Suckling pig, Cannonau wine and Mirto (a liqueur made from the Myrtle plant) are three things you might expect from Sardinia.
But it is also home to a number of villages deemed blue zones – a place where there’s the highest concentration of people who live longer than anywhere else on earth – one of just five in the world and only two in Europe (the other is a remote island in Greece).
There are 24 centenarians for every 100,000 residents in Sardinia – already pretty high – and the concentration is three to five times higher in those Sardinian villages categorised as blue zones.
So what is the secret to Sardinian longevity? Perhaps it’s wine that contains the highest amount of polyphenols (linked to heart health) in the world, or the fresh, local fruit and veg-rich diet.
Or perhaps it is the Omega-3-rich pecorino cheese, or the traditional bread ‘Pane Carasau’, high in fibre and complex carbs (said to lower the risk of Type 2 diabetes).
Either way, it’s got scientists all excited as they try to get to the bottom of their long and healthy lives.
Men of this part of the world get lucky too – unlike other parts of the world where women outlive men, in Sardinia there is one male centenarian to every female.
So I went on my own journey to this Mediterranean paradise to meet with the centenarians (and almost centenarians) themselves and to find out, in their own words, what their secret is to making it to 100 and beyond.
I reached 100 half out of luck
I worked until I was 95 years old. But my favourite thing to do was to dance. I started dancing when I was 14 years old. Sometimes I’d walk 10km to go to a dance hall.
The waltz, the mazurka, side-by-side…I was always among the first to start and the girls that danced with me would say, ‘you’re really good.’
I even danced in Spain. After the war ended, I stayed there for a while longer and we’d go dancing with the Spanish women. I had a little friend who’d come out with me – but she was only a friend!
The dances have changed with time, as they have here. Here, they no longer dance like I used to.
I have always lived in the countryside. I was born in near Aglientu. And then I went to Vignola Mare for 20 years. Basically, always in that area… And then, after the war…I got married here. My wife and I have been together for over 70 years.
I used to eat everything, but now I have to be picky. Sardinian sausage is the most delicious, but meat has changed, it’s not like it used to be. Even fish.
We have an advantage: in Sardinia, there’s salt everywhere…and that’s what makes the difference. I’ve been to Spain and it’s the same there, as it is here, because there’s the sea.
The salt helps in all the plant life, in the grasses, in the water. We have some excellent water sources, like in Nardus. In Tempio it’s even better. In Aglientu, better still.
When you turn 100 in Sardinia, the mayor presents you with a certificate and a plaque. We celebrated well…with nearly 100 guests.
But I think I reached a hundred years of age half out of luck and taking the right steps.
Youth is a wonderful thing. You have to make the most it. It’s beautiful – but once it’s gone, it doesn’t come back
I’ve lived in the same street, in the same village, all my life.
I’ve travelled a little. One time I went on a trip to the peninsula. I went a bit here, a bit there – Rome, Naples, Trieste, Venice, Verona… – but it’s not like I stayed anywhere, not like I lived there.
In those times there wasn’t much communication. I’ve never seen an airplane. The times have changed, they are what they are now.
For example, my niece and nephew. One went to do her second year of college in Alaska at 17 years of age. Now her brother should be going to Germany. The niece that went to Alaska, once she’s done her exam – because she’s studying medicine at university in Firenze – she has to do two months in Paris. It’s chaos. She’s been to Canada, she’s travelled the world.
I think it’s good the way things are. There are various sides to it. Another niece of mine, who is only 18 years old, is preparing to go to New York!
Everything has changed: this generation is travelling the world, something that previously they didn’t do.
In some ways, it’s become a desert, the atmosphere has changed, the pace of life… We notice it even in the food, in eating habits. Before, everything was produced locally, now it’s all imported.
I have a palate that adapts to everything and all flavours. I like minestrone a lot and it’s well suited to me because I’ve had chemo. Minestrone seems to wake up my intestine. Plus, I like it. But I eat everything: pasta, rice, meat, fish.
I have a little drop of wine with meals or as an aperitif. Red wine. Natural wine. And then a coffee, obviously. I’ve never smoked. And I eat everything.
I, as the eldest, have reached this age. My youngest brother died at 72 years old. But who is it that decided it should be so?
We’re here for the time we’re given… Whether that be because of health, because of assistance, or because we’re thriving…it’s in our nature to thrive. I don’t have the power to determine how much time I get. But, in my opinion, it has to do with affluence. Before there were all sorts of restrictions, now there’s a lot of assistance.
It’s important to keep moving – I walk when I can, but it’s not like my legs hold out well now. But I’ll go for am amble in the street, I’ll go on some walks.
Youth is a wonderful thing. You have to make the most of it. Especially if you’re content, if you have the help of loved ones, there are lots of things that, even in youth, can help overcome even the worst of all evils. I see youth as a beautiful thing. But once it’s gone it doesn’t come back.
Going to the countryside every day – and having no children! If I had any, I’d be long dead
I worked as a lawyer and married at 50 but have never had children. If I’d had any I’d be long dead.
I’ve weathered well…a century! I can tell you of life and miracles, everything that has happened, in the courts, in the villages.
I’m alive because every day I go to the countryside. Queen Elizabeth is healthy because she’s passionate about the countryside. But there’s no one left in the countryside anymore.
Because I was born in Sardinia, I went to the mainland only when I had to sit my lawyer’s exam, but there’s no air on the mainland. When I’d go [there] I didn’t feel alive and I couldn’t wait to get back here to my goats.
There were only horses and donkeys back then. There were no cars. Not a single car. And that’s the era I lived in.
Every night, every evening, every Saturday, we’d go out serenading the beautiful girls. We’d go all around the village. I’d meet with the other musicians. I played the harmonica, then the violin, the mandolin and also the guitar. I taught myself. I’d listen to my grandfather and had a good ear so I managed to learn.
Youth is the greatest gift that planet Earth bestows on you. It’s a beautiful thing and I lived it fully. As a lawyer, as a shepherd like I am now, as a musician… I’ve lived every aspect.
But Sardinia doesn’t exist anymore, in this day and age everything’s different.
When I was younger, they used to make bread in old-fashioned wood-burning ovens in the piazza. There was a smell of bread that I can’t describe. You don’t get bread like that these days.
The lobsters, the mullet, they all had a special flavour. Now it’s broken. The fish isn’t worth anything now.
But I enjoy life. I drink a lot – wine is good for you. Plus I have my kid goats, and when they become adult goats they’re ready for my oven.
We eat simple, healthy things, things that aren’t harmful… but I think our secret to living to 100 is God
When I was growing up, we ate goat, lamb, pig…all sorts. Vegetables from our veg patch. We wanted for nothing.
I still eat everything but it was simpler then, more wholesome. But my favourite thing to eat is fish. It’s the tastiest thing there is. I think that now it may taste better. Now there’s always fish [available] that we like.
During the World War… we suffered. The soldiers were all emaciated. My grandmother, who was a very good woman, used to make bread at home and give some to those poor souls.
I’ve always lived in Sardinia. I was born, baptised, and married in Oschiri. Then I lived in Aggius with my husband for 38 years. When he passed, I moved to Santa Teresa to live with my daughter.
When I was young, I liked to dance. At the village festivals, in the countryside! There’d be singing, card games… My husband always had his harmonica.
Now, I get up, give myself a good clean, have breakfast, and then I wait for lunch. My daughter is a great cook.
Then I listen to some harmonica music, I’ll put on the TV…then I’ll rest a while. And lots of friends come and visit.
When I turned 100, there was so much love, we celebrated well. My family really loves me.
In Sardinia, we eat simple, healthy things. Things that aren’t harmful…but I think our secret to living to 100 is God.
My youth may have passed me, but I’m still young at heart! At 100 years of age, there are many that are worse off than me.
Where to stay and what to do in Sardinia
We stayed at Resort Valle dell’Erica. It’s 5-star luxe, vast enough to easily find alone time (even at capacity), and prices start from €160 a night.
Situated in the north of Sardinia in Gallura it offers an unspoilt escape, with plenty of drool-worthy views for the Gram and secret sunbathing spots along the coastline where you can (literally) get away from it all (with deck chairs and umbrellas, naturally).
My room was the size of a small apartment – and not a New York one, I hasten to add. Every morning was a smug scene where I woke up smiling to the sound of silence, broken only by bird song, and looked out across the ocean from my private veranda.
Valle del’Erica has a tonne of options for food and drinks, but my favourite spots were Il Grecale for lunch and Li Ciusoni for dinner. The former for the view, food and atmosphere, the latter for its exclusive Gallurese menu and zero-kilometre ingredients – and the Conchiglia swim-up bar, that lets you cocktail-up from the comfort of the water. But it was the dessert wine – Sorso D’oro (meaning ‘golden sip’) – that will remain in my heart forever.
Now, I have to confess that my reaction to the word ‘buffet’ will generally spark the same facial expression as the one that tells you I’ve just smelt a fart. However, not this time. I was (almost) lost for words. Not only did it have that homemade feel in the freshness, flavour and presentation, the chefs put so much thought into new, MasterChef-worthy ways to use ingredients.
My life is so busy at home that when abroad, I’m of the ‘less-is-more’ school of thought. However, I’m like a pig in the proverbial at the mention of the word ‘boat’. Cruising the Archipelago of Maddalena, we found waters clearer than Clear Blue – the stuff postcards and gloaty Insta stories are made of. We stopped off en route to have a dip and rewarded our ‘hard work’ with lunch at Hotel Capo D’Orso.
While Erica is family-friendly, Hotel Capo D’Orso is adults only and feels a little more grown-up. But both are owned by Delphina so, like Soho House, they have that familial trait running through them.
Bear Rock is cool too. A short walk up a hill to some amazing rock formations and views that reach for miles across this Italian isle of paradise. Just remember, the higher you get, the windier it gets, so hold on to your hats.
I also really enjoyed visiting Capo Testa in Santa Teresa. Not least because we were greeted by a tortoise moving around the undergrowth (when does that ever happen?!). But also thanks to the serenity of the location – and it was here that I discovered a cute lil’ cove where locals bathed which is well worth checking out – maybe the secret to their long lives?
It could also be down to the Thalasso – the medicinal use of seawater – spa session where I shrivelled up like a happy prune as I switched between the different outdoor healing pools.
A short flight (two hours, nine minutes from Luton to Olbia), 300 days of sunshine a year and people who are as warm as the weather make Sardinia a no-brainer.
There are eight resorts in the family-run Delphina collection, open from late May to early October every year. While rates start at €160 per person, per night, on a half-board basis at Valle del’Erica, rates at their other four-star properties start from €96, so there is something for every budget. Book at delphinahotels.co.uk.