In the Zone
From Sardinia to Costa Rica, people aren’t just living longer, they are living better.

In a series of National Geographic articles, journalist and New York Times best-selling author Dan Buettner identified five regions across the globe where people live the longest. “Here is the unifying principle of Blue Zones,” says Buettner, whose 2019 book release, The Blue Zones Kitchen: 100 Recipes to Live to 100, shares dishes from villagers in these special regions. “In America, we think about health as something we pursue—find a good diet or exercise program, muster up the discipline, and go after it. In Blue Zones, instead, longevity ensues because people live in the right environment.” In other words, wellness is the way of life. Blue Zones, as Buettner contends, cannot be created and there are—and likely always will be—only five in the world.

Mysteriously, they exist in totally distinct parts of the world: Italy, Greece, Costa Rica, Japan, and California. Buettner conducted in-person verification of ages and statistics and recruited help from medical researchers, anthropologists, demographers, and epidemiologists to determine what exactly it is about the lifestyles in these varied places that impacts longevity. “We know that about 20 percent of how long you live is dictated by genes; the other 80 percent has to be explained by something else,” he asserts. “If you find people who have achieved the desired outcome in five disparate areas of the world, you get a pretty good prescriptive for longevity.”

With the Blue Zones’ commonalities in mind, it is possible to improve conditions in a given place. “You can’t become a Blue Zone by slapping the name on your spa,” Buettner says, “but by rigorously changing an environment, so that the healthy choice is unavoidable, you can get closer and become ‘Blue Zones certified.’” Buettner’s team at his aptly named company, Blue Zones (, works with communities, for example, to make infrastructure adjustments that encourage locals to live healthier, longer lives. In Southern California’s Beach Cities, Blue Zones ambassadors worked with restaurants to include plant-based options, made fruits and vegetables more accessible in schools, and collaborated with lawmakers to create policies around tobacco. After around 90 such changes were implemented, the obesity rate dropped by 19 percent in a single year.

In Sardinia, luxury resort Hotel Cala di Volpe ( on the Costa Smeralda has embraced its proximity to a Blue Zone—encompassing six matriarchal highland villages with a remarkable number of locals living beyond the age of 100. “The Blue Zones concept is just a modern definition for our existing traditions,” says Cala di Volpe General Manager Franco Mulas, who was born and raised on the island and returned after making a career throughout Europe. “Our longevity is a result of our lifestyle: good food, good wine, and connection with people and surrounding nature.”

Costa Smeralda, which has become a kind of Hamptons of Italy, is evolving into more than a destination where beautiful people descend with Prada and Gucci in tow. At the center of it all is the understated, pink-and-cream terra-cotta Cala di Volpe that rambles sun-bleached and faded like an old photograph. Recently, the hotel, which prizes impeccable service above all, has been attracting visitors with its newest holistic concept. While guests at Cala di Volpe aren’t likely to abandon their jet-setting ways for a life of shepherding, during their stays they are surrounded by options that are healthy in the true sense of the word. Visitors aren’t asked to count calories or enroll in unforgiving exercise classes; it’s about living the good life in a pure setting and with the least possible amount of stress.

Many of the beneficial offerings at Cala di Volpe—and its Costa Smeralda sister properties, Hotel Pitrizza and Hotel Romazzino—are simply mainstays of Sardinian culture. Guests sip local Cannonau reds (which have about three times more “artery-scrubbing” flavonoids than other wines), nibble omega-3-packed yogurt and cheese from local sheep and goats, breathe unpolluted air, and relax and laugh with friends—on boat trips, walks, and around outdoor tables—releasing anxiety and making authentic connections. New wellness options make it simple for guests to make positive choices: In addition to taking dips in the region’s largest seawater pool and traversing nearby hikes with spectacular views, visitors can order Equilibrium menu items across the hotel’s restaurants, curated by best-selling British author and celebrity nutritionist Amanda Hamilton.

“Much of the evidence for the incredible health statistics of the local population in Sardinia involves eating a plant-based, whole foods diet alongside locally sourced meat and fish of the highest quality,” Hamilton explains. “My nutrition program honors this tradition and yet innovates with ingredients that will inspire our guests.” Zucchini spaghetti, mountain honey and myrtle ice cream, personalized smoothies and juices, and low-carb, gluten-free coconut muffins are available alongside her personal favorite: stuffed courgette flowers with local soft goat cheese and salsa verde sourced from the hotel’s organic garden.

An organic farm with its goats and hens, Matsuhisa restaurant, and a Shiseido Spa, as well as redone guest rooms with sustainable design elements, define understated luxury. The fare at Chef Nobuyuki Matsuhisa’s namesake concept contributes to an enriching diet that requires no sacrifice. Signature menu items are fish- and vegetable-forward with the integration of local delicacies like “caviar bottarga” (salted and sun-dried gray mullet roe—an acquired taste). Signature treatments at the Shiseido Spa include Well-Being and Aromatherapy massages, which integrate essential oils from native plants like myrtle and rosemary. Just as the hotel’s newly renovated guest rooms honor its original fishing village–inspired motif with reimagined natural elements, the spa’s design integrates marble from Orosei, Sardinian granite, and local repurposed juniper.

Cala di Volpe is not the only hotel promoting that it is Blue Zone−adjacent. In fact, as the designation gains popularity, demand increases for destinations and retreats that teach the tenets and ease of making healthy choices. Borgo Egnazia (, in the Apulian region of Southern Italy on the Adriatic Sea, is the first hotel to offer Blue Zones Retreats certified by the Blue Zones Institute. “Borgo Egnazia has always had a strong commitment to delivering happiness to people, whether we are talking about staff or guests,” says owner Aldo Melpignano. “We wanted to implement a deeper, science-based approach to deliver meaningful well-being experiences.” Since September 2019, the property has offered four- or five-day Blue Zones retreats that teach—and practice—the lessons of longevity. —Nora Zelevansky