Sunday 10 August 2008

Tenuta Pilastru, near Arzachena, Gallura, Sardinia

Spread out across a small plateau, the recently-built stone chalets of Tenuta Pilastru overlook a converted two-storey farmhouse, a sizable swimming pool and the deserted rolling countryside beyond. Not far from a craggy, granite hilltop, the wicker chairs and sun loungers in the shady gardens are a tranquil sanctuary from the bustle of the Sardinian coast. Inside the former farmhouse, guest rooms, together with the stylish hotel reception and lounge, enclose a small courtyard. From here, you can clamber up past the restaurant to a cluster of huge granite boulders, worn into weird and wonderful shapes, filled in with small stone walls to create a series of caves.

Slowly, but surely
With respectable wooden furniture, unobtrusive air-conditioning, satellite television, a minibar and good quality fittings, the en-suite chalets are quiet and comfortable. Unfortunately, you can't take breakfast or dinner outside where you could admire the lovely surroundings and fine views. Instead, you end up in the wooden-beamed restaurant, where decent cheeses, hams, pastries, yoghurts and other cold food make up the breakfast buffet. To drink, there are some very sweet and very vibrant fruit juices, while coffee is served slowly, but surely, by the friendly waitresses.

Roast suckling pig
Dinner is in the same restaurant now decked out with mustard table cloths. Bread, water and a bottle of sweet and filling red table wine from Tenuta Pilastru's own vineyard await you on the table. You have a choice between the standard menu or the even more substantial Sardinian menu (10 euros supplement). The standard menu has four starters, four main courses and four deserts on offer. The home-made ravioli, filled with creamy cheese, melts in the mouth, while the fatty roast suckling pig, served with roast potatoes, is tender and mouthwatering, but needs some greenery. The seafood risotto starter, featuring some juicy mussels, is also delicious. But some of the dishes don't work. One main course is three anemic local cheeses, including one that tastes of absolutely nothing. Among the deserts, the panna cotta is creamy, rich and good, while the white-chocolate profiteroles are fluffy, filling and appealing.

Boisterous locals
On summer evenings, the restaurant fills up gradually with boisterous locals coming up from Arzachena to enjoy the traditional fare. They tend to be more lively and glamorous than Tenuta Pilastru's mostly middle-aged guests, some with kids, from across Europe. The more active climb the nearby granite outcrop, ride one of the farm's horses or rent a mountain bike. But most will chill out by the pleasant pool or drive for half-an-hour to one of the beaches on Sardinia's north coast. Reasonably-priced and thoughtfully-designed, this is the agriturismo concept near its best. 8/10