Not even a pesky snap election is enough to take the shine off a visit to the exclusive Forte Village, writes Jason Cowley
I was told Forte Village resort in southern Sardinia had long been popular with footballers and their WAGs, and sure enough as we arrived there one afternoon a delegation from AC Milan was checking out just as the England midfielder Jack Wilshere and his family were checking in. As a long-time Arsenal fan I was rather excited to see Wilshere, who before being ravaged by injuries had been the brightest young English talent in the Premier League. Yet during my five days at the resort, the heavily tattooed Wilshere and I never
spoke. We kept seeing him – in the swimming pool or at one of the restaurants – but his cold-eyed stare was unchanging. The message was simple: keep away.
Founded by Charles Forte in 1970, Forte Village, which has seven hotels, nine villas with private gardens, 14 bars and 21 restaurants, likes to call itself a ‘destination within a destination’. Before this trip I’d visited Sardinia twice, staying on each occasion in the old town of Alghero on the north-west coast, where a dialect of Catalan is still spoken.
On this occasion, our needs were different. In this period of extraordinary politics, I longed to escape the Westminster jamboree and do nothing much beyond eat well and rest. The May half-term holiday was upon us and we wanted somewhere our eight-year-old son Edward (who loves sports) could have fun as well. Late spring felt like a good time to go to Sardinia, before the mercury started rising inexorably and even the trees began to perspire.
Then Theresa May called her snap general election and I seriously considered cancelling our trip because it would mean being away in the penultimate week of the campaign, when the big set-piece debates were scheduled. In the end, because the final result of the election seemed so predictable (a Tory landslide victory), we went ahead with our holiday.
I left behind a cover story illustrated by an asteroid hurtling towards Earth beneath which a cowering Jeremy Corbyn prepared to be wiped out (visual metaphors are seldom subtle on the cover of political magazines). But while we were away (this was correlation rather than causation) something remarkable happened: Corbyn’s Labour surged.
I was in regular contact with the office, making changes to the cover, amending an essay I’d written and signing off our final pre-election leader. To translate: I was on holiday in Forte Village but I wasn’t on holiday!
My wife is more intrepid than I am. Given the choice between a luxury five-star retreat in the Mediterranean or a walking-camping holiday somewhere remote and preferably mountainous, she would choose the latter. But she was persuaded this time to go to Forte Village because of a friend’s recommendation and the attraction of its outstanding spa and leisure facilities and sports academies.
Edward was offered a place at the football, rugby or athletics academies. He surprisingly opted for the athletics academy, where, together with other boys and girls of various ages, he spent a happy few days under the supervision of Ruben Tabares. A former international hurdler (and, he told me, room-mate of Mo Farah), Tabares is now a strength and conditioning coach based at the Mandarin Oriental in London. He was charming and eloquent, and Edward thrived under his guidance.
Our comfortable but not opulent bungalow (part of Hotel Il Castello) was close to the narrow, sandy beach and two all-weather floodlit football pitches, where the children trained during the day and played more chaotically after dinner in the warm evening air. The only slight problem was the noise – especially the pop music pumped out from pitchside speakers on a continuous loop until 10pm, even after which there was never the respite of silence. Instead, every night you had to endure a live band churning out bland songs for the entertainment of whom I could not say. For a more private and quiet experience I’d recommend the five-star Villa del Parco hotel, a member of the Leading Hotels of the World consortium and connected to the spa.
Forte Village has had eight different owners since 1970 but the same general manager, Lorenzo Giannuzzi, for more than 20 years. His marketing team, who took me on a tour of
the resort (‘Now this is the room where the Beckhams stayed!’), spoke of him with awe and reverence. He is, I was told, a restless innovator who is always looking to enhance the resort and broaden its appeal.
While we were there, preparations were under way for the grand opening of the Forte Arena, an open-air concert theatre surrounded by hills that seats 5,000. I was sorry to have missed the opening performance of Rigoletto.
We enjoyed our stay at Forte Village, not least because Edward had such a good time. The food was excellent at the outdoor hotel buffet and the more sophisticated on-site restaurants. Children are made to feel exceptionally welcome. There are 771 rooms in the resort and even though we were there during half-term, it never felt too busy. The staff, most of whom are locals, were friendly and helpful. And the atmosphere was one of purposeful bustle. Guests cycle or jog around the resort or are transported in golf buggies.
Yet, all the same, after a few days you begin to feel restless in this resort dedicated to boundless leisure and to the well-being of toned, tanned bodies, as if you have wandered on to the set of a film adaptation of a late period JG Ballard novel. The nearest city, the capital Cagliari, is 45 minutes away. There is nothing much to do beyond the high walls and gilded gates of the complex, with its isolated location in the far south of the island. Still, one shouldn’t complain.