This year was the 40th anniversary of the yacht club, Costa Smeralda. What’s been your highlights during that period?

Two I would recollect, which was the first challenge for the America’s Cup. Italy had never challenged and as you know it’s a challenge done by clubs. So the yacht club, Costa Smeralda, was the first boat to challenge with Azzura [in 1983]. I think the other one was to win the Blue Ribbon of the Atlantic with Destriero [in 1992], the first large, high-speed, mono-hull.

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Interviewer: Shirley Roberston in Costa Smeralda

 

This is the town at the heart of Costa Smeralda, Porto Cervo. It’s built in the style of an Italian village but its streets are lined with designer shops. This town didn’t exist forty years ago. The Costa Smeralda, or Emerald Cost, on the Italian island of Sardinia was wild and isolated. It was one of the few corners of the Mediterranean still undeveloped until a group of businessmen decided to build a yacht club. It’s now a flourishing tourist destination with a busy marina. The project’s backer was His Highness the Aga Khan.

Shirley Roberston: When you visit Porto Cervo for the first time you imagine that its always been here, but that’s not always been the case.

His Highness the Aga Khan: No, when I started here there was absolutely nothing on the Costa Smeralda whatsoever. No house, no habitation of any sort.

SR: Did you come here on holiday?

AK: I came here on holiday. Actually I came here in the Winter of December 1960 and the Costa Smeralda in the Winter is not quite the same as in the Summer. And then I came down in the Summer of 1961 and started learning about the beauty of the area. The quality of the water was outstanding. The beaches were amazing. There was the scope to do everything and anything.

[Segue news-reel clip from 1962] With some business associates, the young Aga Khan spent a few crowded days in Sardinia where he looked over the beautiful Emerald Coast and decided to go ahead with a development programme. Karim was in a light hearted mood. He became Aga Khan on the death of his grandfather five years ago.

SR: What was your vision for Porto Cervo?

AK: Well it was to create a destination resort. Porto Cervo was selected by the planners as they bay where there would be a marina. Of course at that time there were absolutely no marine facilities at all. Nowhere where you could come to quay. Nowhere where you could get water. Nowhere where you could get food. It really was absolutely isolated.

Today the area has been transformed. Porto Cervo is a millionaire’s playground, attracting world leaders and big name movie stars on vacation. The Aga Khan’s personal interest in architecture ensures the low-rise development blended in with the landscape while the yacht club provides a thriving central attraction.

SR: This year was the 40th anniversary of the yacht club, Costa Smeralda. What’s been your highlights during that period?

AK: Two I would recollect, which was the first challenge for the America’s Cup. Italy had never challenged and as you know it’s a challenge done by clubs. So the yacht club, Costa Smeralda, was the first boat to challenge with Azzura [in 1983]. I think the other one was to win the Blue Ribbon of the Atlantic with Destriero [in 1992], the first large, high-speed, mono-hull.

SR: During the last forty years the needs of the yachting community has changed dramatically and the boats have got larger, there’s many more regattas. What’s your vision for the next forty years? How would you like to see the club develop?

AK: Well I hope that this area of the Mediterranean will remain yachting friendly because it is part of the leisure industry and therefore it has to remain yachting friendly which means managing infrastructure, managing the capacity to receive people well, look after them, meet their new needs. And there are new needs. So I think we’ll have to watch fairly carefully how we do that.

SR: I know now your passion for architecture is moving into other areas of the world.

AK: Yes. Well I think that in another domain of my life, I do a lot of work in the development field in the developing world and I think the yachting industry is becoming a global industry. I think the newly industrialised countries of Asia will become very, very important in the yachting industry. I think Africa offers many, many opportunities which are undiscovered and bigger and bigger yachts are being built. They’re global ocean going vessels, so I think the scale and nature of yachting will change.

The yacht club Costa Smeralda and the industry that has grown up around it have transformed the economy of this Italian island. If the same model can be transferred successfully to the developing world, new communities perhaps may, one day, enjoy the same prosperity as the inhabitants of this Emerald Coast.

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