Finding the secret to why Sardinians live to 100 – the Mediterranean island that delivers laid-back wellness

Sardinia’s bright turquoise waters earn it the nickname the ‘Caribbean of Europe' (Rachel Sharp)
Sardinia’s bright turquoise waters earn it the nickname the ‘Caribbean of Europe' (Rachel Sharp)

We meander over the cobbles of Aggius, twisting and turning through side streets as the Mediterranean sun beams down. The serrated mountain ridge of Monti di Aggius offers a protective hug around this ancient village in northern Sardinia.

Curious locals lean over the balconies of their tiny granite homes as we pass by below. Dogs and cats sunbathe next to one of the village’s ancient churches. Local public art (including vibrant paintings of chickens and raccoons on the side of the stone buildings) offers an unexpected contrast to the town’s heritage, transforming it into something of an open air museum.

Everything feels relaxed and serene – but there’s also a warm buzz of life here.

I close my eyes and take in this moment of peacefulness – the quiet only broken by the cheery tones of an elderly local man who makes a beeline for our group, waving and greeting us enthusiastically before thrusting a silver metal bucket under our noses. It’s brimming with dozens of luscious ripe figs picked fresh from his garden that morning.

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It seems that Sardinia has been keeping a secret – and it’s one that I was determined to get to the bottom of. The Italian island is one of the world’s five so-called ‘blue zones’, regions where the locals live longer than average, including an extraordinarily high number reaching the ripe old age of 100.

When it comes to Sardinia, there’s no glaring reason to explain this: there’s no prevalence of fad diets, its people are not overreliant on health supplements, there’s no obsessive gym culture. So what is behind Sardinians’ longevity?

Situated off Italy’s popular Amalfi Coast, nestled between Sicily and Corsica, this Mediterranean island is a holiday estination that’s growing in popularity. It has regular direct flights from the UK to three main airports: Olbia, which serves the northwest; Cagliari, the south; and and Alghero, the centre and north.

The ancient village of Aggius is nestled in northern Sardinia (Rachel Sharp)
The ancient village of Aggius is nestled in northern Sardinia (Rachel Sharp)

You’ll find white sand beaches and turquoise seas that have earned it the nickname the “Caribbean of Europe”. It has a Mediterranean diet rich in meats and seafood – and of course, as would be expected from an Italian island, excellent pastas and local wines. There are beautiful natural landscapes, with about a quarter of the island either designated protected territory or national park, and ancient ruins.

I was staying at the Delphina Resort Valle dell’Erica, a beachfront property in in Gallura, at the northernmost tip of the island. The region’s La Maddalena archipelago stretches out in front and, on a clear day, you can look straight across to Corsica. To tick off two destinations in one trip you can take a boat ride from the hotel over to the tiny uninhabited island of Spargi, one of the largest in the collection of roughly 60.

Being at one with nature is also top of the agenda. Set in a 28-hectare private park, Delphina Resort Valle dell’Erica is built into the natural landscape with lush greenery, rugged granite rocks and wild, fragrant plants and herbs all around.

Among this natural granite rock landscape lies the resort’s Le Thermae Thalasso Spa. Thalassotherapy incorporates the marine environment into treatments, using seawater as a form of therapy. Numerous health benefits are touted such as improving the immune system, blood circulation, eczema and psoriasis. At Le Thermae, treatments incorporate essential oils from the aromatic plants and herbs grown wild on the resort.

Enjoy a boat trip to the archipelago (Rachel Sharp)
Enjoy a boat trip to the archipelago (Rachel Sharp)

I took a dip in each of the four outdoor thalasso pools, moving from hotter temperatures to colder in order to get the circulation moving, before a ‘water massage’. Buoyed by floats on my ankles and neck, I floated in one of the thalasso pools while the therapist moved my body around the seawater, kneading the knots out of my “journalist-tense” shoulders.

It was at that point I began to understand how a focus on outdoor living and self-care is all part of the secret to a long and happy life in Sardinia. But could there also be more?

A Mediterranean diet has long been linked to a longer life. But, despite being an island, traditionally the food in Sardinia is more heavily meat-based than fish-based. I’m told that this is a product of the island’s history, as locals were driven inland during multiple invasions.

While meats and pasta has long been the traditional cuisine, fresh seafood is also on offer (The Independent)
While meats and pasta has long been the traditional cuisine, fresh seafood is also on offer (The Independent)

At the Li Ciusoni restaurant, I saw authentic fare come to life. Suckling pig roasted on a spit as the scent of fresh wood-fired bread wafted through the air. A chef hand-kneaded each individual piece of Sardinia’s traditional pasta – malloreddus – using a unique handwoven basket. The melt-in-mouth pork was perfectly complemented by creamy local cheeses and salty olives, all washed down with local wine made on vineyards just a handful of miles away. A special guest in the form of a wild boar even tried to join us for dinner, having emerged from the oak trees.

Fresh seafood has also become a staple in the Sardinian diet, including huge shrimp, sweet sea urchin pasta, hunks of tuna steak and tender bites of octopus. The following lunch, I worked my way through these dishes from a beachfront restaurant looking out across the Mediterranean Sea. As I did, I wondered: had I cracked Sardinia’s secret?

Maybe it wasn’t so complicated. Forget the fad diets, the overreliance on health supplements and the pounding away at the gym. And enjoy Sardinia’s simple life.