The history of Costa Smeralda is a blend of glamour and wild landscape, luxury and the scents of the Mediterranean maquis. A corner of paradise that, from the sixties onward, has been a dream destination for tourists and travellers from all over the world.
It’s the end of the 1950s, in Italy the wounds of the Second World War are beginning to heal and people start to enjoy the small pleasures of life again. Tourists from all over the world arrive on the Riviera and the coasts to discover the beauty of the area and take home a memory of the Italian “Bel Paese”.
In this period, Monti di Mola, nowadays better known as Costa Smeralda or Emerald Coast in English, is one of the poorest and least developed areas in Italy, like the rest of Sardinia. A sparsely populated, forgotten land, where agro-pastoral life flows slowly among the pastures and shrubs of the Mediterranean maquis. A reality that is immensely different compared to the present-day Costa Smeralda.
Sardinia was then chosen by the World Bank for a reclamation and aid plan for the poorest regions of the Italian peninsula. John Duncan Miller, a World Bank official, arrived on the island to verify the results of the Sardinian land reclamation campaign.
Upon arriving in Sardinia, Miller docked on an unspoilt portion of the island and was captivated by the beauty of the Gallurese coastline. On his return to London, he organised a business lunch, looking for partners willing to buy a piece of that semi-wild land, washed by a crystal clear sea. Thus was born a small group of investors composed of Prince Aga Khan, Giuseppe Mentasti, Patrick Guinness and Renè Podbielski. Miller managed to convince them to land on what would soon become the Costa Smeralda.
Therefore, in the early 1960s, in front of notary Mario Altea of Tempio Pausania, the group of investors signed a declaration of intent. The Consorzio Costa Smeralda was born, 1800 hectares of land between Liscia di Vacca, Porto Cervo, Cala di Volpe and Capriccioli. A small refuge for private holidays, just a few hours flight from Europe.
Prince Aga Khan imposes only one limitation on the island: very strict rules must be respected for construction development in order to maintain the beauty of the landscape. Architecture must integrate with the environment and include local styles, both in the use of typical Sardinian materials and design and in the choice of place names.
The young prince wants to identify and document styles, colours and forms of housing in Sardinia to be replicated for the building plan of the Costa Smeralda. For this purpose, the Architectural Committee was set up consisting of the most established names of the time: Michele Busiri Vici, Jacques Couëlle, Luigi Vietti, Raymond Martin and Antonio Simon Mossa, whose task was to oversee the area and the architectural decisions to be implemented.
Prince Aga Khan demanded that all constructions had to respect precise rules regarding the space allocated for greenery and the appearance of the villas, built according to the method of mimicking. For every tree cut down, two needed to be planted, promoting the typical vegetation of the Mediterranean scrubland. The architectural landscape had to be innovative and perfectly in harmony with the surrounding nature.
Costa Smeralda quickly became a remarkable phenomenon in the world. It was transformed into a private and high-end society, frequented by the prince’s entourage and the international jet-set, an oasis of luxury nestled in the island’s pristine natural surroundings.
Eventually, even the locals who were hesitant about the outsider’s developments on the coast, realized the business opportunities in Costa Smeralda and started investing themselves. This led to the creation of Porto Cervo village, the first hotels, the Stella Maris church, a large golf course and the first prestigious luxury villas, built at Liscia di Vacca, Capriccioli, Grande Pevero and Pantogia.
Since the sixties up until today, the Costa Smeralda has continued to be a highly distinguished tourist destination in Italy, enchanting entire generations with its uniqueness. It is a reality of luxury hotels and residences, high-end boutiques, exclusive events and evenings, all set within the breathtaking beauty of a natural landscape that remains protected and preserved by the Consortium.
Today, Costa Smeralda is undoubtedly the most prestigious destination for luxury summer tourism in Europe. New real estate investments from Italy and abroad continue to flourish in this dream location, which will certainly make future generations keep dreaming for a long time to come.
Cover: aerial view of Porto Cervo - photo courtesy @Tiziano Canu