He arrived in Sardinia by boat, having survived several assassination attempts. The agency found him a white Lotus Espirit to drive around in.
I arrived in Sardinia on British Airways flight 608, having survived a two hour scrum at Heathrow. The rental agency gave me the last remaining car on their lot, a blue Hyundai barely larger than a golf cart. My luggage arrived two days later.
“He” was Roger Moore, and Sardinia was the location for some of the most iconic scenes in the James Bond movie “The Spy Who Loved Me.” Having collected his Lotus Espirit, Bond checks in to the Hotel Cala di Volpe with his love interest, the Soviet Triple X spy Olga Asmovo.
I too arrive at the Hotel Cala di Volpe. There are no Russians in sight. The oligarchs have left. The only visible Russian presence is Irena Abramovich’s divorce settlement which occupies a healthy chunk of real estate across the water from the hotel.
The main restaurant at the hotel offers a three course lunch for €200 per person. It’s served buffet style. For that kind of money I expect a personal butler. The view is lovely. The waiters are surly. The food and drink are decent, but expensive. A common or garden Bellini cost €35. Bond was on expenses.
Costa Smerelda, the Emerald Coast of Sardinia was “discovered” by the Agha Khan in 1960. With a group of his wealthy friends he bought up a swathe of land, arranged for water and power supplies, and created a playground for the glamorous. Back then you could actually do something useful as a religious leader.
There’s wealth on display, even if the Russians are missing. The Billionaire Club, Cue and other nightspots feature lots of glamorous people. There are no billionaires at the Billionaire Club anymore, just people who wish they were, and are willing to pay €10K for a table to breathe what they believe to be rarified air. I watched a group of overgrown American frat boys celebrating a night away from their wives. A waitress was sent to fetch a nebuchadnezzar of champagne – the equivalent of 20 normal sized bottles of bubbly. It was warm, but the boys didn’t care. They were keen to impress a bevy of high priced “influencers” who were looking bored. I guessed at their reaction: “Wow, you bought us champagne! Where’s the private jet boys? And do you actually own any yachts or do you rent everything by the hour? God, I miss the Russians.”
But there is a reason why the Agha Khan dropped anchor here. The coastline is beautiful. Away from Porto Cervo, with its glamorous yachts and globally branded boutiques there are a myriad little coves and beaches to explore, all of them achingly beautiful.
I was hosted by dear friends from business school who left investment banking to hang out in Sardinia drinking Aperol Spritzes. Together we explored tiny beaches that we had completely to ourselves. We discovered the divine little port of Rafael (Porto Rafael) in an exclusive enclave along the emerald coast. There’s a tiny 6 room boutique hotel, a couple of restaurants and some boutiques. Nothing is cheap, but it has a marvellously laid back chic.
Most of the better restaurants are closed for lunch (it’s too hot). We wondered through San Pantaleo where much of street scenes and car chases in the James Bond movie The Spy Who Loved Me were shot. The square is lovely – and buzzing at 11pm with even a little travelling circus/gymnast/clown act going on. In the corner of the square the chicest restaurant appears to be the Ristorante Giagoni. We couldn’t score a table on the square, eating in the cute back garden instead. The food was exceptional – I had a pigeon starter and an anchovy risotto made with Carnaroli rice, considered the caviar of risotto. Part of the beauty of this place is that around seemingly every corner lies a potentially exceptional experience.
Sardinia is beautiful and I will be back. I am being roped in by friends to swim the straits of Bonifacio between Sardinia and Corsica – a distance of some 14 km (a little under 9 miles). This could be a spectacularly bad idea. I might just take a cue from James Bond and take a boat.