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Between the gulfs of Arzachena and Cugana in northeastern Sardinia stretches the Costa Smeralda. At first glance it seems a purpose-built parvenus’ pleasure ground, all yacht-packed marinas, super villas, and resort-like towns. But, beyond this, the area’s wild beauty is ever present. This craggy coast is pitted with small sandy coves and rockpools, and outside the towns, fragrant macchia shrubland runs rampant.

A short boat ride away lies the unspoiled, sparsely inhabited La Maddalena archipelago. Further inland on the Costa Smeralda, you’ll find mountain villages, shepherd communities, and the ruins of nuraghi — megalithic cone-like towers, the likes of which have never been found anywhere else in the world.

Our specialists have thoroughly explored this pocket of Sardinia. They can point you toward the best beaches and golf courses, but they can also suggest ways to experience a quieter, more authentic side to the region.

The Costa Smeralda’s beaches and coastline

The area’s moniker — the Emerald Coast — comes from its strikingly chromatic water, which can often appear fifty shades of turquoise-green.

Spending time lazing about the coast is a highlight of coming here. It can be worth having your own car just so you can pick and choose from the choicest, quietest places, including hidden inlets barely big enough to lay a towel down and rockpool-pitted shorelines.

Baia Sardinia, meanwhile, has a more traditional wide beach with flat, burnt-umber sand and water sports.

Porto Cervo and Baia Sardinia

The Costa Smeralda’s towns can be an acquired taste. Many were manufactured in the 1960s after Prince Karim Aga Khan IV fell in love with the area and developed it as an upmarket getaway spot, albeit with strict regulations governing planning. Even today, there’s not a high-rise in sight, and no buildings higher than the native vegetation.

Porto Cervo is built to resemble a pan-Mediterranean village: think pastel-shaded stucco walls, arches, and lots of faux-rustic wood. Its clean-swept streets are lined with designer boutiques, high-end restaurants and alfresco bars, and all roads lead to the marina, where super-yachts groan under the weight of helipads and motorcycles.

The former fishing port of Baia Sardinia — beloved for its beach — also has a clutch of luxury hotels, along with the storied summer residences of wealthy Italian families.

Inland on the Costa Smeralda

Drive a little way inland and you quickly enter a different Sardinia — hills as green as the nearby seawater, and small communities seemingly oblivious to the commerce of the coast.

San Pantaleo is a village sandwiched between granite outcrops pocked with tafoni, small potholes which give the whole place a lunar look. The village itself has a small square with a weekly market and a thriving artistic scene.

This part of the region is home to several small agriturismos, including a shepherding family who make their own seasonal cheeses. We can arrange for you to spend a few hours with them, observing first-hand their cheesemaking traditions and finishing with a tasting.

It’s also possible to tour the region’s archaeological curiosities — Bronze-Age-era stone towers, built like truncated cones by the Nuragic people. Mostly believed to be defensive, some are thought to be tombs and others temples.

The Maddalena Islands

This archipelago of seven main islands and fifty-odd minute islets can be seen from the sands of Baia Sardinia. It can look disarmingly like the Caribbean rather than the Mediterranean, with white sand and cerulean-bright waters, though its weathered granite formations echo the Costa Smeralda. We can help you explore it by private boat, which allows you to escape to its Crusoe-esque uninhabited islands and sheltered bays.

Best time to visit Costa Smeralda

The Costa Smeralda is best avoided during July and August when the weather’s at its hottest and the beaches crowded. We prefer visiting in May, June, September or October. At these times of year the sun is still warm, the ambiance more relaxed, and the crowds of high summer have either barely arrived or already departed.

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who's been there

Audley Travel Specialist Ruth

Start planning your tailor-made trip to Costa Smeralda by contacting one of our Italy specialists

Suggested itineraries featuring Costa Smeralda

Our itineraries will give you suggestions for what is possible when you travel in Costa Smeralda, and they showcase routes we know work particularly well. Treat them as inspiration, because your trip will be created uniquely by one of our specialists.

Map of Costa Smeralda

Places & hotels on the map

    Places near Costa Smeralda

    Accommodation choices for Costa Smeralda

    We’ve selected a range of accommodation options for when you visit Costa Smeralda. Our choices usually come recommended for their character, facilities and service or location. Our specialists always aim to suggest properties that match your preferences.

    Ideas for experiencing Costa Smeralda

    Our specialists seek out authentic ways to get to know the places that could feature in your trip. These activities reflect some of the experiences they've most enjoyed while visiting Costa Smeralda, and which use the best local guides.

    • La Maddalena private boat trip
      Pink beach at Budelli, La Maddalena islands

      La Maddalena private boat trip

      La Maddalena private boat trip

      On a private boat, you can explore the cerulean coves, turquoise bays, granite islets, and white-sand beaches of La Maddalena archipelago, off the northern tip of Sardinia. Spend the day relaxing, swimming, snorkelling, and soaking up the Mediterranean sun.

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