Hotel Le Dune

1 July 2024
Written by
Nicky Swallow

A place to live Sardinia at its wildest

The 47-kilometre stretch of coastline known as the Costa Verde on the remote south-western shore of Sardinia is quite unlike any other on that ancient island.  Here, wide swathes of golden sand are backed by dunes, among the highest in Europe; whipped up by the wind they form a mystical, quasi-lunar landscape casting magical shadows especially at sunrise when the light is extraordinary. If you are lucky, at dawn you might catch a glimpse of an elusive Sardinian deer or, at night in June and July, of the sea turtles that crawl up onto the beach to nest. Behind the dunes are mountains, cloaked with a thick mantle of woods and scented Mediterranean macchia, heady with cistus, juniper, helichrysum and myrtle in the hot sun. 

Costa Verde Sardinia
One of the rooms at Le Dune

There is a beach known as Piscinas where the pristine sand shelves sharply and the wind buffets the shore bending the few trees back on themselves. This is Sardinia at its wildest and most elemental and the sea is often unsettled, very different from the calm, translucent waters of the Costa Smeralda.   

The only inhabited buildings for miles around is a series of low-lying structures sitting right on the sand, a shimmering mirage in the distorted midday light. These were once warehouses and storage spaces for the nearby Ingurtosu mine which, although it closed down some 60 years ago, continues to be a ghostly presence.   

Arbus, the nearest town, is a good hour’s drive away along a rough, dusty road that winds through a hypnotic landscape. Elsewhere, the area is sparsely inhabited, so it’s almost impossible to imagine that this was once a thriving mining community and home to some 6,000 souls. Yet the many crumbling stone buildings that rise from the vegetation speak of former industry, wealth and success. Indeed, in the late 1800s, Ingurtosu was one of the most important mining centres in Europe, rich in zinc, lead and other minerals. In 1899 it passed into the hands of English aristocrat Lord Brassey who invested heavily in new machinery and equipment including a railway line which linked the mine to the beach at Piscinas where the minerals were loaded onto boats to be transported all over Europe.

The decline began in the mid-1900s and the last working mine in the area – Montevecchio – closed in 1991. The warehouses on the beach at one stage were re-purposed as a holiday camp for miner’s children and eventually as a small hotel.

Today, under new ownership and after a painstaking and sensitive refurbishment lasting three years, Le Dune is once again luring guests with its peerless natural setting, great food and utter peace and quiet offering a luxurious retreat from the world.  While being thoroughly updated for the 21st century, the new Le Dune proudly acknowledges its past.  A stretch of railway and a couple of rusty transport wagons remain on the beach; the entrance is through an arched stone tunnel that was once a railway track, today lit by flickering lights that recall miner’s lamps; the paved stone floor in the bar and lounge area was salvaged from the original building; a library full of Sardinia-centric books devotes a section to the history of mining in the area. 

The pared-back design is firmly rooted in local traditions with liberal use of juniper wood, sand-blasted Orosei marble, wrought iron and artisanal textiles which all sit well with the Italian design pieces and art works from the owner’s private collection which fill walls and public spaces. Bedrooms are cool and breezy  with white-washed attic ceilings, contemporary cast iron four-posters and terraces with knock-out views. A couple of suites even have plunge pools and one its own stretch of beachfront.  

Swimming pool at Le Dune
Room details at Le Dune

There’s not a lot to ‘do’ here, but that’s the whole point. Pack a stack of books and while away the days under your dedicated ‘ombrellone’ on the beach, by the pool or in front of a crackling open fire in the lounge. Book a massage at the small but excellent spa and catch a screening at the al fresco cinema.  Explore the shifting dunes and the ruins of Ingurtosu with a private guide, and visit the fascinating open museum at Montevecchio to learn more about the mines. Seeing the cramped cages that once plunged miners down 600-metre deep shafts is humbling. Further afield, in a magnificent position on the tip of the Sinis peninsula, are the lonely, evocative ruins of the ancient city of Tharros, founded in the 8th century BC by the Phoenicians and later taken by the Romans. And then there is the workaday town of Cabras, famous for its production of ‘bottarga’, best grated over a plate of steaming spaghetti and dressed with olive oil. And all around, mile upon mile of unspoiled countryside and the mesmerizing, omnipresent seascape. 

Back at the hotel, as the light softens and the heat eases, guests are drawn to the wide, west-facing terrace bar terrace for a Campari Spritz and to watch the huge orb of a sun sinking into the sea. They move on to beachside restaurant Il Ginepro to feast on culurgiones with sweet cherry tomatoes and line-caught seabass with zucchini, or gather round the communal table at gourmet option Rosso Tramonto to sample Michelin-starred chef Fabio Ciervo’s fresh, palate-teasing riffs on Mediterranean cuisine. After dinner entertainment is left to nature: a mirto while you marvel at the stars in the vast, inky night sky until it’s cool enough to slink off to bed.

Rosso Tramonto Restaurant

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