ForteVillage Sardegna (Sardinia) has something in common with Alibaba, whose creative founding CEO Jack Ma thinks he is running a country rather than a company. Well, this luxury holiday complex is similarly akin to a country, although at 25.5 hectares it is still short of the 44 hectares of the Vatican, the world’s smallest nation. Anyway, run with presidential style by the superbly inventive Lorenzo Giannuzzi, ForteVillage has 750 bedrooms spread over eight resorts. Especially during the peak season, August – which has a five-night minimum stay – occupancy is 100%, with 80% repeats, some for as long as three weeks. Add to this the fact that 600 of ForteVillage’s 1200 workforce also live on site and this really is a sizeable destination.
About 65% of the hotel rooms are taken by families, so it is fair to say that about 1500 guests, including kids, are sleeping on the complex most nights. I was undoubtedly the only single-occupancy during my stay, and I was in ground-floor villa 150-L, my ideal of all the room styles. It is in Villa del Parco, with a quick entrance, via the hotel’s gorgeous back garden, to the spa and, super-important, the gym. Sports facilities are available by the dozen, a good thing as you can spend a tremendous amount of time, and consume a lot of calories, in eating magnificently. There are 21 venues in all, plus stands and kiosks in the resort’s shopping area. I arrived on the direct British Airways flight from London Gatwick and was really hungry. What a delight to go straight to a fish market, choose what you want, in my case calamari, with a superb salad buffet to start.
Yes, this really is a state of heaven, and always innovating. One recent addition is an arena which can seat thousands – they were rehearsing, that night, for Mamma Mia!, sorry I would not be able to stay for it (coming up are three classic-crossover singers, and then, on 13 August 2017, Charles Aznavour). Lorenzo Giannuzzi first worked here, on reception, when he was 22 but he returned, as GM, in 1995, since when he has masterminded transformation and expansion. I likened ForteVillage to one of my favourite books, Nevile Shute’s A Town Like Alice. According to the author, Alice Springs started with a generator to power the ice-cream machine to please the workers constructing what would become that city. Here on Sardinia the story really started with Mussolini planting pines to ward off mosquitoes, and later came Lord Forte, then simply Charles Forte, to build a single hotel.
Lorenzo Giannuzzi is forever growing his empire – coming up is a water park, I suspect similar to Wild Wadi at Madinat Jumeirah in Dubai. In the last year he has added more retail, and yet more sports. Come to this luxury resort and, regardless which of its eight hotels you stay in, you have a choice of what he calls academies: chess, led by Anatoly Karpov; cycling, with Cipollini; football, working with Chelsea; rugby with English international stars Will Greenwood and Austin Healey; table tennis, with Michael J Fitch, and tennis, led by Australian coach Rocco Loccisano. As we drove past the array of tennis courts on a general recce of this entire luxury complex, there was Lorenzo Giannuzzi hitting as hard as he could – that man is truly amazing.
ForteVillage Sardegna is indeed largely the creation of Lorenzo Giannuzzi, who is always coming up with something new. He did, admittedly, inherit a thalassotherapy spa when he arrived, but he has made what is now AcquaForte significant – already 20% of adults make at least one visit to the facility, and that number is growing every year. The team of professionals includes chiropractors, nutritionists and such personal trainers as Ruben Tavares, who seems to relocate here from his London base for part of every summer.
Although ForteVillage traditionally closes during winter, AcquaForte is staying open right up to 10 December 2017, to get enthusiasts in perfect shape for the festive season (the spa’s director, Dino Mitidieri, told me how he is working with nutritionist Elisabetta Orsi to change his own body shape, purely by his diet). I had no time for body reshaping, but I did have the necessary 90 minutes for the six-pool thalasso sequence. This started with floating on a blue neck pillow in brown water at 37-38°, especially high in magnesium salt, with saline density 30°Bé. I progressed through pools of sea oil and aloe, and trace elements, and via Jacuzzi jets, finishing in pure seawater at around 26°C. I felt marvellous, so full of energy, and then it was time to lie on a waterbed, with constantly changing lights, for a salt scrub followed by being massaged in honey (who was the philistine who subsequently said what a waste of all that honey?).
I love the way the entire AcquaForte wellness complex is indoors-outdoors – the two treatment rooms I was in both had all-wall windows looking straight into Mediterranean undergrowth. This area of Sardinia has what many say is Europe’s most ideal and temperate climate, so it is perfectly plausible to think of operating nearly until Christmas (Villa del Parco, one of the resort’s eight hotels and just a few metres from AcquaForte, is staying open to accommodate determined spa-goers). As you would expect, I made good use of the hotel’s main Technogym, which has all-wall windows that open completely, overlooking the Olympic pool beneath. There are also gym pieces, along with Pilates and full assessment items, in the Performance Centre. What was this? Well, I had a balance assessment, with eyes open, eyes closed and then with teeth firmly closed, producing a printout, above, showing that a one-time gammy right foot today results in six more kilos of body weight being put on one leg.
I slept magnificently, I loved having my own garden and I began to understand just a little bit more about how hospitality is second nature to Italians. Could I have a coffee maker, I asked, of course saying please. Literally within 15 minutes a Segafredo machine was brought, the container was filled with a litre of water, and it was plugged in, all ready to go. I also had 20 cups and saucers, and the same number of sachets. Italians do not do anything in short measure, and this is certainly true of the food and drink at this place.
Well, there are 21 restaurants, plus numerous bars and snack places and even a Champagne room. During her far too short stay, the gal ate magnificently, and every meal, it seemed, produced different experiences. At dinner outside on the terrace at Belvedere, atop the three-floor main building of the Villa del Parco, was sensational. Chef Antonello Arrus started our meal with mackerel tartare with vegetables cooked in sea-water and the wines were local, a Tuvaoes Vermentino di Sardegna DOC followed by Santadi ‘Terre Brune’ Carignano del Sulcis Superiore.
The entire resort is half-board by the way, though many pay surpluses to dine in Gordon Ramsay and two other restaurants (and of the total, at least 70% pay to eat lunch even though everyone can have a copious buffet breakfast as late as 10.30am). Talking of lunch, personally I would alternate, lunching first in Beach Comber and then in Fish Market. Both are right by the beach, with open sides and lots of sea breezes. Both have sensational salad bars, where you point to what you want and a server fills an enormous bowl with, in my case, varieties of greens and the local tomatoes that are, say many, one of the keys to Sardinia’s longest-lifespan of the whole of Italy, rivalled only by a few Greek Islands. Next the fish you have already chosen from a display of today’s catch is brought, cooked as you want – one day I had breaded calamari, the next it was fillets of turbot.
One dinner I had to have the local specialty, fritto misto, with a veritable who’s who, or what’s what, of fish varieties (do the 1200 people who work here also eat well? None seems even a pound overweight and yes, they work hard but they have a good life, which includes a regular Friday night staff barbecue). Guests could well put on weight, especially with the ice-cream and cookie stands around, and with a regular programme of eminent visiting culinarians. And the hotel’s own chefs are sometimes taken elsewhere to spread the word on ForteVillage’s fine cooking: last winter, the resort ran Gildo’s pop-up at Gstaad Palace from December through to March, and hosted a gourmet festival in Kiev this March.
Pommery is main sponsor of the resort’s cooking school, but sadly there was no occasion to drink any bubbles, even Prosecco, during my stay. There was so much I did not do. On the list for next time is to find out about Barbie world, and to visit the Mahiki nightclub. I guess I should take a DJ lesson, and watch Marvin Berglas the magician, and Anatoly Karpov teaching chess. Honestly, the thing about ForteVillage Resort is that you just DO need to come back again and again and you still cannot keep up with what it has to offer. I am one of the many who simply love this place.