Travel: Sardinia, Italy

SAY what you like about Silvio Berlusconi, but the man has an eye for beautiful things. Never mind the showgirls and the scandals, whenever the Italian PM needs to escape the media spotlight, it is to delectable Sardinia that he heads.

Yes, his holiday compound on the island has its fair share of man-made attractions, but beyond the entourage of nubile nymphs, the fake volcano and remote-control waterfall, Sardinia is a true natural beauty.

Lord Charles Forte thought so too. The Italian-born, Scottish-raised hotelier fell in love with this untouched corner of the Mediterranean when he visited in the late 1960s.

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So smitten was he with its lush pine woods and long, snow-white beach (nominated one of the 25 sexiest beaches in the world by Forbes), he established a hotel here in 1970, aimed at attracting an elite, sporty clientele.

His dream grew arms and legs and now, though Fortevillage is no longer part of the Forte family's concerns, it spreads across 25 hectares of tropical gardens and features eight four and five-star hotels, three magnificent pool complexes, 21 restaurants (Gordon Ramsay presides over one), a tranquil thalassotherapy spa, 12 tennis courts, a putting green and shopping centre.

It sounds huge and overcrowded, like a high-class Butlins, perhaps, but what is most surprising is how peaceful and secluded everything is. All but one of the buildings are low-rise, there is an abundance of mature trees and flowers tended by an army of gardeners, and the emphasis is always on friendly service and low-key luxury. Even the flamingoes, conveniently co-ordinating with the pink stone, look pampered.

Discretion is key. So you'd never know, for instance, that the villa on the hill has been rented for the whole summer by an uber-wealthy Ukrainian businesswoman. This is a private, gated resort, with security on the beach, which all means it is a mecca not just for the world's rich, but also its famous.

When the Beckhams came, they sipped champagne in the tiny kids' chairs while their boys ate at the Mini Club restaurant. Roman Abramovich has been known to drop by for a visit. And opposite us at lunch last week was one Fabio Grosso. Who? you ask. Only the Italian footballer who scored the winning penalty in the 2006 World Cup final, that's who.

That was in the beachside pizzeria, where the salads are vast and scrumptious and the pizzas like nothing you've ever peeled from a cardboard box – as far as I'm aware Pizza Hut doesn't do a Hawaiian with Parma ham and fresh pineapple.

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In fact, throughout the resort, the food was never anything but wonderful. Dining at the Beachcomber restaurant one day, the choice was so mind-boggling we just asked Guiseppe Collo, who has been with Fortevillage since 1974 and used to cook for Lord Forte, to bring us whatever fish was fresh that day. As a result, we feasted on a selection of the most mouth-watering seafood I have ever tasted, simply cooked and served with a knowing smile. Then at Le Dune, a fillet steak left me, for once, lost for words, it was so delicately flavoured and meltingly tender.

Children are welcomed in every restaurant – even the ones with Michelin stars. No pool is out of bounds and there's a vast amount of entertainment laid on in the unlikely event the little senors and senoritas might get bored.

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True to Lord Forte's original vision, every summer, the coaches from Chelsea football club run a soccer school. Later this month, Austin Healey and Will Greenwood will arrive at a new rugby academy for six to 15-year-olds, and the line-up of celebrity tennis coaches willing to take you through your top-spin includes Pat Cash (swoon), Magnus Gustafsson and Paul Haarhuis.

As if that wasn't exhausting enough, the Bodydoctor, the personal training company that helped Sophie Dahl drop four dress sizes and got Kate Moss back in shape after giving birth, is also on site at the resort gym, its only outlet outside London.

However, if you prefer to leave all those healthy activities to the professionals and indulge, instead, in some quality me-time, that's OK too. Which is why, by day, you could find me floating in the spa's series of thermal mud, aloe and salt pools, basking like a slippery seal in 34C heat and absolute silence, a million miles away from giggling children learning to make pasta, create a work of art or bend it like Beckham.

The only bending I was doing was in the hands of Guido, the spa's most experienced masseur, who twisted my limbs into all manner of contortions and left me limber and invigorated for evening fun and games. And, with no children around to be mortified by Mum's antics, I made the most of my freedom.

Go-karting was first on the agenda. Speeding round the track feeling like Michael Schumacher, but probably looking more like Miss Daisy, brought out my competitive streak, even when I took a corner too fast and ended up stuck in the rough, facing backwards. No champagne on the winner's podium for me.

The sight of a rodeo bull proved irresistible too, though not particularly ladylike considering the short skirt I was wearing – the resultant video is probably winging its way to YouTube as I write.

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Then the resort disco beckoned. I swear, I've never been so popular in my life. Perhaps those Italian stallions had already seen my rodeo antics!

Fact file

Seven nights at Fortevillage during school holidays costs from 3,783 for two adults and two children. Price includes half board, with BA flights from London to Cagliari and transfers, Edinburgh departures also available (0208 940 8399, The Tennis Academy costs 100 per person for a one-hour lesson. Chelsea Soccer School costs 280 per week, per child, including kit. The Rugby Academy costs 150 per child, per week, including kit.

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• This article was first published in Scotland on Sunday, June 27, 2010