We leave the delightful village of San Pantaleo and begin our approach to Petra Segreta Resort and Spa. A winding dirt road snakes through scrubland strewn with hulking volcanic rocks. My Blackberry shows no reception. Commencing a vertiginous climb, we follow teeny tiny signs directing us to Petra Segreta Resort and Spa high in the hills above the Costa Smerelda. It is, however, not the happiest taxi drive. Italy is currently losing 2-0 in the World Cup. Our driver is energetically shouting ‘Kaput!’ motioning a slit throat. As we pull up to the pale timber double gates of our final destination, Italia scores. ‘Due-Uno!’ By now all three of us are shouting.
Flying easyJet was our only option to get to Olbia airport, half an hour’s drive away – and easyJet is not always, well, easy. Add to that air traffic control strikes. But never mind all that – one glimpse of the low-slung warm bronze stonework of the traditional stazzi farmhouse buildings and the hotel appears pure perfection set against an azure sky strewn with streaky fluffs of white. A bristling guard of flowering lavender stands to attention as we walk up the steep drive and into reception where we are greeted by tinkling jazz, and the attentive and charming Daniel.
Assigned room 202 (you cannot pre-book specific suites), our impressions are that it’s cool, calm and well-designed, with white walls, timbered ceilings and solid Sardinian furniture. Double doors lead out to a generous veranda and a breathtaking view to a sparkling Costa Smerelda bay. We turn on the television looking for BBC World – it’s Italian Sky. It’s probably for the best, and we’re nudged out into the Mediterranean gardens past olive trees, wild lavenders and prickly pears, to catch the last rays of sun, poolside.
This pair on a post-nuptials escape are in fact at a wellness centre. Indeed, Petra Segreta is a spa hotel, meaning that all the other guests here now – a mere 12, there are only 15 rooms in total – are like us, couples looking for peace. As such, the atmosphere translates as pin-drop silent. We talk in stage whispers. ‘They charge €3 for filtered water?’ and ‘Shall we have a cocktail?’ Ordering a gin lemon and a bloody Mary, we encounter Barbie and Dada, the resident West Highland Terriers. Unlike most hotel pets I've met, these two cuties aren’t jaded by the affections of strangers, and they gamely they offer up their tummies up for a rub.
The hotel has the effect of making you want to dress elegantly for supper. How lovely is that? We return to our room to transform ourselves from frazzled travellers to chic women-about-Sardinia. A fly in the ointment is that the bathroom mirror/lighting makes for challenging make-up application. And I wouldn’t be doing my job as retail – or in this case, hospitality – advisor if I didn’t point out the frustrating socket situation: all plug points are used by the essential lighting or TV equipment, leaving none spare for phones or laptops. Maybe the hotel is just that determined that guests properly switch off?
To more uplifting matters: eating. Dining right here at Petra Segreta is definitely preferential. Apart from having heard the food (think lobster Catalana with pan-fried garden vegetables) is a highlight, the alternative is having to tackle that dirt road again and then navigate back in pitch black. No thanks – we’re here to relax. So our first meal is in the fine-dining area. While I find the dishes a little fussy for my tastes, with lots of complicated sauce reductions, my craving for great wine couldn’t be better satisfied. I’m a fan of red and having shared my preferences with our waiter, Giorgio; he delivers a wonderful local Syrah – a Nero d'Avola d'Allessandro if you demand the details.
Only twice do we venture out of the hotel during our three-day mini-moon, and day two sees us venture north to Baja Sardinia. Arriving in the beach resort village after a 30-minute drive, we realise it is, well, a resort. Not much rustic charm, purpose-built, with a sandy beach covered with multiple beds. But this is the Italian way – and that lends a certain charm. And a fabulously fun and entertaining lunch at coast-side L'Approdo makes it worth the trip.
That evening, we hit the second simpler-fare restaurant at Petra Segreta, sitting in the space behind the fine-dining area. Delicious! My Mrs Smith has carpaccio of octopus while I enjoy the wafer-thin cut beef. Spaghetti Vongole and sautéed veal and mushroom with fried potato and an arugula salad follow. And tonight’s ruby tipple? Cagnulari Cantina Santa Maria La Palma Rosso di Alghero – as lovely as the first recommendation.
Porto Cervo, the next morning, is our next excursion: this is essentially Bond Street in a Seventies’ mall, selling clothes for Nancy dell’Ollio and those dolly-bird Italian TV presenters, and their signore. Ralph Lauren and Tods for him, Dolce and Versace for her. Plenty of these very ladies seem to be cavorting around Porto Cervo in their five-inch Louboutins, micro-shorts, fake lips and big hair. We’ve heard they even wear their Loubis on the beach. My idea of hell. After discovering a brand-new Eres boutique (and a bikini each later), we take in some more edifying window-shopping care of art-filled Fumi and the Louise Alexander Gallery.
Happy to get back to our romantic hideaway, which is as genuine as Porto Cervo is phony, it segues to pool time again. Laid-back and unhurried, service full of warmth and charm – it's heaven. And Paolo, the therapist who performs our vigorous full-body massages in the spa, has our health and well-being at the front of his mind throughout. He is properly good. And should we desire more spa time, Turkish baths, a sauna and Jacuzzis are at our disposal.
For someone seeking a relaxed mini spa break, Petra Segreta has all the essentials for those fleeing city stresses. An isolated and soothing location, chic look and feel, great service, good weather. But, for me, the real touch of genius? An outdoor running machine. Pounding it in my bikini, Zola Budd style, overlooking the stunning surrounding hilly landscape, I realise this a place where I can enjoy my red wine and still know I am being good to myself. That’s Petra Segreta all over.