Vinnie, Ramon - be with you in a mo. Just fixing the kids' credit cards

At Forte Village in Sardinia, Tristan Davies rubs shoulders and shins with stars of rock and soccer. Meanwhile, his sons take full advantage of a carefree payment scheme - and of the ready-opened bottles of wine at their table

So here is how it works. You spot a cracker in a one-piece at the pool bar. You slide up, ever so coolly, and offer to buy her a drink. To your surprise, she accepts and invites you to join her friends at the table underneath the waterslide. So you find yourself getting carried away a little. So what? You have your magic plastic with you. More drinks for my new friends! Ham and cheese toasties? No problem. Gelati? Sign here. Name and room number. Grazie. Prego! One for the road? And then you find your way back to your sun lounger and tell your dad not to worry, you split the bill.

Forte Village in Sardinia is pre-teen heaven with a credit card. Everything a child could want is on offer within its 55 acres. Sure, the extras add up. But since you can put everything on to your room card, who's counting? Certainly not the unsalaried members of your family to whom, in the spirit of holiday bonhomie and a paternal desire to encourage their responsibility, maturity and independence, you've allowed a card each. And the freedom to give you as much peace and quiet as they like.

And the things they can spend it on! Just about every one of the nine swimming pools has a bar. Then there are the tennis, the watersports and the games rooms. And if you really want to melt the plastic there's the adventure playground, where a few laps of the go-kart circuit or the ice-rink are yours for a few euros more.

You may be running the small risk of ruining them for life, but those little spend-spend-spenders will love you for ever. And you, too, will love your week or two here in the Sardinian sun. Forte Village costs, but it works. "Of course, this isn't our proper summer holiday," one dry-leather tanned English lady of a certain carat explained to me one night by the football pitch. "Barry and I are off to the Hotel du Cap in a couple of weeks. This one's just for the children." Forte Village is very much a family affair, even if, from the amount of gold chain and gold teeth on show, it's possible that we are talking family with a capital F, as in Soprano, or Kray.

Or, indeed, Jones. The resort, about 45 minutes from Cagliari airport on the south-west coast of the island, is designed to resemble an authentic Italian village, its eight hotels, 18 restaurants, bars and shops surrounded by tropical plants and divided by terracotta paths that all lead to a central piazza. Or, as it happens, to the Astroturf football pitch. The hot night air of most authentic Italian villages is not pierced by shouts of "down the line, son, square ball", or "pass it, you muppet". But here, such cries rang out every evening at the daily football tournament. It was here that I found myself being nutmegged by Vinnie Jones, Lock, Stock gangster and former football player. (I should add that he was only able to achieve this as I had been the victim of a late tackle minutes earlier by Kian from Westlife, you know, the really hard one with the pretty blond fringe.) It could have been worse. I might have been on the receiving end of a bone-cruncher from Ramon Vega or Steve Staunton, who, since he's yet to hear back from Guy Ritchie, is still practising the delicate art of defending for Aston Villa.

And they were just the ones I recognised. The resort is awash with pre-season footballers. This is due, in part, to its spa, the Thermae del Parco. I'm not sure about you, I've always found the idea of stepping into a small, warm, salty pool heated to 38C just after its been vacated about as appealing as getting into someone else's bath water. The next day. And at least in someone else's bath water you don't feel as though a miniature sadist has been at work under the surface nicking your skin with his miniature scalpel. But I'm assured the spa's five, high-saline-density sea pools are state-of-the-art stuff. Certainly, the hydro-massage pool, with its high-powered water jets, was back-pummellingly good and the tropical garden setting was calmly soothing. I can't say it did much for the foot, but you couldn't keep Ramon Vega out of the place. Odd man, Ramon. He hung around the pool and spa on his own a lot. Until I saw him close up, I'd assumed he was the pool attendant who'd lost his mop.

Ramon's pool was at the top of the resort, furthest away from the beach. Not so popular as the others because of the salt water, but consequently the least crowded and most civilised. Each pool is attached to one of the different-starred hotels and there's a colour-coded towel system to keep the five-stars from having their noses put out of joint by four-stars getting above their station. (The beach is open to all and by far the most fun.) We stayed in the Villa del Parco, its 25 rooms and 18 bungalows set discreetly in pine groves near the spa. Very nice, too. The kind of place where they not only spread rose petals on the pillows (along with chocolates for the ladies and an uplifting daily motto) but in the loo, too. Now I can take or leave rose petals, but I was very keen on the bottle of chilled local and the silver tower of canapés and cheeses that await you when you return to your room after a day at the pool. Book two rooms and you get a bottle and a tower per room. Relaxed as I was about letting the kids loose with a credit card, I drew the line about giving them a free hand with the booze. The wine was taken into protective custody.

A gentle word of warning here. I'm not sure if Josh and Tom's parents have noticed a change in their behaviour since returning home, but if they're looking a little unsteady on their feet then I can explain. Forte Village is the kind of place where you can let your kids run free. Indeed, it's one of the most attractive things about the place. Because of the resort's central feeding system, you can eat at most of the hotels' alfresco restaurants (all of which serve an excellent if repetitive selection of pastas and grilled meats). Many parents seem content to let their children fend for themselves. In Josh and Tom's case, sitting sans parents in the Cavalieri enjoying the open-air buffet while being serenaded by an Italian Peters and Lee, this meant helping themselves to the opened bottles of wine (included, as are meals, in the price of your stay) set out on each table by the friendly waiters who seemed happy to turn a blind eye to a spot of under-age drinking. (Readers, relax, the bottles were removed before too much damage was done.)

If you want to avoid carousing children during dinner, there are more formal alternatives to the alfresco restaurants, for which you have to book.

After dinner, the restaurants spill out into the central piazza, where, on an enormous stage, singers you may have spotted at the bars and restaurants earlier in the evening entertain you. There are also more ambitious entertainments, where Sunday Night at the London Palladium meets Stars in their Eyes. And all jolly good fun, too. But the highlight for me, and I suspect many families with young children who may have somewhat guiltily packed their youngest off to the children's club, was a full-dress, fully mimed version of Disney's Beauty and the Beast performed by club inmates, their minders and the Forte Village dancers. As the ad goes: Cost of flying to Sardinia: so many pounds. Cost of 10-day stay: so many pounds. Cost of seeing your too-cool-to-play-the-prince 10-year-old pushed on to the stage in pink leotard and broken teapot for "Be My Guest": priceless.

I have not, I must confess, been entirely truthful. These events, while all true, did not occur on just one holiday. I have, like many of those I met at Forte Village, been back. And, having enjoyed its excellent facilities, beautiful weather and undeniably camp delights, I'd go again. Except next time I'm packing my shin pads. And I'm negotiating with American Express over the rights and wrongs of issuing junior credit cards.

Getting there

Tristan Davies travelled as a guest of Exclusive Italy (01892 619650; www.exclusivedestinations.co.uk) which offers holidays at the Forte Village Resort in September from £948 per adult for one week including return flights from Heathrow to Cagliari, transfers and half-board accommodation at the Forte Village "Il Villagio". There is a 50 per cent reduction for children when they share with two adults.

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