Mediterranean medley

Colin Hughes took his brood to Sardinia's Forte Village - for a mix of family fun and romantic reverie
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The Independent Travel
The moment you decide a Mediterranean holiday has all been worth it comes when you stroll out on the beach after dark, gaze up at the stars, soak up the sound of surf lightly breaking on moonlit sands, and drape your arm around the shoulders of a loved one, ostensibly protecting her against that little edge of cool that's fallen after a long and lazy day in the summer heat.

I enjoyed just this experience after only four days at the Forte Village in Sardinia, an island blessed with some of the most beautiful beaches imaginable. Instead of sharing the moment with my wife, though, I shared it with one little daughter aged three, gambolling off into the night, her dress tucked into her knickers, ready for a wild post-prandial paddle. Another daughter, aged eight, gazed out to sea sighing philosophically at the beauty of the night, and my son, aged nine, questioned me about how far we were from Africa, could we see the Milky Way, did those lights come from ships and could he take his sandals off 'cos they were full of sand?

And thereby hangs a large part of the tale - because two good reasons for being at the Forte Village are the sensational and very long private beach, and the courteous and helpful welcome given to children. But since the place has so much to offer, you could rope together a whole raft of other reasons which fully justify being there without mentioning those two.

My wife, for example (who on that romantically moonlit night had retreated to our bedroom to settle the sixth and littlest member of our party, aged 10 months), would probably not have picked the welcome for children, or the beach, or the 17 tennis courts, full-sized artificial football pitch, or even the little enclosure for flamingoes and pelicans; most likely, if she returned, it would be to spend as much time as possible escaping from maternal responsibilities and holing up in the resort's health spa.

As it was, she managed to escape for the odd couple of hours. Her first visit was for a mind-numbing massage which left her in a state of calm astonishing to behold in someone otherwise wholly responsible for tending two pre-school children. The second was to loll about in a variety of spa pools (they call it thalassotherapy). The experience appeared to have no effect on her health, but a great deal on her desire to drift off to sleep in saltwater pools and doze in steamy Turkish baths.

For a place that presents itself as an exclusive retreat, the Forte Village clientele are surprisingly classless, and mixed in national origin. We encountered many Germans (indeed, one charming four-year-old named Maximilian fell in love with my littlest daughter). There were English of all walks, some French, a few glossily nouveau riche Russians and many Italians. Certainly the ability to afford it (or not to worry about the fact that you can't) is pretty essential: the accommodation costs are highish for the best rooms or bungalows, and many of the resort's additional services (such as sailing boats) are quite costly. But you get what you pay for, especially in quintessentially Italian civility of service, and excellent food.

At the Hotel Castello, where we stayed, it wasn't only the children who were bowled over by superb breakfast tables spilling with hams, fruit juices and cheeses. The variety of accommodation (three hotels, different kinds of bungalows) is matched by a range of restaurants that makes it unwise to remain on your home patch all week. Our best evening foray was for a meal of seafood at one of several beach-side restaurants, where the older kids ate their first large langoustines followed by a wonderful clam-strewn pasta and medley of fish dishes. After that, and half a bottle of dark red Sardinian wine, making it down to the beach for a star-gazing stroll is a bit of a struggle - even when the beach is only 20 yards away.

For the children, though, the greatest pleasure of the place was the freedom, space and safety, along with three large swimming pools, a serious diving pool, and a pair of pools exclusively for the Hotel Castello. The children swam in conditions they never believed possible - space and delightful quiet. The only time I saw anyone offended was when the resident instructor started blasting water aerobics music out over the central swimming pool just after an English couple had stretched themselves peacefully out on loungers. In the end, though, the hilarious spectacle of 20 people trying to do star jumps with half their body underwater was well worth the brief intrusion into our peace.

I would have loved to hurtle about the bay on a Hobie catamaran, or a little Laser dinghy, but mostly the winds were high, and I became more preoccupied with organising tennis games and coaching sessions.

And with all that going on, was there ever any reason to leave the resort? Not a lot, if you're there for a week. But it is a kind of madness to miss seeing the surrounding area of the south-eastern island - the superb coastal panoramas of maquis, rocky promontories capped withRoman castles, and steep tracks leading into the mountainous hinterland, with mimosa, wild olive and prickly pear bushes, like an African and southern European scene rolled together.

Africa is in fact only 100 miles from the nearby southern tip of Sardinia - half as far as the nearest point of the Italian mainland. You know it when the hot winds blow. You can feel it, too, if you escape down the coast to some of the southern peninsulas, where smooth dunes roll down the beaches and tiny bleached clam shells crunch underfoot.

We ventured out in a Land Rover driven by an environmental student named Dario who gave us a fascinating account of real Sardinian life. But we didn't go to Sardinia for reality: we went for the green trees, bare rocks, the beach, the sun and, at the Forte Village, thecomfort of having every need catered for with the utmost courtesy. One week was not enough.

Flights between the UK and Sardinia are scarce. Italy Sky Shuttle (0800 129 129) has charters from Gatwick and Stansted to Alghero and Olbia in the north of Sardinia, and to Cagliari in the south. The fare to Cagliari and Olbia is pounds 260 return in July and August. Fares to Alghero are slightly cheaper. A week at the Forte Village Resort staying at the Hotel Castello starts from pounds 99 per person per night on half board on a weekly basis. There is a 50 per cent reduction on accommodation for children aged two to 11 sharing with two adults, 90 per cent reduction for infants. Colin Hughes booked through Italian Escapades (0181-748 2661).

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