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Sailing the emerald waters of Sardinia

By Susannah Palk for CNN
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Sardinia is the second-largest island in the Mediterranean
  • A summer playground for the rich and famous, it's famed for it's glitzy Costa Smeralda
  • The island boasts stunning beaches and a plethora of underwater caves for diving fans

(CNN) -- A summer playground for Hollywood a-listers, European elites as well as us ordinary mortals, the Italian island of Sardinia is the place to go for sea, sun and celebrities.

Boasting azure blue waters, white sandy beaches and some of Europe's most exclusive hotels, it's no wonder the rich and fabulous flock to the island.

The second-largest island in the Mediterranean -- with over 2,000 kilometers of coastline -- Sardinia has something for everyone, whether you're a sun worshipping lounge lizard or an adventure-seeking sailor.

With the help of Robert Andrews, author of "The Rough Guide to Sardinia," MainSail have compiled some of Sardinia's best water-side attractions.

Costa Smeralda

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If you're looking for glamour then look no further than the Costa Smeralda. This small, exclusive stretch of coast was developed by the Aga Kahn, head of the world's Ismaili Muslims, in the 60s and has since become a millionaire's paradise.

Unlike other famous coastlines, strict planning laws have ensured the coast has maintained its natural beauty, with its numerous million-dollar villas taking a back seat to the area's stunning granite coastline.

The glitzy port town of Porto Cervo is considered the capital of the Costa Smeralda. A maze of designer shops, boutique hotels and swanky bars it is also home to the infamous nightclub "Billionaires," owned by Italian businessman Flavio Briatore.

Staying in one of the many villas or hotels along this stretch of coast may cost you a pretty penny, but its beaches are free. Some of the more popular include Liscia Rujia, the idyllic sandy cove of Spiaggia del Principe and the emerald waters of Capriccioli.

The Maddalena archipelago

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An archipelago of seven islands and 40 islets, the only way to explore this area is by boat.

Once the domain of pirates, the archipelago is now a national park home to all manner of sea life, including dolphins.

With only two of its seven islands inhabited, this is an area of astounding natural beauty, each island offering a plethora of well-protected coves and hidden bays, boasting waters so clear you'd think you'd landed in a tourist brochure.

Costa Verde

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Wild, unspoilt and utterly beautiful, Sardinia's Costa Verde is the antithesis of the glitzy Costa Smerealda.

Once a hub for lead and zinc mining, nature has reclaimed much of the landscape, leaving nothing but a few ghost towns.

Bordered by mountains and dotted with wind-sculpted bushes, the "Green Coast," has some of Sardinia's most stunning and untouched beaches. The golden beach of Scivu and the dune-backed Piscina being among the highlights.

Alghero

With its wharf situated below the town's historic medieval center, Alghero is a popular starting-off point for many tourists.

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Although the town itself is crowded during the summer months, the crystal-clear waters around Alghero are the main attraction, renowned for their underwater caves and grottos.

The dramatic cape of Capo Caccia is popular with divers, with its sheer limestone cliffs protecting a labyrinth of caves, including the famous Grotta di Nettuno (Neptune's grotto), an underground wonderland of stalactites.

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Other caves boast an astounding array of colorful fish and sea plants, the most spectacular of these include the Grotta di Ricami and Grotta di Nereo.

Further north of the cape lies the tranquil blue waters of the bay of Porto Conte. Protected by high cliffs its small inlets are a natural oasis for all manner of sea life.