You probably haven’t heard of Porto Rafael. Hidden along the coast of North Sardinia, the unassuming port town isn’t on the tourist radar. But this charming island town has long been a choice destination for paparazzi-dodging celebrities and in-the-know vacationers seeking respite amongst nature. With gorgeous villas, wide open panoramas over La Maddalena Natural Park Archipelago and its azure waters, it’s a perfect stage for nature, peace, and privacy.
HISTORY OF PORTO RAFAEL
The story of Porto Rafael dates back to the 1960s when it was founded by Rafael Neville de Berlanga del Duero. A Spanish Count with ties to the film industry, Neville was the son of Hollywood film director Edgar Neville and great friends with actors Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford.
Legend has it that Porto Rafael came to Neville in a dream. In it, he saw a small beach surrounded by vegetation, whitewashed houses, and the sea. Neville soon set out to make his dream a reality by traveling to Italy. Here, he met Paolo Cudoni, whose family owned the coast stretching from Punta Sardegna to Palau. While exploring, they came across the location that would eventually become Porto Rafael.
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“Blue zones” refer to areas of the world where people live much longer than average. And, with 20 centenarians between 1996 and 2006, Sardinia is officially a blue zone where residents have shown to live longer and happier lives. There’s good reason for that, believes Nino Tatriele, President of Consorzio di Porto Rafael. “Health and wellbeing is a territorial reality here,” says Tatriele. “We have exceptional longevity and mental wellness.”
So, what are the characteristics of a Blue Zone resident? For the most part, it’s a common-sense approach to living well. They eat a good diet with lots of veggies and moderate their alcohol intake; they also make time to stay active. In addition, they maintain strong family ties and a good social network – because no man is an island.
NATURE AS MEDICINE
Nature is becoming a real trend in wellness as shown in Global Wellness Institute’s recent Wellness Trends report. Research shows that being around nature and staying active contributes to longevity. And with more people living in urban environments, it’s become more common for people to actively seek nature and activity while on vacation. Trends such as Forest Bathing are becoming increasingly popular and many hotels are incorporating outdoor activities into their wellness programs.
Blessed with abundant nature and plenty of opportunities to stay active, Porto Rafael is a great spot to experience the rising wellness trend. “Here, we live the rhythms of a quiet life and enjoy a unique atmosphere,” says Tatriele.
Start by exploring the pristine waters of La Maddalena Archipelago Natural Park. The area is made up of seven main islands and numerous inlets and is popular for deserted beaches, lush greenery, and abundant wildlife. Hire a tender from the local marina or, if you’re feeling flash, charter a catamaran for a full day on the water, complete with an extravagant lunch and drinks.
Amongst these impressive ancient rocks, there’s plenty of trekking to be found, too. Get lost in the region’s stunning natural surrounds and breathe in the enchanting scents of the island on half or full-day treks that cater to everyone from absolute beginners to professionals. For a truly transformative experience, head out to Faro di Capo d’Orso and feel what it’s like to stand at the edge of the world.
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WHAT TO DO
With its small-town vibes, Porto Rafael is a study in dolce far niente. Literally translated as “the sweetness of doing nothing”, this is the Italian art of indulgent relaxation. And you’ll find plenty of chances for that here.
Wander the picturesque cobblestone streets, poking your nose into the artisanal shops that line them. Enjoy aperitivo at the Piazzetta, the little square which is the heart of the town. Or perhaps grab a perch on the uncrowded beach.
Of course, if you did want to embark on a little exploration, you can jaunt up and down the coast discovering hidden gems. Visit La Fortezza di Monte, which was built between 1887 and 1889 and was once called the most beautiful fortress in Europe, or delve into the region’s past at the Museo Ethnografico di Palau (the Palau Ethnographical Museum).
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WHERE TO STAY
Tucked between the sea and the town’s main square, Rafael Boutique Hotel was once home to the town’s founder, Count Rafael Neville himself. This charming property boasts simple, chic guest rooms that echo Porto Rafael’s laidback charm with bright colors, Moroccan-esque tiling, and furniture handmade in Sardinia. Don’t miss the decadent buffet breakfasts and tantalizing Mediterranean dishes at the alfresco restaurant.
If you don’t mind venturing further out, Palau’s La Vecchia Fonte is another great option. Rooms are resplendent in homey Sardinian decor that includes locally-sourced handcrafted furniture. The wood-paneled Café & Wine Bar offers breakfast and DOC wines in an old-world setting, while spa treatments are available on request.
THE FUTURE OF PORTO RAFAEL
So what’s ahead for this unassuming town on the Sardinian coast? Wellness tourism could be one option. “Porto Rafael will be preserved with respect to its nature, while blending traditions with innovative thinking,” believes Tatriele. “The magic of the town makes it a great choice for a natural family wellness destination for changemakers of today and tomorrow.”
One thing’s for sure, though. Porto Rafael will remain an idyllic part of the world. Rafael de Neville once said, “Sognare e’ Vivere,” which translates to “Dreaming is living.” And that’s an ethos Tatriele aims to have Porto Rafael stay true to.
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