic town of Aggius with its perfectly preserved stone houses and cobbled streets. Once there, make a pit stop at the local museum to find out how traditional Sardinian rugs are still woven on ancient looms using naturally-dyed sheep’s wool. Find out about the working industry of cork, from its harvest to the manufacture of anything from bottle stops to designer bikinis. Get a taste of the local tipple at a wine tasting at Il Mosto, a 400-year-old cellar and trattoria specialising in Sardinian wines. Expect local fizz, craft beer and voluptuous reds.  Don’t miss the antipasti of sheep cheese paired with a simply divine lemon and myrtle preserve.
 
Boat Trips: The best way to discover Sardinia’s isolated beaches and coves, many of which are inaccessible by road is by boat. Watch the rugged, uninhabited islands whizz by, dive off deck into crystal clear waters and shore up at one of the inhabited islands for a spot of souvenir shopping and people watching whilst nursing a campari soda at a street cafe.
 
Other Delphina Hotels & Resorts
 
Capo D’Orso
A favourite with honeymooners, and a place to indulge in some serious fine-dining. Resident chef, Pierluigi has a light touch with local seafood such as octopus, squid and langoustine. Recline on quiet beaches or comb rock pools for sea life.
 
Le Dune
A four-star favourite with families includes ample play areas for kids, surf-worthy waves, long, golden stretches of beach and joyous buffets of spaghetti mounds, creamy tiramisu and gelato of every conceivable flavour from rich chocolate to scented basil.
 
For more information or to book:
 
Helen Hokin was a guest of Resort Vale Dell’Erica Thalasso & Spa, Santa Teresa Gallura, Sardinia
 
RATES
Per person per night in a double room start from €140 / £103* on half-board basis. Open from 16th May – 26th September 2015
FACILITIES
5-star; 252 rooms; 1 Thalasso & spa; 4 pools; 5 restaurants; Golf ; Children’s Club
GETTING THERE
Nearest Airport: Olbia (55km) / Alghero (130km). Flights are available from major UK airports
 
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