Forte Village in Sardinia is maybe the only place in the world where no guest nor employee wishes to leave. Not even if they are here since the first day of the resort. Since 1970.
I am travelling quietly on the back seat of a Mercedes-Benz limo, on my way to the Cagliari airport. The warm summer weather makes me regret even more that I’m leaving Forte Village, the resort on the South side of Sardinia, the place where I spent my last week. I split my attention between the natural landscape decorated with all kind of plants that I see on the window and a hotel presentation brochure I found in the pocket of the front seat. Usually I don’t waste my time looking on a magazine about a place which I have already experienced. Is just that I got drawn by the images of the employees, shown during their beginnings at Forte Village, decades ago, next to the images of their current looks. I understand very easy, without following the text written in Italian, that mostly all the people working here arrived when they were very young and nothing happening after convinced them to leave. When I reach almost half of my ”lecture”, I discover a black and white image illustrating a dark skinned young man, next to a pizza oven which, if I think a bit, I remember from the lunch restaurant. Even the character seems a little familiar, mostly because the present looks shows me a nice old man whose moustache, contrasting his baldness, would guarantee him a role in any Italian product commercial. I raise my eyes towards my driver and I realize that he is the character in the two images I am looking at. I smile and I notice I am being watched in the rearview mirror. The driver smiles back at me and it is clear I am following a ritual that also some other hundreds of guests followed on their way to or from the airport.
”I got here in 1974 and the young man you see in the photo is myself” I am being told this in English but with an Italian pronunciation that usually belongs to a person with no concern regarding grammar or accents. From the same brochure, I find that my character carries a name fated for a destiny which took him from a pizza helper to the highly-respected position of the VIP driver: Enzo Fortunato (the lucky one). ”When I used to work at the pizza oven I managed to cook up to 250 pizzas in one day and this got me the nickname Enzo Pizza.”
My trip to Forte Village started one week ago and before arriving here nothing from what I saw on the internet could explain to me the fame of the place, especially among the Italians. There are those endless sky-clear blue pools and those exotic fruits, but for sure you find this ingredients in tens of other hotels.
The Forte Village story coincides with the story of Sardinia’s luxury tourism.
Everything started in the years 1970’, when the Italian born Sir Charles Forte, the richest and most famous hotelier in England, has set his eyes on this extremely rare landscape for Europe: a divine combination between white sanded beaches and tropical vegetation. Sir Forte, ahead of a 20 million pounds empire, planned to transform his new project on the South side of the island into the number one destination for people looking to relax quietly, leaving the North to the public in need for opulence. His dream came true and little by little the resort became a true 47 ha vacation village. After Sir Charles lost the business, the management changed among different hotels chains and investors. But from the clients point of view, Forte Village always belonged to the same people: the personnel serving them every year.
The place gives you the feeling of a park full of nature where you discover all the forms of accommodation and relaxation areas, linked by a labyrinth of palm and red flowers lined alleys. The hotels within the property vary between three and five floors and the villas vary from two floors to one room with garden. I was accommodated in the oldest building named Il Castello, five floors five stars construction surrounded by pins and palms, with a large terrace in front. Here you start your day tasting all the Italian specialties you have ever dreamt of, breakfasting everything from cold cuts to Italian cheese specialties and fruits harvested directly from the island. Everything happens quietly and natural, even if during the high season in all the resort there are up to 1500 tourists with almost 1000 employees taking care of their wellbeing. The secret ingredient of the general harmony seems to be the team itself, which members are here since 10, 20 or even 40 years.
Looks almost incredible to be happy to work in the same place for all your life. Enzo knows it is hard to believe such a story so he continues his speech: ”I have served Charles Forte, also Her Majesty the Queen of Great Britain and every day, since 40 years, I serve the guests of Forte Village.” The beginning of his career at the resort is the beginning of the project itself. He had tried several jobs, even in London, but the real challenge followed meeting Charles Forte when he received the task to drive the guests at the wheel of a little Simca car, a French brand who disappeared in 1978. ”Today I drive the guests with an Aston Martin or a Mercedes-Benz but it is not just the cars that changed. During all this years, we have all changed and we grew up in the idea of being versatile, to having the imagination to find solutions, this is what today became one of our strengths as a resort.” There wasn’t a recipe for the development and I don’t think that even the founder had ever imagined for this huge success of Forte Village. Simply the staff had to continuously evolve, as clients whished for more. This is how the varied configured villas appeared, the number of restaurants grew and the world unique Spa center was founded around the salted water therapies gathered under the name of Thalasso.
In the early days, Enzo worked as restaurant manager, pizzaiolo or ice cream man covering all the property with a special cart brought from the Philippines. In the afternoon, he distributed the resort’s newspaper and in the evening, we walked the guests to their tables. After that, he ran to his room, changed into a clown and went down to the central piazza where he entertained the public. He still does this today from time to time for the sake of the past, as the central piazza remains the place for concerts and evening fun.
”One day the management called for me and said: Enzo, from today you are responsible with the room-service. And that meant responsible for something that didn’t exist. No problem! I have invented the job and I have invented myself with the help of the only transportation that could take us quickly and quietly in a time when we didn’t have electric carts: the bicycle. And our people soon became very good.” Since those days there is a tradition for bicycles to fill the resort’s alleys. Now they serve the personnel or the guests who prefer to be quicker when going to the beach or one of the restaurants.
As a proof of the Italian obsession for food, Forte Village has developed to include 21 restaurants for lunch or dinner. Compared with the all-inclusive resort concepts in Turkey, here all the restaurants have their own kitchen and unique menu. The gastronomical culture brings over 150 chefs each season, one of them with Michelin stars, this being the highest number in any other European destination. What you always notice are for sure the smiling faces that accompany you during the day. The same smiles. From breakfast to dinner, the waiters change the setting and the suit so that after a day you feel like greet them as your friends.
The managers are also since at least 20 years at Forte Village, some of them even from the beginnings. Giuseppe Collu, one of the most highly appreciated restaurant managers have been hired by Charles Forte himself in 1974. And he served his boss every day as a waiter and later as a manager. Moreover, he followed Sir Forte for years in other properties up to Barbados, but always came back to Forte Village. His favorite story has Luciano Pavarotti in the main role as he served the tenor for many times while guest in the resort and theoretically under a strict regime based on fish and vegetables. Just that every time his doctor left the room, Pavarotti was kindly asking him for a plate of ”cannelloni alla ricotta” and a bottle of Brunello wine. ”There was always a tragedy when the doctor returned, but what could I do? Honestly, the maestro’s joy made me happy also. Today, I would do it again!” says Giuseppe.
The car slows down while we reach the airport and ten minutes later we are at the departures entrance. Enzo gets out of the car and hurries to open my door. I feel I don’t want to let him do this. I feel too little in a story that seems more of a movie scenario. When he reaches, I am already out of the car so he can only bring my bag to me while smiling. Even if I am on my way home, I have the strange feeling I am leaving a home, in the same time. I am looking at the nice old men who spent all his life in the same beautiful holiday destination and I keep thinking of his words: ”I am a lucky man, both with the name but also with my destiny.”
During the last moment of what changed my way of thinking about hotels, I find the energy to say to Enzo: ”Thank you for everything and I really hope to come back.” His reply comes naturally: ”For sure you will return. Nobody leaves Forte Village for good!”