Updated: Jan 21, 2020
Beautiful blue-green water can be found all around the island of Sardinia. In the 1960s, the Aga Khan made the Costa Smeralda (emerald coast) the playground of the rich and famous by developing land around his favorite beach (Spiaggia del Principe). We came to the city of Palau on the northern coast to see for ourselves what the fuss was about, and we weren’t disappointed. Although the Aga Khan developed his yacht club at Porto Cervo (one of the wealthiest towns in the world), we were able to find relative bargains in nearby Palau, which is famous as a gateway to the National Park of the Maddalena Islands. Since the waters are protected, you'll be seeing the same paradise that inspired the Aga Khan to build his refuge. Tourism is controlled by having only authorized boats stop at a particular cove for a set amount of time so you never have to battle crowds to see the natural beauty. You will see other boats, but none of them are particularly large. Each evening, tourists stroll along the quai in Palau choosing from the many boat operators offering day trips to the crystalline waters of the islands.
The boats stop many times for impromptu swimming.
Spargi Island was one of our favorite stops.
A typical day trip includes 3 or 4 stops for swimming and snorkeling as well as antipasti and a complete pasta lunch cooked on board accompanied by Sardinian wine and beer. With a little shopping around, you can come up with a very affordable way to spend a day in paradise. We tried a 60 euro trip with "Nautica Jasmine," and found that it was just as much fun as the pricier boats we had tried on previous trips. The price is especially reasonable if you factor in the drinks and food included. The captain cooked and served the food himself and started with a complete offering of cheeses, olives, pickles, pickled onions, salami and breads along with drinks. You could easily have called the "aperitivo" a nice lunch, but he followed with a homemade pasta marinara that was delicious. After lunch he served chocolate cake, coffee and the Sardinian liquore called Mirto. If you have never tasted the berry liquor, beware of too many shots - it's very strong!
The small boats are the perfect way to spend a day in the Maddalena Islands.
The boats typically stop for lunch in the area of the piscine (swimming pools) and you would indeed swear you were swimming in an endless pool.
Snorkeling is a popular activity in the completely clear Sardinian waters.
Our captain climbs onboard to prepare a delicious pasta lunch starting with appetizers.
Passengers from the U.S. and Sicily are friends after the day-long cruise. The gentleman in the N.Y. Yankees shirt is a Sicilian. The captain this day is the man in the middle.
We splurged on our last day in Palau with a 4-hour private tour on a rubberized Zodiac with the Natour Sardinia outfit. Our guide, Daniele, showed us to his favorite inlets for as many swims as we wanted. The company arranges snorkeling and nature trips and we highly recommend them for a private experience that rivals anything the Aga Khan ever enjoyed on his Sardinian vacations.