Long a magnet for Italy’s glitziest celebrities, the five-star development of the Costa Smeralda in the 1960s helped to transform the economy of the entire island. A coastline this beautiful inevitably comes at a price, however: budget accommodation is virtually nonexistent, while the high-end hotels are mostly devoid of much character. Arzachena and Cannigione are cheaper bases from which to explore the area.
The Costa Smeralda begins about 12km north of Olbia and is defined as the 10km strip between the gulfs of Cugnana and Arzachena. Although strict rules were imposed to prevent overzealous development – you won’t see any multistorey hotels, advertising hoardings or fast-food restaurants – the area has little in common with the rest of Sardinia, and the luxurious holiday villages have a bland, almost suburban feel. This hasn’t stopped the mega-rich from coming in droves – Silvio Berlusconi owns six properties here.