After years of travelling from one continent to another, the Englishman John Duncan Miller started thinking that he had seen all there was to see. A journalist of immense culture and brio, he had worked as the Washington correspondent for the prestigious Times newspaper of. Married to Madeleine Asser, daughter of the Governor of Bermuda, he had fought in the British Army in the Second World War and immediately afterwards he worked for the British Information Service, an office dedicated to the diffusion of British propaganda in the USA. When the thrills of journalism began to pall, he embarked on a new exciting adventure, becoming the World Bank’s representative in Europe, where his main responsibility was to keep tabs on how the Europeans were spending American money for the Reconstruction. He therefore bought a house in Paris but kept travelling, and indeed started to dabble in the wine trade, shipping it from France to Britain. A quintessential product of the British Empire – suave, cultured and powerful – Miller could afford to rest on his laurels. What else could he possibly desire? In the late 1950s, while living a life of relative leisure and absolute privilege, he discovered Sardinia. He visited the island on behalf of the World Bank to check on the dykes they were building on the southern side of the island. He satisfied himself that work was going well, and was ready to head back to Paris. But something happened that made him stay a little longer. A round-faced, pleasant, and jovial Italian politician appeared before him and introduced himself. His name was Giovanni Filigheddu, a native of Arzachena, and a regional councilor. To Miller, he seemed nothing special, until Filigheddu opened his mouth: “Welcome, Mr. Miller: would you prefer English or French?”. That question changed everything: Miller, Filigheddu, history. A few months later, in April 1959, Miller found himself in Sardinia again, this time in the north, and not for business. He had been invited by Filigheddu to visit the area that went by the name of the Monti di Mola at the time. To Miller, it seemed like an exotic adventure and one he considered worthy of his lineage. He flew from Rome to Alghero, while his Bentley travelled onto a ferry from Civitavecchia to Olbia. At the port, he found Filigheddu waiting for him with a Fiat 600. It was April 1959. With his son Timothy in tow, Miller followed Filigheddu to San Pantaleo and then onwards to Abbiadori. The roads were made of dirt and gravel; not a house on the horizon, not a soul to be seen, just the yellow of the Scotch broom among the Mediterranean scrub, and a handful of wild goats. A desert.
Miller began to wonder if he had been right to accept Filigheddu’s invitation. He had been promised a sea like none he had ever seen before, and there was no sea in sight. Rather disappointed, Miller drove on for a few hundred yards, until a landscape opened up before his eyes and stopped him in his tracks. Cala di Volpe, Mortorio, Romazzino, Capriccioli. Nothing would ever be the same again for him. Miller stayed there for hours, just looking at the sea, the beaches, the nature that surrounded him. Turquoise, cerulean blue, emerald green...in a state of sublime ecstasy, he wrote to one of his banker friends in London, Ronnie Grierson: “You must see what I have seen! You must come here! It is incredible: a sea like the Caribbean, only two hours from London!” Completely enraptured by the views, he let Filigheddu lead him to a fold of Abbiadori, where a lunch prepared specially for him was served: pasta in goat ragù, local pork, accompanied by a red wine produced at the Cala di Volpe vineyard. And there he made a new discovery, perhaps the funniest of all. A model of Englishness in his black tie, Miller managed to cover himself in spaghetti! He had no idea how to eat it, and ruined his shirt. Filigheddu patiently explained the correct technique to him, but by that point Miller had other things to worry about. Five months later, he gave the then mayor of Arzachena, Giorgino Filigheddu, cousin of Giovanni, the money to buy him 16 hectares of land in Capriccioli and La Celvia. There he built a villa, the first that those wild lands had ever known built by stranger’s hands. One year later, in July 1960, Grierson came out to that “Caribbean two hours from London”, accompanied by a group of British, German, French, Austrian, American and Canadian friends. They flew from Nice to Alghero, and then drove to Capriccioli. They roved the coast in their boats, took photos, drank the wine from Cala di Volpe, and went home.
Reunited in London, they arranged a meeting with yet more friends at London’s Dorchester Hotel. Among them was a handsome young man of 24 years, named Karim Aga Khan. He saw the photos, but said very little. He preferred actions to words. That day saw the birth of what the world would come to know as the Costa Smeralda.