Saturday 24 August 2013

Relais Parco Cavalonga, near Ragusa, Sicily

Clinging to a hillside south west of Ragusa and well placed for sightseeing and sunbathing, Relais Parco Cavalonga combines a smart hotel with eight self-catering apartments. Although each apartment is different, they generally have tastefully furnished bedrooms and living areas with sturdy wooden furniture, attractive floor tiles, neutral colours and plenty of space. There is reasonable air-con in the rooms, but no Wi-Fi - you need to go down to the reception for that (and it is a steep walk back up again). 

The master bedroom in the Olive Tree apartment

Unfortunately, the kitchens aren't always up to the standard of the rest of the accommodation - the fridge can be a bit dilapidated, while water can run off the surfaces next to the sinks and there may not be any plug. Although there is a washing machine and there may be a couple of tablets for the dish washer, you'll probably need to add tea towels and dish cloths to your shopping list - the nearest supermarket is about 10-15 minutes drive.   The Olive Tree apartment has a rather grim yard with a shaded table, but no view. There can be a lot of flies and you might prefer to eat inside on the large kitchen table. Still, this apartment does have a first floor terrace where you can watch the sun go down over the rolling olive groves, dry stone walls and cattle fields.

The evening view from the terrace in the Olive Tree apartment

On site, there are two decent swimming pools, one large, one small. The large one, which has an infinity edge, has plenty of sun loungers on the surrounding paving and lawn. There is also a yoga "sunset" terrace, "wellness treatments" and a short rough walking trail up the the rugged hillside opposite the hotel. In theory, you can also take out a couple of mountain bikes for free, but they are cheap, old and poorly maintained.

If you don't want to self-cater, you can have breakfast at the hotel (10 euros a head), which runs until 10am. If you get there too late, the handful of tables outside on the patio may be full and you will have to eat at one of the closely packed tables in the dining area, which has cool contemporary decor, striking modern art, air-con, Wi-Fi and no flies. You order coffees at the table - the cafe au lait, which comes in a tall glass and has a frothy head, certainly looks the part and has flavour. The buffet isn't massive, but the food is generally very good. The croissants filled with jam are warm and succulent, while the pale hard cheeses, peppered with chilli and pistachio, are delicious. There are also respectable cold meats, yoghurts, decent fruit and some cakes, plus bread to toast. You can get eggs made to order, but they cost extra. However, you may have to wait awhile as it can get a bit frenetic in August and as 10am approaches you might have to compete with your fellow guests to get the best titbits.
Relais Parco Cavalonga's cool, contemporary dining area
On some nights, you can also book in for dinner (25 euros a head plus drinks) on the pleasant large stone terrace surrounded by ancient, gnarled olive trees. But service can be painfully slow and haphazard, particularly if the kitchen decides to wait for some late diners.  Although it is a set menu, the four course meal can take two and a half hours.  Still, the chefs know how to cook. Firstly, the bread is good and water comes in plush bottles and is refreshingly cold. For a starter, you might get a tuna mousse on lettuce, which is fresh, but pretty simple. Next up could be ravioli in a seafood sauce. It is tasty, but the consistency may remind you of cat food.  For a main course, you may get dogfish with capers, olives and peppers. This is delicious, but the portion can be very small, giving you just a taster of what might have been. It is accompanied by a tangy pineapple and carrot salad, which isn't to everyone's taste. Desert may be a sweetened ricotta wrapped in a fine local chocolate biscuit (tubular cannoli), which is scrumptious. But your kids may be wreaking havoc by now and you'll be needing wine - a good choice is the CDC (a bottle is 14 euros) - it is really smooth and pleasant. 

The terrace where you can dine on some evenings

The kids menu (15 euros a head) might include some middling pasta in a tomato sauce with parmesan cheese, followed by veal in breadcrumbs with fat chips, which is full of flavour, but is a dry dish. For desert, they might have ice cream in a packet.  Although everyone is eating the same thing, the service can be chaotic with your dish arriving five minutes after those of your fellow diners. Relais Parco Cavalonga is almost an excellent place to both stay and eat. It is just let down by a few small, but important, details. 7/10