Cambiocavallo

near Pozzallo, Sicily, Italy Book from Eur79

Reviewed by Ros Belford
Minimalist hotel with pool occupying an 18th-century post house in the deep south, between the sea and the Baroque town of Modica
Cambiocavallo - literally ‘change of horses’, a reference to its 18th-century beginnings as a post house - is an intimate 8-room hotel, whose original limestone walls alternate with bold contemporary washes of lavender and raspberry. It lies on an agricultural plain in the deep south of Sicily, a fascinating zone of dramatic limestone gorges, magnificent Baroque towns and endless sandy beaches thrashed by breakers.

Hot dry winds make Africa seem but a breath away, a feeling reinforced by cool minimalist rooms, shady bamboo-roofed terraces, geometric Arabian gardens and a figure-of-eight pool whose water stays warm well into the night. The hotel, designed and owned by local architects who are new to the hospitality business, was in its infancy when we visited, but charming staff and a genuine desire to make your stay as comfortable as possible augured well. It would suit couples wanting a quiet retreat from which to explore the area, its fine restaurants and its beaches.

Highs

  • High-spec bedrooms with the comfiest pillows we've seen in Sicily
  • Charming Italian, French and American staff, who do their job with the air of hosts
  • Exquisite decorative touches - a leaf of prickly pear in a cubic vase, a waist-high glass wedge full of almonds - root the hotel firmly in its environment
  • Breakfast is brought to your terrace at no charge - a lovely start to the day
  • There are 2 Blue Flag beaches at Pozzallo, 5km from the hotel, with golden sands and clear seas (and some ugly development)

Lows

  • During our visit, breakfast was beautifully styled but included commercial cakes and disappointing fruit, though the team assure us that the offerings have since been improved
  • We're yet to sample the on request dinners, and you'll have to drive to dine out in nearby Modica or Pozzallo
  • There can be smells of silage from the nearby fields
  • Lack of room numbers on doors may be taking minimalism too far!
  • There were some minor niggles in our room

Best time to go

Spring and autumn are the best times to go, although the weather can also be splendid in winter. Summer can be incredibly hot in these parts, and local beaches get very busy. The Modica chocolate festival is held annually in March/April or October/November, and the honey festival at Sortino is in October.

Our top tips

You can easily combine a stay here with a trip to Malta: Virtu Ferries makes the 90-minute crossing from Pozzallo most days in summer.

Great for...

Beach
Family
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Boutique Hotel
  • 8
  • Breakfast (+ other meals on request)
  • All ages welcome
  • Closed: 1 Nov 2015 - 29 Feb 2016
  • Outdoor Pool
  • Spa Treatments
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
  • Concierge Service
Room:

Rooms

The suites, up a flight of steps on the first floor of the main house, have minimalist four-poster beds in oak-wenge, laid with white sheets and perhaps the most comfortable pillows in Sicily, set at a stylish diagonal.

The rooms, in the former stables, have the same pillows and similarly stylish double or twin beds, with an altar-like table that slides up for anyone who wants breakfast in bed. Wardrobes are open with hanging canvas shelves, the idea being that guests can see instantly whether or not they have left anything behind. Ceilings are made of oak beams and bamboo, traditional in this part of Sicily. Sliding glass doors open onto terraces decked with iroco wood and roofed with bamboo, looking out over the palms and orange trees of the geometric garden to the limestone-fringed pool. Room 3 - the largest - is adapted for disabled guests.

Bathrooms, with fittings by Dolomite, have floors of pietra pece, a locally found limestone that is the colour of dark chocolate and streaked with gold. The suites have air-blown Jacuzzis, rooms 1 and 2 have baths, and the others have large square-headed showers.

We loved the décor and slept very well, but there were a couple of minor niggles: the eye-socket taps, into which you have to insert your thumb and swivel, are tricky to operate and may result in an inadvertent shower; and there was a clicking sound in our bathroom all through the night.

Features include:

  • Air conditioning
  • Cots Available
  • Extra beds
  • Hairdryer
  • Internet access
  • Internet access
  • Phone
  • Satellite tv
  • Terrace

Eating

Breakfast is exquisitely styled on a high raspberry-red table set with mink and taupe linen, so the poor choice of fruit, supermarket cakes and frozen croissants comes as something of a disappointment in a region famed for its patisserie and orchards. There are, however, delicious Ragusana cheeses for those who like a savoury breakfast, as well as sliced bread ready to toast, local honey (for which the nearby Hyblaean hills are famous), 3 kinds of jam, and sliced hams and salamis.

The snack and light lunch menu largely consists of pasta dishes, salads, and sandwiches like toasted ham and cheese, plus fruit, cakes, salami and cheese. You're also welcome to stock up on local fruit, cheeses and cold cuts and take a picnic lunch on your terrace.

Dinner is available if requested in advance (at breakfast or before arrival), expect a simple, daily changing menu of meat and fish dishes, with ingredients being largely seasonal and sourced locally.

Otherwise you should be prepared to drive to Pozzallo (about 10 minutes) or Modica (20 minutes), or one of the other nearby towns. Recommended restaurants include Torre d'Oriente and the rustic Osteria dei Sapori Perduti in Modica, Michelin-starred Duomo and Locanda Don Serafino in Ragusa, La Giara in Portopalo, Taverna La Cialoma in Marzamemi, and Crocifisso in Noto.

Features include:

  • Bar
  • Breakfast
  • Dinner by arrangement
  • Light meals
Eating:
Activity:

Activities

  • Visit the Unesco-listed Baroque towns of Modica, Ragusa, Noto, Ispica and Scicli, all within about half an hour's drive; the cathedral at Noto was recently and beautifully restored, with the help of Cambiocavallo's architect owners

  • Laze on sandy beaches such as 12km-long Santa Maria del Focallo near Ispica or one of the 2 Blue Flag beaches near Pozzallo (don't plan on spending much time in Pozzallo itself: it's an unprepossessing, semi-industrial port town). At low tide, brave the surf and walk out to the Isola dei Correnti at Portopalo, where the Ionian Sea meets the Strait of Sicily

  • Eat fresh fish at Taverna La Cialoma in pretty Marzamemi, surrounded by the crumbling buildings of the ancient tuna fishery

  • Walk through the nature reserves of Fiume Irminio and Vendicari, for bird-watching and unspoilt sandy beaches

  • Hike along the dramatic limestone gorge of Cava d’Ispica and see the cave dwellings and churches of the Parco Forza near Ispica

  • Go on a tasting tour of the chocolate shops in Modica, or come for the annual chocolate festival (in March/April or October/November; dates vary)

  • Or visit the honey festival at Sortino, held every October

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Birdwatching
  • Boat trips
  • Hiking
  • Historical sites
  • Museums / galleries
  • Plantlife / flora
  • Shopping / markets
  • Swimming
  • Wine tasting

Kids

Children are welcome, though the peaceful ambiance means parents of young children might feel self-conscious about the amount of noise they make. The grounds are safe, as cars are parked outside and the gates are locked, but the pool has no shallow end. Extra beds and baby cots can be added to most rooms, and the suites have sofabeds.

Family friendly accommodation:

Cots Available, Extra Beds Available

Kid Friendly:

Our guests' ratings...

9/
Rooms
9/
Food
10/
Service
9/
Value
9/
Overall

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