Love is unexplainable. But when you have found it, you know it.
That may sound like hyperbole for the beginning of a hotel review. However, after having stayed in dozens of hotels across Italy and the world, from modest B&Bs to 5-star luxury suites, I have a sixth sense about what feels right. And few have ever given me that instant, love-at-first-sight feeling the way that Gabbiano Azzurro Hotel & Suites did.
Granted, Sardinia had me smitten from the start. So by the time I arrived in Golfo Aranci for the second part of a 10-day visit to the island, I was already relaxed and in one of the best moods I had been in in a long time. But the hotel, with its exceptionally chic accommodations and amiable atmosphere, delivered and kept me flying high throughout my stay.
Gabbiano Azzurro means “Blue Seagull” in Italian, which may explain why I felt like I was floating on a cloud during my time there. Or maybe, after more than 50 years in business, the hotel had figured out the formula for an ideal vacation.
Perfectly Situated: On the Beach and In Town
Gabbiano Azzurro Hotel & Suites sits on its own private beach on the Terza Spiaggia, the “third beach” of the city of Golfo Aranci. The white sand strand, arranged with thatched umbrellas and sunbeds, has views of the emerald sea and Gallura‘s distinctive Isola Tavolara and can give you a sense of luxurious isolation.
But, if you’re like me, you also crave to see what life is like beyond the beachfront. Within a few blocks of the hotel are restaurants, bars, and shops, catering to locals and tourists alike. Walk a little further and you encounter the Prima and Secunda beaches; the harbor, full of colorful fishing boats; and the “Dolce Vita” shopping street, which is a promenade of pop-up shops open during the tourist season.
There is also art.
I was mesmerized by the photography of Marianne Sin-Pfältzer, a German photographer whose images of post-WWII Sardinian coastal life were displayed prominently on the sides of buildings in the heart of Golfo Aranci. The open-air gallery was both elegant and poignant, a bridge between this town’s fishing village past and its present as a classy, international destination.
Successful hotel design will give you a strong sense of place as well as make you rethink how you decorate your own life.
What I really liked about Gabbiano Azzurro is how the geography, colors, and culture of Sardinia were echoed in the design. The turquoise and white of the sky, sea, and waves showed up in patterns on the furniture, bedding, and objets d’arts. Dark-wood baskets, arranged in small clusters on the wall, and tree stumps, painted and refashioned as table bases, were alluring contrasting elements — a way to bring the outdoors in and vice versa.
Gabbiano Azzurro owes much of its aesthetic to architect Mauro Fenzi, who began working with the hotel in 2017 to redesign its main pool and to develop its sophisticated suites. In conceptualizing Gabbiano Azzurro’s new suites, Fenzi used only local materials, such as marble made from pebbles and shells. He also found inspiration in the stazzo, the traditional northern Sardinian farmhouse, and the surrounding islands and coves of Gallura. Fenzi’s suites honor the curvature of windswept stones and the spaciousness of the landscape.
Put simply, these suites rock.
The suites, each with its own dedicated staircase to access to the rooftop pool, are ideal for honeymoons. But they could also be a practical option for small groups (such as two couples) or families who want to bask in the Sardinian sunshine in surroundings that are both posh and private.
Gabbiano Azzurro is split into two sections, with the main hotel building housing the majority of the property’s 80 rooms. The pool suites are located in an adjacent building with a private entrance.
One of the main tenets of travel is to eat where the locals eat. This is doubly true in Italy. And if you apply the theory here in Golfo Aranci, you will end up at Gabbiano Azzurro’s Blù Restaurant, one of two restaurants on the premises.
Helmed by Chef Daniele Sechi, Blù has been recognized as one of the best restaurants in Sardinia by the L’Espresso restaurant and wine guide, a sort of Michelin guide for restaurants in Italy. Sechi and his team focus on Sardinian ingredients, including regional pasta varieties, like fregola, the restaurant’s signature dish, and su filindeu; fish, including Sardinia’s famous bottarga; and seafood, such as mussels and squid.
Gabbiano Azzurro has been welcoming guests — many of them return clients — since 1968. Of course, the superb location within reach of the Costa Smeralda draws guests here. But it is the hospitality of the Datome family that brings them back.
The heart, soul, and face of the hotel is Antonella Datome. She and her husband Sergio built up this hotel together after the property was left to them by Sergio’s father. Also involved are Sergio’s brother Marco, a co-owner, and Sergio and Antonella’s eldest son Tullio. During the season, all of the family live with their respective spouses and children in a separate part of the hotel in order to stay involved with all aspects of the business. Indeed, Antonella was attentive to so many guests — greeting them at dinner, sharing a mirto liqueur with them in the lobby — it was easy to forget this was a hotel and not a cozy, single-family mansion.
I love the idea of a secluded beach vacation, one that lets me escape the news of the world. But I also love to immerse myself in a place and see how the locals live. Gabbiano Azzurro gave me the chance to do both.
I was also touched by how Gabbiano Azzurro struck a balance between being both a luxury hotel and a family-friendly resort. So many hotels these days feel soulless, leaving a traveler to choose between cookie-cutter rooms or increasingly corporatized AirBnbs. Gabbiano Azzurro manages to be a part of the fabric of Golfo Aranci while providing high-quality accommodations, activities, and hospitality to those who want to experience the best that Sardinia has to offer.
Book Your Stay
You can make reservations at Gabbiano Azzurro Hotel & Suites directly on the hotel’s website.
Disclosure: I was invited to stay at the hotel mentioned in this post and was provided with free lodging and meals. Opinions expressed here are my own.
Last Updated: May 4, 2021