MY TIME THERE
For the second time in under a month, I prised myself from the comfort of my armchair to spend a weekend exploring venues on behalf of our clients, the lucky devils.
After my stunning trip to Gleneagles, I was uncertain that any future hotels could meet my new lofty standards, so it was with some trepidation that I headed off to the Forte Village resort on the southern coast of Sardinia.
We met at the crack of dawn in the luxurious surroundings of the BA lounge at Gatwick airport. There were just 6 MICE agents heading out and it was clear from the off we were all up for a good time. We left the fog of Gatwick and landed just over two hours later to be greeted by the Sardinian sun and temperatures of 25 degrees. A sub 45-minute transfer delivered us to the reception of the Forte Village, after which all vehicles are banned apart from the resorts golf buggies that ferry guests about.
We were staying in the Hotel Castello, a 5-star hotel down by the beach. Our rooms were exceptional, with a large living/dining room, generous bed, bath and shower, and sizeable terrace with views of the sea. In London these would easily be sold as suites, here they are just the norm.
After dropping our bags we headed to a beachside pizzeria, one of the resort's 32 bars and restaurants, for a quick bite to eat. Once full, and very satisfied, we embarked on a tour. As you can imagine touring a 47-hectare resort with 8 hotels and 20+ event spaces might take a while, and it did. But wow, what a venue! There's no end to a number of great events you could host there.
Following the tour, we had a bit of free time, where many of us headed down to one of the 11 swimming pools for a quick refreshing dip before dinner.
That evening's meal was held at La Dune, a beachside restaurant and one of the resort's flagships. We were treated to a mouthwatering menu of tuna tartare, pasta with a sea urchin emulsion, beautifully rare steak and a selection of desserts. All of this was accompanied with some great Sardinian wine. If you're a fan of red wine I'd urge you to try and Cannonau, simply mind blowing. Post dinner we headed to the piazza where they host nightly live music with production to rival Glastonbury. Here we enjoyed a limoncello nightcap before turning in.
The following morning, having woken up early thanks to deliberately leaving my curtains open to enjoy the view, I headed for a wonder of the resort and a pre-breakfast swim. While my fellow guests tucked into their fruit and cereal and me into my bacon and sausages we discussed plans for the day. Spa, lunch, beach, go-karting, wine tasting and dinner. Sounded fine by me!
The spa was incredible. Our Thalasso experience saw us make our way through 6 pools of various salt concentration, with a half time mud bath. Even my leathery old skin felt immaculate afterwards. After lunch, more pizza (obviously), we headed for a compulsory dip in the Med, which could have been warmer but I suppose the hotel can only do so much. Go karting followed on the resort's private track, which turned predictably ugly but was great fun.
That evening we enjoyed a sumptuous wine tasting presided over by the hotel's sommelier. Once again the Cannonau was incredible. Dinner was courtesy of the buffet at the Castello. Normally I'd shiver at the thought of a hotel buffet, however here thanks to fresh local ingredients it was incredible.
Monday morning heralded our departure and the sense of sadness in the air was palpable. Sadly you can't live a champagne lifestyle on a lager budget so we had to return home, even if only to earn some money to one day return.
REVIEW OF THE HOTEL
Originally opened in 1971 the village has grown over the years to cover a 47-hectare site with 8 hotels. On first hearing this you'd be forgiven for assuming that this is some Goliath holiday resort, which for me would be akin to Dantes 7th layer of hell. However, many of the 'hotels' are actually small collections of bungalows and villas, and the beautiful mature landscape gardens give a real intimate feel to the resort.
The hotel is just 40mins from Cagliari Airport, which is served by scheduled and charter flights from London (2hrs) and is a 45min transfer time for those changing in Rome.
The range of activities on offer are so wide and varied it's safe to say you'll struggle to be bored here. The spa itself takes up 4 hectares and offers a range of treatments from the usual through to doctor lead medical procedures. Rumour has it many footballers come here in the offseason for rehabilitation. Within the spa is the flagship Thalasso spa, a selection of 6 pools containing various magic potions, which guests make their way through over a leisurely 90 minutes. If shopping's your game then you're in for a treat with some of Italy's finest brands running outlets here, such as Versace and Ermenegildo Zegna. For big and little kids there's go-karting and bowling over in 'LeisureLand' (don't worry, it's far enough away from the main resort so you won't hear the screams). On top of all this, you'll find 11 pools, 6 football pitches, 13 tennis courts, bike hire and 1km of beach front with plentiful water sports activities.
For the gourmands among us, the Forte Village may be the closest thing we'll experience to heaven on this earth. With 21 restaurants and 11 bars you could come for 2 weeks and still not sample all of them. It could be argued that the village has the highest concentration of Michelin stars per acre, with restaurants run by Gordon Ramsey, Emmanuel Scarello, Alfons Schuhbeck & Carlo Cracco. The food served throughout is local, often grown in the resort's own gardens. One of the key concepts of the hotel is maintaining 'Italianity'. They do this by ensuring the vast majority of the 1000 strong workforce are sourced from local towns and villages. Many of them have been there for years, often marrying within the team. The amiable Giuseppe, who manages a number of the 21 restaurants and bars started here in 1972 and celebrates an incredible 45 years service this year.
If you require somewhere to host an incentive trip, international conference or product launch then the Forte Village is fantastically equipped for most large events. There are 750 onsite bedrooms, bungalows and villas, which can host 2000 delegates. The main conference space room easily accommodates 1000, with further 20+ breakout spaces. For those with larger groups the new Pala Forte offers a blank canvas space for conferences of 2000 and dinners for 1500. Should that still be too cosy the Forte Arena, usually used for weekly concerts, can be taken for events of up to 10,000! For incentive groups there are plenty of activities offsite, not that you'd need to leave, such as wine tours, boat trips, jeep safaris and traditional local dinners. The resort is open from March to November, with the busy period taking our July & August. Outside these months rates are keen and worth travelling for. The key word here is 'flexibility', the resort seem willing to move mountains to meet clients demands. Restaurants can be privatised, drinks receptions held in any space you fancy, activities taken over and whole buyouts more than possible.