Sardinian Hotel

WORDS Steve Smith PHOTOS Jacques Pépion

After a carefully considered four-year renovation, Cala Di Volpe, the iconic hotel by French architect Jacques Couëlle, is once again open. And if it looks familiar, you can thank James Bond for that.

It was the perfect backdrop to a ’70s-era James Bond movie with a landscape of exotic locations, a beautiful Russian spy, a steel-toothed villain, and a supercar that turned into a submarine. And it was an entirely authentic role, too – Cala di Volpe’s star turn in 1977’s The Spy Who Loved Me reflected this Sardinian hotel’s reputation as a legendary hotspot, adored by the likes of Prince Karim Aga Khan and fellow members of the international jet set.

Iconic Cala Di Volpe in Sardinia Designed by Jacques Couëlle
From the lobby, rooms and suites to the terraces overlooking the sea and the two restaurants – Le Grand and the Beefbar – architects Bruno Moinard and Claire Bétaille have restored the lustre of one of Sardinia’s most-loved hotels. The duo specialise in hotel refurbishments and, in recent years, have renovated Hôtel Plaza Athénée in Paris, the Four Seasons in London, and Hotel Eden in Rome.

The work of celebrated French architect Jacques Couëlle, whose free-form architecture is known for its organic forms and textures that blur the lines between nature, architecture and sculptural art, the hotel was first opened in 1963, and stood as a stark contrast to the angular modernism of the time. Entrusted with restoring this significant property in 2018 were Bruno Moinard and Claire Bétaille of interior design agency Moinard-Bétaille – a four-year project not without challenges and pressures. How does one do a restoration that’s sensitive to an architectural work of art, yet create something that meets the demands of the modern guest?

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For Moinard-Bétaille, keeping the soul of the hotel intact was critical. And that meant adapting to the empire of materials that reign supreme at Cala di Volpe: powerfully sculpted plaster, roughly textured wood, thick colourful glass, warm terracotta, textured fabrics, and custom-designed furniture. “Hotels have a soul, each its own,” observes Bruno, “and each has its own way of being inhabited. Each suite is distinctive, each bar is a piece of civilisation, each lobby is an introduction to a unique experience. Each hotel is a theatre, with its sets, its characters, its secrets – and sometimes its intrigues.”

The renovation started with the lobby, corridors, rooms and suites, and finished with the restaurants, terraces and outdoor spaces. “Everything must change for everything to remain the same,” says Claire, quoting a character from Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s 1958 novel Le Guépard (The Leopard ). “It was this idea that was our guide, and our ambition was simple: to remain faithful to Jacques Couëlle’s creativity, and to show that he is more modern than ever.”

To this end, the spectacular hotel lobby’s structural elements – the vaults, arcades, beams and massive pillars – were all faithfully restored, and were crucial to retaining Cala di Volpe’s mood and visual rhythm. As a counterpoint, the lighting was revised for more softness during the day and warmth in the evening, and a full range of furniture was created.

Another big focus for Moinard-Bétaille was the hotel’s corridors – key elements in a guest’s experience of any hotel as they move through it. The openings and windows were all covered with wooden bars, softening the light and creating tree-like shadows that fall across striped carpets concealing a scattering of little foxes – a mischievous reminder of the hotel’s name. (Cala di Volpe means “Cove of the Fox”.)

Given Couëlle’s organic, cave-like style, it’s no surprise that the rooms are all unique in shape, with rounded corners and half-partitions creating soft, intimate and peaceful spaces. Shiny, dark juniper wood creates a beautiful contrast against the matte white masonry, while large beds topped by a canopy of reeds enjoy sea views. Moinard-Bétaille also had specific furniture designed – a pebble-like rounded chest of drawers in solid walnut with bronze feet; glass-topped bronze side tables cast in the shape of seaweed; console desks fashioned in stone; and tables in solid local woods.

“We wanted to give this magical place back its lustre, but also its function in today’s world,” says Bruno. “Year after year, as the work progressed, we moulded Cala di Volpe into a coherent hotel concept, speaking a single language, writing a single story.”

The lasting impression of this unique and important piece of architecture is that nothing has really changed in appearance – yet everything has been refreshed, renovated and rearranged. Mission accomplished, as James would say…

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