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In Costa Smeralda the shape of nature becomes architecture...

Once upon a time there was the Costa Smeralda… this is how the Mediterranean’s most romantic love story began, turning a wild, stunningly beautiful land into legend. Today, the Costa Smeralda is the finest embodiment of the island that hosts it. A visionary project that celebrates Sardinia in all its forms: its nature, its history, its architecture.

96% of its 3116 hectares are green, open and unspoiled. The remaining 4% is defined by a unique genre of architecture, one that encapsulates all the pride of the island, with stylistic references to the Nuragic civilization, to the domus de janas, to the stazzi and concas. An open-air museum of styles, be they Nuragic, Phoenician, Roman, Byzantine, Judicate, Aragonese, Spanish or Corsican. “For the Costa Smeralda we want to use everything we can that is authentically Sardinian”, Prince Karim Aga Khan told the BBC right at the start. With that in mind, the “Architectural Committee” was founded to create a distinct style and make it permanent, and durable. Based on the model of the French Academies, the Committee has channeled the genius of some of the leading architects in the world: Jacques Couëlle, Michele Busiri Vici, Luigi Vietti, Raymond Martin, and Sardinia’s own Antoni Simon Mossa.

Out with sharp angles, therefore, and in with curves, which are “at the heart of the Nuragic shapes and of the island’s primitive houses”, according to Busiri Vici. “If you want to study a place’s indigenous architecture,” said Vietti, the architect who created Porto Cervo, “you have to study its very nature, its character and the character of the people who live there.” It becomes as much a philosophical project as an architectural one. And despite the web of opinions, Costa Smeralda has proved capable of integrating many different schools of thought. Busiri Vici and Simon Mossa favored white as the color of their buildings, because it recalls the white stazzi of the Gallura area, the patios of the Campidano, and the villas of the Costa Brava. The best examples of this Mediterranean, or neo-Mediterranean architecture include the church of Stella Maris in Porto Cervo, Hotel Romazzino, Hotel Luci di la Muntagna, Bettina Graziani’s villa at Liscia di Vacca and Dolores Guinness’ villa at Cala di Volpe. Couëlle and Vietti, on the other hand, favored a more mimetic architecture, drawing on the oldest stazzi (without white plaster on the facade), the nuraghs, the concas and the domus de janas. One magnificent instance of this style, and that known as ambientism, is Hotel Pitrizza, which was built along the lines of the ancient stazzi and nuraghs, with square blocks of granite hewn from the ground and covered with grass. Vietti explains: “I love my house in Porto Cervo – and, therefore, due to its similarity, Hotel Pitrizza too – as an example of a structure camouflaged and harmonized with the landscape. It’s a type of construction that you need to search for, track, discover.” Another incredible example of such architecture is Villa La Grotta in Abbiadori, designed by Couëlle and nestled in a rocky hollow. The windows are shaped like the door of a domus de janas. “Animals want to be able to see their enemies,” explained Couëlle. “We want to see the landscape.” The surrounding landscape was also the inspiration behind the construction of Porto Cervo’s elevated piazzetta. “From here,” said its creator, Vietti, “you can enjoy the spectacular view of the bay.” Hotel Cala di Volpe was also developed to enhance the glory of its natural surroundings: arches, porticoes and little towers, framing the outdoor panorama, pastel colors and soft lines adding a surreal touch; a wooden bridge spanning the bay in which the hotel is located. It was designed by Couëlle to make people dream from outside; to stir passions, intimacy and love within. In fact, the first chairs in the hotel were designed with straight backs and no arms, “so you could only balance on them by leaning in towards one other,” says Couëlle. “It was a little erotic trick of mine.” A timeless place, a place that’s one-of-a-kind the world over, where everything tasted and still tastes of Sardinia. Now as before, even after the third phrase of restyling, Hotel Cala di Volpe is a hymn to the uniqueness of this extraordinary island.

Because the Costa Smeralda is still Sardinia, just a Sardinia that is unique, inimitable, and in constant transformation.