THE wedding guests, like a trail of fresh confetti, thread their way through narrow cobbled streets lined with washing and bougainvillea. Just before they disappear through an archway, an old lady, clad in traditional black, beckons from the open doorway of her house. She shouts: "A kiss for the bella sposa!" The bride smilingly obliges, bending to her leathery cheek.
A scene regularly played out in the town of Alghero on Sardinia's north-west coast? Perhaps. However, this time the radiant bride is our daughter and the wedding the highlight of a special holiday, our first visit here.
Since our arrival on the Italian island a few days ago, we have been seduced by Alghero's charm as we stroll around ramparts blushing pink in the setting sun. The medieval citadel that dominates the town with its seven fortifying towers has a strong Catalan influence thanks to the island being under Spanish rule for 400 years.
Unpretentious and mellow, the town's long sandy beaches, historic centre, pretty harbour and wealth of water sports make it an excellent holiday base. After prosecco and antipasti overlooking the harbour, we head a few miles inland to the reception venue where many guests are staying,Agriturismo Vessus.
There are 46 agriturismo on the island and these converted rural homes offer a rich and authentic taste of the real Sardinia. (See Rural Sardinia )
Run by genial olive farmer Delio, Vessus has 11 tasteful guest rooms furnished in traditional Sardinian style set around a pool. Nestling in 35 acres of lush grounds and olive groves, accommodation is split between the farmhouse and a purpose-built two-storey guesthouse with verandas and amazing views over the Gulf of Alghero.
Delio exclaims at the beauty of the "sposa" as he ushers us along paths fragrant with lemon trees to tables set out in the shaded, cobbled courtyard. Here a typical Sardinian feast awaits, including roast suckling pig. Following the meal, dancing includes not just the guests but the cooks, waiters and even the excitable farm dog.At midnight, we light paper lanterns that rise above the trees into the still night air. It has been a magical day.
The next morning we prepare for the next stage of our holiday. The newlyweds are honeymooning in the far north-east, close to the Maddalena islands and the southern tip of Corsica. Our younger daughter and boyfriend have decided to sample "la dolce vita" on the famous Costa Smeralda, a stretch of beautiful coastline to the north-east. We wrinklies remain based in our well-appointed villa just outside Alghero, savouring its airy rooms with their tiled floors and vantage point overlooking the valley.
We hire a car and a spectacular one-hour drive south brings us to the ancient town of Bosa. In the labyrinthine medieval backstreets, we see women sitting outside their houses lace-making. A slightly longer drive north takes us to the magnificently situated Castelsardo. The old town alleyways are wonderful to wander and shop for crafted woven baskets before heading out to view "Elephant Rock", a dramatic elephant-shaped natural sculpture.
Closer to our base, we brave the 656 steps down to the Grotta di Nettuno, a magnificent series of stalagmite and stalactite caves. No visit to Sardinia is complete without a visit to one of the 7,000 or so "nuraghi" that dot the landscape like giant beehives. Constructed between 1800 and 500 BC, they served as both dwelling and fortress.
All too soon, our final evening arrives and we return to Vessus to buy some of Delio's olive oil. Knowledgeable and passionate about his island's many festivals, folklore and customs, he makes us realise how much more there is to explore and we determine to return one day. Anyone for an anniversary reunion?