National Park of the Gulf of Orosei and Gennargentu
It's a beautiful morning in July. While Viktoria and I are descending the mountains of Cala Gonone, we see the Gulf of Orosei. We look at each other in amazement. The bay appears like the arm of a giant resting between the sea and the sky. After a few more turns, we arrive at our destination: Hotel Villa Gustui Maris.
Hotel Villa Gustui Maris, Cala Gonone, Sardinia
The loggia on the eastern side of the hotel leads us toward the terrace with a panoramic view of the bay and the famous white sand beaches of Cala Luna, Cala Mariolu, and Cala Sisine. The wood, the rock, and the structure's color blend with the nature as if the villa has been here since the beginning of time. The garden around the pool area is kept orderly with welcoming roses and bougainvillea that politely invite us to do what we soon realize is vital here: complete relaxation. After checking in, Viktoria asks if we can have lunch outside on the veranda. To this, one of the staff members at the front desk caringly responds: "Of course! Enjoy the view; we will be right with you.". The waiter comes to take our order. I detect his slight Sardinian accent while he repeats our menu choices: "… house salad with pecorino (sheep cheese), Caprese, sparkling water, and Ichnusa beer." He adds, "Carasau (the traditional local crunchy flatbread) and ciabatta are on their way." It is almost unnecessary to ask for bread in Italy.
Lunch and Relaxation at the Villa Gustui Maris
While the pecorino exalts my palate, I think of the ranch we have passed on our way with the sign "local sheep cheese". I imagine the farmer milking the flock and using the wisdom of his ancestors to make an unmatched cheese. The basil, tomatoes, and "Fior di Latte" mozzarella emanate an odor that is almost impossible to reproduce outside of Italy. Lunch ends with a homemade cake, espresso, and myrtle liqueur. I sip on the traditional Sardinian digestive; my eyes get heavy, and they beg me to hop upstairs for a nap. In the room, the warm afternoon air covers me like a wool blanket. I fall asleep in a flash and dream of swimming with the bull of the sea, as the locals used to call the monk seal that once inhabited the Gulf of Orosei. We have just arrived at Villa Gustui Maris and life could not be better.
We spend the rest of the afternoon at the pool. The breeze blows from the sea, and a cluster of clouds move erratically over the mountains. A dove rests on a powerline, waits for a friend, and they then fly away together in the opaque horizon, above the roofs of the houses stretching toward the blue plateau of the sea. Cicadas sing the chorus of a summer smash hit. Our American, busy life is long forgotten. Even the bees are relaxing and flying among the flower bells; making honey for bees in Calle Gonone is a hobby, not a job.
Family Run Business
However, some people must work and take their responsibilities seriously. Such is the family that pridefully and precisely runs the hotel, attentive to every single detail pertaining to its operations. Paula, who we have met upon our arrival, is one of the family members and owners. She is dressed in an elegant, yellow shirt that enhances not only the color of her tanned skin, but also the bright eyes behind her glasses. When we speak in Italian, she detects my Tuscan accent. I tell her that I am from Florence, a city she remembers with fond memories. Paula's genuine sweetness shines through in her gestures, especially when she gives us a brief history of the Gulf of Orosei, the culture of this part of the world that has long been secluded and that has managed for this reason to preserve its beauty. I ask Paula how she promotes her business, and she confirms that, for the most part, she does so through returning patrons and word of mouth. The hotel doesn't have social media, which is a conscientious choice. Only the following day will I understand the reason for this decision.
Morning Vibes and Heavenly Breakfast
When the rays of the sunrise break through the curtains, I wake up to watch the early morning play of lights. About half a mile from the coast sits an ultra-luxury yacht. I observe a small vessel emerging from the platform below the ship and leaving a wake in the glow of the dawn. Where is the vessel going? Though before I find out, my stomach rumbles at 7:00 am: time for breakfast. The dining room table is elegantly set with rigorously homemade biscuits, pastries, slices of bread, and a tart covered with strawberry jam, the fragrance detectable from many feet away. Outside on the veranda, feeling the breeze under the glorious sun, I have a multisensory experience as I sip the cappuccino and indulge without guilt in hundreds of healthy calories. Then a dazzling idea concerning the yacht, social media, and the hotel's philosophy suddenly hits me.
Mark Zuckerberg's Yacht
The previous night, strolling in the village, Viktoria and I heard two people in front of us talking of Mark Zuckerberg. The creator of Facebook had come to Cala Gonone to taste the most exquisite strawberry tart made in Sardinia. Now, everything makes sense. The vessel I had seen in the morning was directed in the only place I could imagine. How ironic! In a world more and more dependent on social media, the tycoon of Facebook depended on the tart baked by the chef at Villa Gustui Maris. Social media builds castles in the air, while Paula's hotel makes the marvel of an exclusive stay at Cale Gonone a reality.
Friends and Family at Cala Gonone
The day we leave, I meet Paula's husband on the veranda in the company of a family friend. I thank Paula's husband for a wonderful stay. The friend introduces himself and adds to my compliments, elaborating in few words the effort he had witnessed during the establishment of the hotel. Paula and her husband have created an oasis of relaxation immersed in the landscape of one of the most pristine bays in the world. I mention to them my ironic theory of Facebook's inventor coming to Cala Gonone because of an addiction to the tart they make at Villa Gustui Maris. They laugh. Who knows? Maybe my idea is supposed to remain a secret.
As Viktoria and I walk outside the hotel's gate, we know that we have left a piece of our hearts here with the family of Villa Gustui Maris. Paula, her husband, and the entire staff have made us part of their world, which is impossible – how right they are in their decision - to translate into reality on social media. Once you become part of the family, you know you will be back to visit sooner or later. We start the car and go down Via Marco Polo. Viktoria and I look one last time at the hotel, the beautiful pearl overlooking one of the most suggestive regions of Sardinia. We love you, Cala Gonone. See you soon.
~ Written by:
Viktoria Rusnakova & Samuele Bagnai, authors of Enthusiastic All the Way & Tuscan Who Sold His Fiat to the Pope, respectively.