Untamed indulgence: Julie Burchill is seduced by Sardinia

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Beautiful? Enigmatic? A test of your (almost) vegetarian principles? Sardinia is all these things, say Julie Burchill

The start to my Sardinia trip was not an auspicious one; having consumed two champagne breakfasts before 11am, I left my make-up bag on the plane after the drink-and-you'll-miss-it two-hour flight. I can imagine all you super-smart, let's-be-AVing-you Indy readers looking well sneery at that, but for a blue-collar Beryl Cook character made flesh who's been staggering around dumb with lipgloss and blinded by kohl since the age of 12, it was quite a culture shock. Also, NIGELLA GAVE ME THAT MAKE UP BAG! Black sequins! I cursed, as I reflected how my one legit source of dropping Nigella's name – "Ooo, that's pretty!" "Yes, Nigella gave it to me" – was now quite possibly the property of some heedless trolley dolly.

But within 30 minutes of landing we were splashing about in the beautiful, colour-changing pool at the Hotel Relais Villa del Golfo and Spa resort in Cannigione, on the Costa Smeralda (Emerald Coast) overlooking the bay of Arzachena, without a care in the world.

The Villa del Golfo is a tiny bit rustic, and at home even a whiff of rustic bread would be enough to send me cross-eyed with rage – we are an urban island, and only ocean-going ponces pretend otherwise; the sort of saps who can only have an orgasm on Cath Kidston bed linen. But in this almost viciously verdant setting, leavened by the sophistication of a library, a bridge room and an American Bar, the golden threads of the wall tapestries shimmering in the glow from the granite fireplace, suddenly it all made sense. It must be the sensuality of the Mediterranean that makes gorgeous a mode of decoration that in rainy old England just seems ditsy, mumsy and clumsily executed. That's the thing about rustic charm, I find – if it don't fit, don't force it!

Sardinia's brand of rustic charm is the opposite of the dread Kidstonia, thank the Lord. Looking out from the lushness of the pool over the sunset beauty of the bay, this place lets you know from the get-go that it can be as wild as you want it to be – not as in Girls Gone Wild, but as in untamed. Here, in the place DH Lawrence described as "outside the circuit of civilisation", many shepherds speak Latin and some breezes blow in from Africa, and the landscape is scattered with Neolithic monuments.

Even the flag is scary-beautiful: four blindfolded heads, called "Four Moors" and thought to represent captured pirates, similar to the flag of Sardinia's neighbour, Corsica, which is just an hour away by sea. I don't know Corsica well, but they appear to have much in common; wild terrain, beautiful beaches and extreme pride worn like a national costume. Replacing some silly make-up was now the last thing on my mind; seeing as much as I could of this amazing island – we were only there for three nights – was all I could think of. And our tour started just a few steps from the bar, in the hotel's Il Miraluna restaurant.

I'll admit that the food side of things was where I thought that Sardinia's wildness might be a problem. Since I was a teenager I have been struggling ineffectually to be a vegetarian, and over the years I have succeeded in cutting those animals which I find beautiful – pigs, lambs, ducks – out of my diet. Paradoxically, I don't eat animals who I consider ugly either – no turkey! This leaves me in the admittedly morally ludicrous position of eating only animals I find moderately attractive – cows, chickens and fish. (Reading this back, it's actually the first time I have considered the possibility that I may be actually insane.)

So imagine my dismay on finding out that we were heading for a region of Sardinia – Gallura – which boasts such regional specialities as PIGLET ON A SPIT and KEBAB OF LAMB ENTRAILS! And imagine my joyous relief on seeing what actually awaited us. The menu note that "our chef proposes a selection of Italian and international cuisine, revised in Sardinian style" hardly begins to describe the scenic tour through the empire of the senses which was about to transpire.

There are two reasons I have spent more than three decades failing at vegetarianism; one, no willpower and two, MEAT SHOULDN'T TASTE SO NICE! That's the thing about a really great cheeseburger; the dead bit doesn't taste dead, it tastes more alive than the bits that never lived or died. Almost anyone can make meat taste nice – come on, its meat! – but to my mind the test of a great chef is making a meat-free, not meatless (it's the difference in attitude between being child-free and childless) menu look like there's absolutely nothing missing.

This is exactly what Il Miraluna's chef, Susy Farina, does. We started with an asparagus pudding, sharp as a knife and soft as a sigh; eating asparagus in England just feels like a prelude to a fetish, but here... like the song says, "O sweet mystery of life, at last I've found you!" The tagliatelle with mussels and clams and the dory fillet were made with pescatoria so fresh that I wouldn't have been all that surprised if they'd stood up and sung a chorus of "Under The Sea" from The Little Mermaid. I felt momentarily sad that they would never get to do this, but was massively cheered up by the bitter chocolate pie with orange sauce. Susy Farina came out to take a bow, and I felt like requesting her shoe, and some champagne to drink out of it, as those pervy old stage door Johnnies did with particularly brilliant ballerinas. But I merely mumbled drunken superlatives instead.

The next day was bright and sunny and we could have punished some poor horses by riding them along one of the breathtaking trails that take in the Capo d'Orso, lighthouses, fortresses and beaches (there are two-hour trail rides for beginners, trekking at sundown for the saddle-sure and ponies for kiddies). But it's hard to drink on horseback, so we happily trotted down to the marina and boarded the hotel yacht BonAria.

I don't mind admitting I'm a bit kinky for boats. I have the opposite of seasickness, and basically no matter how rough I feel on dry land, I perk up the minute I get on board – this goes for anything from a Crazy Sofa to a cruise liner. So I knew I'd have a good time, but I had no idea HOW good. My travelling companion Miss Petrovic and I were about to embark not just upon a boat, but also upon one of the most memorable days of our lives, thanks to the crew – the smokin' Aussie, Captain Andy, and his elegant American mate, Mari.

In my experience the one dodgy thing about getting on a boat is that if the company turns out to be crap, you're screwed. How lucky, then, that Andrew and Mari were two of the funniest, most fascinating people it's ever been my privilege to meet. As we talked, laughed and even sang our way around the amazing beauty of the Emerald Coast, which could double for the Maldives on a good day, eight hours went by in a blur of chillout mix-tapes, white wine, pasta salads and pineapple as we sailed around the Maddalena Archipelago. We saw everything from Garibaldi's house to the place where James Bond drove the amphibious car up on to the beach in The Spy Who Loved Me. Who says history can't be fun?

On our final day we grabbed a cab to the mind-blowingly beautiful and brilliant restaurant Madai Restaurant (also a café, lounge and winery) in nearby Arzachena. They say that if you can remember the Sixties, you weren't there – and that's what Madai is like, such a blur of pure bliss that I would mistrust anyone who could actually describe what they ate there. The chef, Elio Sironi, came here from the Bulgari Hotel in Milan and the simple symphony he played on our palates was world-class.

Thinking about the food in Sardinia, I had a sudden insight. Why WAS Naomi Campbell in SUCH a permanently hideous temper back in the day? A woman with her looks and wealth? IT WAS BECAUSE SHE SPENT SO MUCH TIME IN SARDINIA (with then-beau Flavio Briatore, who spends much of his time swanking around the Costa Smeralda) AND WASN'T ALLOWED TO EAT! That's gotta make ANYONE angry – or "hangry", as the models have it.

On paper, I could have had a rotten time in Sardinia. It was early in the season and very little was open – certainly not the International White Trash malls and bars I am developing a tragic weakness for as I get older. It rained for one whole day, hard, and we were only there for three. I don't ever want to see a piglet on a spit as long as I live. But I really can imagine going back every year, for decades – it was that good.

Some places, though beautiful, one mentally ticks off as one checks out; done that, onto the next one. Sardinia isn't like that. In travel writing, "enigmatic" is the word that comes up time after time (as opposed to the flamboyant, emotional image of Italia in general) and I totally get it now. The smell of Sardinia, the macchia, a combination of myrtle, pine, juniper just coming into flower at the end of April, is as vivid yet as elusive as the island itself. I have the feeling that you could never really get to know Sardinia. But you could have a brilliant time trying.

Travel essentials: Sardinia

Getting there

* The writer travelled with Sardinian Places (0845 330 2050; sardinianplaces.co.uk), which offers seven nights at the Relais Villa del Golfo and Spa, Cannigione, from £1,131 per person. The price includes accommodation in a deluxe sea-view room with breakfast, return easyJet flights from Gatwick to Olbia and transfers. Sardinian Places offers a selection of villas, apartments and hotels across the island.

* Olbia is served by easyJet (0843 104 5000; easyJet.com) from Gatwick and Bristol; and by Jet2 (0871 226 1737; jet2.com) from Leeds/Bradford.

More information

* Italian State Tourist Board: 020-7408 1254; italiantouristboard.co.uk

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Voices
The Sumatran tiger, endemic to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is an endangered species
voicesJonathon Porritt: The wild tiger population is thought to have dropped by 97 per cent since 1900
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him
musicIndie music promoter was was a feature at Carter gigs
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Story line: Susanoo slays the Yamata no Orochi serpent in the Japanese version of a myth dating back 40,000 years
arts + entsApplying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Performers dressed as Tunnocks chocolate teacakes, a renowned Scottish confectionary, perform during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
news
Life and Style
Popular plonk: Lambrusco is selling strong
Food + drinkNaff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Shake down: Michelle and Barack Obama bump knuckles before an election night rally in Minnesota in 2008, the 'Washington Post' called it 'the fist bump heard round the world'
newsThe pound, a.k.a. the dap, greatly improves hygiene
Arts and Entertainment
La Roux
music
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Fellows as John Shuttleworth
comedySean O'Grady joins Graham Fellows down his local Spar
News
people
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
Ross Burden pictured in 2002
people
News
Elisabeth Murdoch: The 44-year-old said she felt a responsibility to 'stand up and be counted’'
media... says Rupert Murdoch
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Extras
indybest
Sport
Arsenal signing Calum Chambers
sportGunners complete £16m transfer of Southampton youngster
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Telesales Manager. Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Day In a Page

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

    Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on