Sunshine mixed with football, dance and swimming – Chia Laguna is in the Premier League of family fun, says Pól Ó Conghaile
He plays soccer at school. He togs out for the under-eights at weekends. He bashes balls about the garden (our herbs tell a story). He spends his pocket money on Match Attax and sleeps under a Liverpool duvet. So when the chance to take a holiday including twice-daily training sessions with ex-Premier League players crops up, it’s fair to say Sam (seven) is excited.
Several weeks later, we’re in Sardinia, and our soccer-mad son is playing on an Astro-Turf pitch under the tutelage of former Everton, Crystal Palace and England striker, Andy Johnson. The sun beats down. The boys ball around in slick kits with their names printed on. “I scored three goals in one day and one was a nutmeg…” Sam reports mid-week. It couldn’t be further from those kickabouts in gardens and green areas back home.
I wouldn’t feel sorry for the rest of us, either. The Campioni Football Academy is just the start of the activities on offer at Chia Laguna, a sporty stunner voted ‘Italy’s Leading Family Resort’ at the 2018 World Travel Awards. Trickling down hillsides abuzz with bees and house martins, the resort has five swimming pools, tennis courts, heaps of restaurants and a lagoon frequented by a flock of pink flamingos. And that’s not even starting on the gelati.
Chia Laguna is a member of the Italian Hospitality Collection, a swanky group of individual resorts in Tuscany, Sardinia and the ski resort of Courmayeur in the Alps. Chia Laguna sprawls salubriously around four different hotels, with varying prices, star ratings and guests who mingle or do their own thing. But family- friendly activities are the glue binding it all together.
While Sam kicks about with Campioni, our daughter Rosa (11) signs up for the company’s dance academy. Reporting twice-daily to an air-conditioned rehearsal room, she and her troupe stage a show at the resort’s central piazza at the end of the week. And the adults? Mum tries Chia Laguna’s spa on for size, while I dip between the pools and head out snorkelling off the honeycomb sandy beach below. One day, we even spot an octopus in the crystal clear waters.
We consider renting a car for trips along the coast or into Cagliari, but in the end just stay put. The resort feels like a cruise ship on the Med – activities are all a short walk from our room, and a ‘Dine Around’ programme allows us to move between nine different restaurants including a wood-fired pizza place. La Luna, a little supermarket, lies across the road for essentials such as water, Sardinian cheeses and sneaky supplies of crisps and chocolate, and kids’ clubs cater separately for toddlers, young children and teens. Their activities are creative, too – ranging from ‘Mini Mindfulness’ sessions to ‘drawing laboratories’ and beach trips on the resort’s motorised train.
Sam and Rosa’s camps run from 10-11.30am and 5-6pm, Monday to Friday. At soccer, the standard is fairly high – most of the kids are more than capable for the games and drills; some have even had trials for big clubs (though we felt a few girls would have added to the atmosphere). However, the coaches are insightful enough not to let younger players get discouraged – Andy is encouraging, easygoing, doesn’t pick favourites and runs plenty of water breaks.
Resort service is impressively slick, too. A waiter offers to run down to the piazza to pick up chocolate ice cream when Mum and Dad want to squeeze a few more post-sunset minutes out of the terrace. Staff remember Mum is coeliac after being told just once, and an activity manager never forgets the kids’ names, despite being the busiest guy on campus – right down to MCing the Eurovision-style shows that kick off around 9.30 at night.
Paradise comes at a price, of course. The five-star Hotel Laguna is the resort’s premium stay, with à la carte dinners and a private shuttle running to the beach. Most families stay at the four-star Hotel Village, with cottage-style rooms – neither is cheap, and you can expect all of those drinks and ice creams (not to mention spa treatments) to add up.
In the evenings, before gathering for sundowners or shows and drinks at the piazza, Sam and I search for Andy’s goals on YouTube. It’s thrilling to watch his speed, pace and ability to get in behind defenders. There’s a nice touch on the final night when videos of the footballing kids are shown after the dance academy performance, and Andy thanks the parents “who have worked their socks off so you guys can come here and play”.
It won’t be long before we’re back down to earth. But for now, evening is settling in, the light is fading, everybody is sun-brushed, happy-tired and ready for iced tea and local Sardinian beers. It’s about as blissed- out a July evening as a family – and a souvenir-sized footballer – could wish for.
Pól Ó Conghaile is travel editor with the Irish Independent
HOW TO BOOK
Western & Oriental has flights plus a week’s half-board for a family of four at the 5-star Hotel Laguna from £7,159, based on two adults and two children sharing two superior rooms. Rates at the 4-star Hotel Village start at £150pp, per day approx (excluding flights).
There are oodles of activities at Chia Laguna – ranging from tennis and swimming to kids’ clubs. For soccer-mad children, however, the football academies it hosts with Juventus and Campioni are top bins.
Juventus training sessions run during August, while the Campioni Football Academy has dates available during May half-term and throughout July. Led by ex-Premier League players Michael Johnson and Wes Brown with fellow stars such as Emile Heskey, the football academy is suited to kids aged 6-15, and week-long courses cost £477pp, with kits included.
Campioni also runs dance academies, £347pp, with coaches including former X Factor dancer and Stepping Out winner, Aimee Azari.
WHAT TO PACK
Bring Astro-Turf or football boots for the soccer. Sardinia gets scorchio in summer, so throw in lots of sunscreen and bring or purchase a travel pack of detergent to wash the dust and sweat out of stinky kits in the evening. Make sure the kids glug gallons of water, too.