Cala di Volpe

4 September 2023
Written by
Nicky Swallow

Just as glamorous 60 years later

In July 2023, one of the world’s legendary hotels celebrated its 60th birthday. Nestling at the top of a sheltered bay in the north-eastern corner of Sardinia, the Cala di Volpe was the first of four hotels built by the Aga Khan and his consortium of business associates and architects. The young prince had been enchanted by the rugged, untouched coastline where fragrant, green-grey macchia fringed pristine beaches lapped by translucent waters, and embarked on a daring and visionary project to transform this paradise into a unique destination offering an unpretentious, sand-in-your-toes lifestyle to the most demanding travellers, all built with the least possible environmental impact. Word spread and The Costa Smeralda was soon attracting kings, queens and presidents, movie stars, rock gods and industrialists.

French architect Jacques Couëlle, famous for his quirky “sculpture-houses” on the Cote d’Azur, was commissioned to build the Cala di Volpe. With its sinuous lines and soft edges and using local granite, terracotta and juniper wood, the building – designed to resemble a weathered fisherman’s – embraced both its natural surroundings and the Consorzio’s strict guidelines.

Today, glowing after a five-year renovation entrusted to the sensitive hands of Paris-based architects Bruno Moinard and Claire Bétaille (who «changed everything yet changed nothing»), the dreamy, retro spirit of Couëlle’s original building remains intact, to the relief of the hotel’s many devotees. They brightened the public areas, re-defined spaces using rich juniper wood, re-purposed or restored original furniture and commissioned custom pieces from the finest Italian designers. Bedrooms and suites are soothing sanctuaries with sea-facing terraces, rounded whitewashed masonry, cane and wood canopies and touches of stone, bronze, local ceramics and traditional textiles.

The Atrium Bar, with its soaring arches and knock-out views of the shimmering sea, and hazy, distant mountains, is still one of the most exclusive cocktail spots in the world; a Bellini made with white peaches is the drink to order. Dining options include retro-glam Le Grand for taglierini with lobster and flambéed crepe suzette and Nobu Matsuhisa’s eponymous restaurant with its sophisticated, globe-trotting menu. For lunch, everyone gathers at the poolside Barbeque for fresh grilled fish and a glass of chilled rosé, but you may have to bribe the maître for a coveted table.

Then there is the subterranean Shiseido spa, an Olympic-sized pool and the glorious Li Itriceddi beach a ten-minute boat ride along the coast. But for all its five-star facilities, it is the extraordinary staff and sensitive, discreet service that make the real difference here, and it’s not unusual to see staff embracing guests on departure. No wonder so many return year after year.

Discover Hotel Cala di Volpe

*Nicky Swallow is the author of the coffee table book Cala di Volpe, published by Assouline for the hotel’s 60th anniversary.

Jacques Pèpion for Agence Moinard Bétaille
Contempirary Luxury Suite. Restyling by Moinard & Betaille
By Oliver Pilcher for Assouline
By Oliver Pilcher for Assouline

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