Sardinia Holiday Review: South West area, Pula and Chia.
I love hot holidays, so as much as my husband tried to convince me that a holiday cottage in Wales was the answer to relaxation with kids, I was having none of it. If you don’t get on a plane, it’s not a proper holiday.
OK, I do enjoy a UK break every year, but I know he was just trying to avoid the ‘babes on a plane’ scenario, which he dreaded so much. So, I needed to find out where we could take our two boys (a two year old and one year old) that ticked the following boxes:
- Hot (so it’s a proper holiday).
- Safe beaches.
- Low risk.
- Child friendly.
- Short flight.
After some rigorous Google research, I settled on Sardinia, which appeared to tick all of the boxes at this time of year and is only a touch over two hours flight from Gatwick.
We decided to stay at the Lantana Resort (http://www.lantanaresort.it/) near Pula, which had decent trip advisor reviews and fit within our budget.
Sardinia Car Hire
You really need a car to get the best out of Sardinia, so the idea was to hire a car and explore the numerous beaches around the South West of the island. All of the regions have great beaches, but the South West has particularly child friendly ones, with shallow waters, sheltered bays, golden sand, and importantly, lots of space.
After a bit of a delay taking off, the flight wasn’t as bad as my husband feared. The boys enjoyed the flight and it was short enough for them not to get too bored and unbearable. However, our holiday got off to a bad start when our luggage failed to arrive and BA had lost our bags (not ideal with two toddlers).
Luckily the two car seats we bought with us arrived so we were able to go and pick up the rental car. Yes, you heard that right… we bought our own car seats. Why you may ask? Well, it turns out that car hire companies have a particularly excellent way of ripping off customers by charging a small fortune for child seat hire. In fact, two car seats cost more than the cost of hiring a car for the week (disgusting!).
Smug in our satisfaction of avoiding rip-off car seat costs, we were soon crying into our baby seats when the car hire company informed us that despite paying for the hire and insurance up front (using a Visa Debit card), we were obliged to pay another €280 for ‘extra insurance’ because they don’t accept VISA debit to hold a security deposit.
Even though they failed to tell us they require a Credit Card when booking the car online, they refused to refund us or cancel the booking, or find any other solution. They wouldn’t even let us speak to customer service so I had to call them myself, on my mobile, whilst stood in the car hire booth. The ‘customer support operative’ told me ‘hiring a car is a big responsibility, so if you don’t even have a credit card, maybe you aren’t responsible enough?’ and went on to add ‘you’re not getting a refund. Pay the extra insurance or leave’.
No choice. So, we had €280 extorted from us at the airport (don’t book with Goldcar and make sure you take a ‘credit’ card!).
So, the holiday had got off to a pretty bad start so far, but I was determined not to condemn myself to a rainy British holiday for the rest of time, so we ploughed on and drove the 40 minutes to our accommodation.
Lantana resort is located 1.6 km from Nora beach on the southern coast of Sardinia and comprises of a series of handsome apartments surrounding a large pool area in pristine gardens. The apartments have a touch of Arabian style and terracotta simplicity.
We booked a one-bedroom apartment with a separate living rooms and kitchen, which was perfect a family of four. The kids slept in the bedroom, whilst we pulled out the spare bed and had the evenings to ourselves.
We booked half board, making breakfast times easy for the family, but giving us the freedom to explore, and get the kids to bed early without having to drag them out. We didn’t realise, but there are differing rates for half board and total self-catering at Lantana, and our rate didn’t include use of the microwave and dishwasher in our room, which stuck me as odd, if not a little bit mean.
The popular on-site restaurant boasts room service to the apartments, although this has perhaps been lost in translation, and room service means pre-booking your dinner and collecting it from the restaurant yourself in plastic take-a-way tubs. This doesn’t have the same feeling of luxury .
Although breakfast was wide ranging and plentiful, dinner was a little disappointing with no choice (a daily fixed menu), tiny portions and a handful of ingredients recycled through the different courses. We had the distinct feeling that the fruit salad served as desert on both occasions we ate at the hotel was recycled from the fruit salad served at breakfast. Even if that wasn’t the case, courgette, cheese and mint made it into two of the four dishes.
For a country priding it on its food, the lunch menu at the hotel is beyond bland (Margarita pizza, cheese and tomato Panini, pasta in tomato sauce with cheese… you get the idea), and not being able to eat lunch around the pool felt a little restrictive for a relaxing holiday.
Despite the food failings, the gardens and the tranquillity of the hotel provide a perfect base to unwind. However, although the Lantana pitches itself at families and children, the swimming pool is not suitable for toddlers. The play park is a nice touch, set away from the main communal areas, although children will opt for splashing in the pool 99% of the time, so the park wasn’t well used. Amenities for older children include a putting green, tennis and other sports. Plus there are spa treatments available for tired adults (and a free shuttle to the beach and golf club).
Sardinia Best Beaches for Toddlers
After we had enjoyed the hotel for a while we set about exploring the local are beaches, and my, we were in for a treat. There are countless beach options in the facility if you have a car to explore, and whilst the local beach Pula was pleasant and suitable for children, nearby Chia (20 minutes drive) was worth the toddler flight hell alone.
Chia beach is everything you need if you’re not one for commercial or crowded beaches. A long stretch of golden sand with incredibly shallow turquoise water that even our kamikaze children would find it hard to submerge themselves. The beach is encompassed by rocky outcrops, an old lighthouse, and mountains rising up in the background; it really is a stunning place and I’d struggle to suggest a better beach for toddlers.
Chia is by no means the end-all of beaches in the area – there are plenty of others to enjoy on either side, but Chia does set the standard. There are busier beaches, quieter beaches, beaches with extortionate sun loungers, beaches with nobody else at all. One thing that is consistent with all of the beaches in the South West of Sardinia is shallow water. If you didn’t know how much toddlers enjoy the beach and sloshing around in the sea, take them to Sardinia and find out.
Eating out with Toddlers in Sardinia
Once you’ve had enough of digging holes and rescuing toddlers from the three-inch surf, you can treat the children to two of the things Italians do best, ice cream and pizza, or pizza and ice cream. Pula is a pretty market town with narrow streets, designer shops, traditional buildings and a town square containing various restaurants.
There is a lot of choice for places to eat in Pula, and most of the restaurants seem to welcome children. They generally have baby seats or run next door to borrow some from a neighbouring restaurant and sitting outside is always a bonus when inflicting your noisy over-tired kids on other diners.
Overall the food in Sardinia was a bit of a disappointment, unless you’re happy to exist on a diet of pizza. There didn’t seem to be a plethora of fresh seafood as one might imagine from an Italian island; most of it seeming to come from imported frozen sources. However, Lobina’s Ristorante is a small neighbourhood restaurant opposite Lantana resort that serves up excellent fresh grilled seafood at modest prices.
Other things to do with Toddlers in Sardinia
For a day away from the beaches all together, check out Cagliari town. This old port oozes with charm, especially in the historic quarter. It’s very hilly, so pushing a double buggy is hard work, but you can catch the panoramic lift at Bastione di Saint Remy that takes you to the best viewing platform in the city, allowing views of Mediterranean rooftops, the port, and out to sea.
For something more fun, that the kids are more likely to enjoy, there is the BlueFan water park near Pula. Although this only opens during the peak season, so check before you go.
However, the truth of the matter, is that you won’t need to deviate away from the beaches much because they really are perfect for toddlers, and they won’t want to leave.
Is Sardinia the best holiday destination for Toddlers?
Toddlers love three things, beaches, beaches, and more beaches. Overall, Sardinia really did live up to expectations as a toddler’s paradise from a natural point of view (i.e. extremely child friendly beaches). There is a little work to do from a tourism point of view if Sardinia wants to sell itself to young families, but the shortcomings can be forgiven once you find yourself paddling around in the warm shallows of the Med.
Although Goldcar car hire cannot be forgiven, they are the pits!