It began in a small way. "All I wanted," said Prince Karim, "was a little piece of land in a nice place away from the usual crowded resorts." He found it five years ago on the northeast coast of Sardinia, a wilderness with cliffs of granite rising behind curving beaches and natural harbors. Today there is Porto Cervo, a brand-new village with a gleaming modern harbor, villas, apartments and half a dozen hotels.
To keep his little piece of land un-crowded the Aga Khan has set up a consortium, an association of independent landowners who agree to develop their property in the common interest. Everyone who buys land on the Costa Smeralda automatically becomes a member. The consortium now controls some 32,000 acres along 38 miles of once despised coast. To the Sardinians the sea is something of an evil spirit. Unmarriageable sisters have always been maneuvered into the inheritance of vast tracts of barren land close to the sea. Prince Karim has made lira millionairesses out of these unwanted girls overnight. (Their brothers, owners of now valueless pastureland, work as waiters in the new hotels.)
The arrival in Porto Cervo by boat is breathtaking. Costa Smeralda is laid out primarily for yachting, and with a professional eye for detail Prince Karim has seen to it that his new harbor is the best equipped in the Mediterranean. The main mooring area (page 39) is abristle with up-to-date installations. The quay is 285 yards long, with room for 48 yachts in the 40- to 200-foot size. Each berth has electrical and telephone outlets, water, gas, diesel oil and—admirable convenience—a yachtside laundry service. Across the harbor is a 200-yard pier that can handle smaller craft. Porto Cervo has become an important stop on the Mediterranean yachting tour.
GETTING THERE: In pre-Karim days the Costa Smeralda was not particularly easy to reach. It was a long car ride from Cagliari, Sardinia's capital, at the other end of the island, and Sardinia is deservedly notorious for its bandits and its kidnappings for ransom. To make his operation possible, Prince Karim bought an airline, Alisarda, which has daily flights from Rome, Milan and Nice into Olbia. The flight from Rome takes an hour and costs $36.80 round trip.
STAYING THERE: The hotels are scattered on various beaches, each with mooring facilities. The most spectacular is the 54-room Cala di Volpe (opposite). A double room with meals is around $50 a day. The dining room serves typical Sardinian meals of roast suckling pig or quail with myrtle. But the hotel is really accessible only from the sea. The Pitrizza (52 beds) is a series of cottages, each with a flower garden on its roof, blending into the hillside behind. It is extremely well run and comfortable, and the charges are roughly the same as at the Cala di Volpe. The Romazzino (100 rooms) has its own shops and hairdresser and is a good hotel for families. A double room with meals ranges between $32 and $48. The 65-room Cervo, on the main square, is the most fun for the yachtless visitor. Boats and people come and go, and it has a nightclub. A double room with meals costs between $32 and $45. American Express credit cards are valid everywhere.
PLAYING THERE: Beach bathing is amazingly good. The Costa Smeralda has 82 beaches, but you need a boat to get to them. Marinasarda is ready to rent almost any type of boat, including large motor yachts, although these require a few days' notice. Marinasarda also supplies equipment for scuba diving and has water-skiing instructors. Fishing guides also are available, but the resident species—mostly tuna, sea eel and d√®ntice—are in short supply, and not many visitors try. The Sardinians themselves simply do not fish at all (too much trouble for too few fish—and, remember, the sea is evil).
There are marvelous water excursions to islands and coral reefs. Bonifacio, the southernmost Corsican port, an ancient town stuck against the side of a 500-foot bluff, is a favorite overnight stop. Trips also are provided to the islands of La Maddalena and Caprera, where Garibaldi's cottage is set in a grove of pines. Never mentioned in Prince Karim's territory is Porto Rotondo, a rival enterprise near Olbia, with seven miles of coast and a yacht harbor set in a round cove with exquisite beaches.
Riding is a big sport, and horses can be hired in Porto Cervo for $4 an hour. Most of the trails follow the shore. The best nightclub is Pedro's, which gets a young and good-looking crowd. It has a shop that sells hippie clothes made locally.
Porto Cervo still is short of the fulfillment envisioned by its founder. Folkloric festivals, with self-conscious Sardinians dressed up in fancy costumes, remain a poor substitute for genuine local color. The prince's ambition is to preserve the natural beauty of the terrain while encouraging a fuller urban and artisan life. So far, on the second score, he has made little noticeable progress.
The Costa Smeralda, circled on the map, covers 32,000 acres on the northeast corner of Sardinia.
ROME 166 MILES