I had read a lot about the town of Porto Cervo, Sardinia and the famous (or infamous, depending on whether or not you know your Italian tabloid scandals!) Costa Smeralda before I’d arrived on the island. Popular with the rich and powerful, and well known for the luxury resorts and super yachts that line the marina, I knew that I couldn’t visit Sardinia and miss seeing the so-called Emerald Coast.
After almost four weeks in the quiet, traditional hillside village of Baunei, I was expecting a pretty drastic difference. I knew it would be far more expensive and I’d read that most of the bigger restaurants and clubs were closed out of the busy season. What I wasn’t expecting was a very artificial, designer ghost town.
I’d attempted to get to Porto Cervo by bus from San Teodoro but that was impossible on an off-peak Sunday. Instead, I managed to get a bus to Olbia (the Costa Smeralda’s closest airport) and then get a taxi from a nearby town – meaning I’d already blown my budget for the day without having stepped foot in Porto Cervo! I arrived around midday and checked in early to my, quite fancy looking, hotel the Relais Colonna.
Apart from the particularly unhelpful man on reception, there wasn’t anyone else to be seen. Afternoons tend to be quiet in Sardinia anyway, so I figured that there might be some more activity later in the day. I dumped my stuff in my room, grabbed my camera and headed out to explore. Even in Baunei, on a Sunday afternoon, the local cafes and bars are open so I thought I would probably stumble across somewhere to grab a coffee in the sun.
My hotel was directly in the ‘centre’ of Porto Cervo – by which I mean it’s on the street behind the main Piazza. Porto Cervo doesn’t have a centre like every other town I visited in Sardinia – mainly because it’s not a real town. It was built entirely for rich tourists, and it seemed that there weren’t any locals actually living there. I walked into the main Piazza (which I’m sure during high season is packed with super stylish and wealthy Italians) where you’ll find every big designer name you can think of. Gucci, Prada, Louis Vuitton, Rolex…the list goes on.
All of the shops were closed, and I don’t mean shut for the day. All the stock was gone, all of the brand names hanging above the doors were covered in plastic…the whole place was deserted. Split over a couple of levels, you can wander the pretty but fake shopping streets (and pretend you’re in a sunny episode of The Walking Dead like I did!) but the only living thing you will see are the stray cats…
I crossed the picturesque little wooden bridge towards the port area, where I came across a bird and then… more cats. All the cafes, bars, shops and the tourist information point were closed. Walking back towards the hotel, feeling a bit creeped out, I realised I could hear something which sounded a lot like a football match being played on a TV and followed it…to one of the poshest hotels I’ve ever been to – the Hotel Cervo.
I was so relieved that somewhere was open and that there appeared to be actual live people (well, the barman and one guy watching the football) that I didn’t really think through how much it was going to cost me…turns out, that would be a lot. The drinks menu almost made me laugh out loud – €16 for an Ichnusa; Sardinia’s local beer that only three hours earlier I had paid €2 for in Baunei! €25 for a cocktail.
The cheapest drink was a glass of wine at €15. I couldn’t believe it. Unfortunately, the waiter was hovering next to me waiting for me to decide and I was so happy to have found somewhere that was open that I ended up ordering a glass of rose wine (that’s what emergency credit cards are for!) It’s probably the longest it’s ever taken me to finish a drink – I felt like every sip was worth a euro.
I sat out in the beautiful sunshine in the deserted Piazza for almost two hours and decided I’d take a walk to Porto Cervo’s Marina, where I thought there might be another (cheaper!) cafe or bar open. When I got there, apart from a couple of people working on their yachts and a security guard, there was no one else to be seen…and again, all the bars, shops and restaurants were closed.
I realised that I hadn’t seen as much as a supermarket or newsagents – do rich people not need food or toiletries?! Without any locals living in the centre, it seems there’s no need for normal, everyday things like a food shop or a cafe. On my way back from the marina, I stopped at Porto Cervo’s little church, thinking at least I could get a small dose of culture and history. No such luck. Like everything else in Porto Cervo, it’s artificial…and I honestly don’t even know what to say about the unusual Christ sculpture!
If nothing else, it provided some light entertainment when four Italian women (clearly on a road trip and just passing through) stopped to take a million selfies outside the church…and then inside, next to the weird sculpture.
I was feeling a bit deflated that there wasn’t so much as a cafe to go to but my hotel was nice and the WiFi worked, so a couple of hours of writing and FaceTiming my family seemed like a good idea. I knew I had to head back out, later on, to get some dinner and find the nearest tobacconist so I’d know where to get a bus ticket in the morning anyway. After checking in back home, I headed out into the now pretty chilly night. I’d asked the guy at reception if there were any restaurants open and in broken English, he told me thought there was only one still open, but it happened to be around the corner.
I was really hungry by this point (I’d had a couple of croissants for breakfast in San Teodoro but that was it) so when I got to the restaurant and it was (shockingly!) closed too, I just about cried. Stuck in Porto Cervo, Sardinia’s most glamorous resort, with no food, no other people, no supermarkets or even a newsagent to buy snacks in. I was absolutely gutted that I had timed my visit so, so poorly. When I dragged myself back to the hotel, I managed to tell myself that the next day would be better – maybe there would be a shop open or one of the restaurants and if not, I could leave earlier than I had planned for Palau.
I woke up feeling determined to make the most of the morning in Porto Cervo and headed back to the piazza in search of the tobacconist, which to my absolute delight was open! I grabbed some water and a couple of snacks from there before wandering back to the hotel. When I’d booked it, the website said there was no meal option but when I walked into the lobby, I could see the restaurant was set up for breakfast. Considering that I appeared to be the only guest staying, I figured it must be for me! I checked with the receptionist and, after looking at me like I was an idiot, said yes, I could, of course, eat breakfast. I was ridiculously happy – I had the entire buffet and restaurant to myself, and was so hungry after not eating in a day that I spent an hour trying a little bit of everything!
After stuffing myself, I went upstairs to pack. I was hoping to catch the ferry from Palau to La Maddalena at 4 pm – just in time to see the sunset. There was only one bus leaving Porto Cervo that would get me to Palau in time so I knew that I wanted to check out early and make sure I was at the bus stop with time to spare.
I seem to have done nothing but complain about Sardinian public transport but…the bus was an hour late, meaning that I missed the ferry that I wanted to get. I did manage to catch the very tail end of the sunset over the La Maddalena Archipelago though, so it wasn’t a complete disappointment!
I’m sure Porto Cervo is a completely different experience in the summer when the rich and beautiful people flock to the Costa Smeralda’s stunning coastlines but in the winter, it’s really nothing more than a very beautiful, deserted ghost town…
Porto Cervo, Sardinia: Need to Know
WHERE TO STAY:
GETTING THERE & AWAY:
The bus from San Teodoro cost €4.50 and my taxi to Porto Cervo was €40. The bus from Porto Cervo to Palau was €7.
EATING & DRINKING:
A glass of wine at the beautiful but expensive Porto Cervo Hotel cost €15.
Have you had an off/low-season travel experience? Or visited somewhere that was basically a ghost town?! Leave a comment below!
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