Masseria degli Ulivi

near Noto, Sicily, Italy Book from

Reviewed by Lucy Ryan
A peaceful and remote hotel in the hills above gorgeous Noto, with a stunning pool and simple, rustic rooms
A short drive up a winding road to the hills above the stunning town of Noto brings you to the remote and incredibly tranquil 'Farmhouse of Olives'. You enter through a cool, dark archway where, on our visit, an old dog slept peacefully in the shade.

The 19th-century farmhouse is built around a baglio (courtyard), with an old olive tree providing shade. The reception, restaurant and breakfast room are off this central space, with the accommodation in newly built blocks across the lawn. Modern edges are softened by the dusky pink colour of the walls and the jasmine, honeysuckle and rose plants climbing up the sides. Across the lawn is the beautiful infinity pool: semi-circular and surrounded by sun loungers shaded by olive trees. Simple, comfy rooms have high beamed ceilings; some are triples or split-level quadruples, which will suit families. But it's the setting which makes it: you're in the depths of nature, with Sicily's most spectacular river gorge and one of her loveliest Baroque towns both on your doorstep.

Highs

  • Peaceful, rural location and an idyllic setting amongst olive and carob trees
  • Fantastic large infinity pool for those hot summer days (it can reach 40C in these parts)
  • A good base for exploring Noto (a Unesco World Heritage site), Siracusa and Ragusa, plus the gorge of Cava Grande and the sandy beaches of the Vendicari Nature Reserve
  • Some excellent Sicilian wines on offer in the cantina, plus a sophisticated dinner menu
  • Friendly, discreet service

Lows

  • The hotel is very remote and only accessible by car; there's no public transport up from Noto (8km / 15 minutes' drive away) and you'll want to arrive in daylight first time round
  • Internet access on request only, tech-junkies may struggle
  • Rooms - by our high standards - verge on the bland

Best time to go

The hotel is normally open from March to November. We visited in late May, when the colourful spring flowers were in full bloom. Sicily gets extremely hot in July and August, so it may be more pleasant to go in early or late summer, though all rooms have air conditioning. Autumn visits are also possible: local towns are less crowded, and the sea is often still warm enough for swimming.

Our top tips

Drive 10 minutes up the road - or hire bikes from the hotel - to explore the old hilltop fortress and ruined town of Noto Antica. Little survived the 1693 earthquake apart from the city walls, but the site and the spring flowers are stunning.

Great for...

Eco
Family
Foodie
Great Outdoors
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Boutique Hotel
  • 34
  • Restaurant (open daily for dinner)
  • All ages welcome
  • Closed: 7 Dec 2016 - 12 Apr 2017
  • Outdoor Pool
  • Spa Treatments
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
  • Tennis Court
  • Bicycles Available
Room: Double Room

Rooms

There are 34 uncluttered and spacious rooms - 24 doubles (12 Standard and 12 more spacious Superiors), 8 Triples and 2 Family Rooms, the latter being split over 2 levels. Initial impressions are of a cool, dark space with high timbered ceilings and a minimum of fuss. Furniture comes in plain dark wood in a typical rustic style; our room had a large chest of drawers and little else. The linen was crisp and cool, though the bed itself was too firm for our taste. Overall, the look is calm and natural, almost plain, with no frills but all the basic comforts: air conditioning, a small fridge, a safe, a TV (suspended rather unattractively in the top corner), and racks on the external stairways for drying swimming costumes.

The impeccable bathrooms are all really well fitted out, with plenty of space. They're neutral in tone and design, with walk-in showers and hairdryers, but no bathtubs.

All the rooms open onto an external staircase or patio area, so the lovely garden is never far away. The Superior rooms are in the best position overlooking the gardens, and come with an outdoor table and chairs to allow you to soak up this view.

Features include:

  • Air conditioning
  • Central heating
  • Cots Available
  • Hairdryer
  • Internet access
  • Minibar/fridge
  • Phone
  • Safe box
  • Terrace
  • Tv

Eating

It shows how much space there is at the masseria when breakfast can be served in an entirely different room to dinner. Both rooms come off the main courtyard, which has outdoor seating as well as a cantina for wine tasting. The pretty dining room also has a large terrace looking across the countryside.

The fairly limited but tasty dinner menu offers traditional Sicilian food presented in a sophisticated manner - perhaps a timbale of sardines and unusual little chickpea fritters. The wine list has a great range of Sicilian bottles.

Breakfast is a buffet of cereals, cold meats, cheeses and lots of sweet pastries that the Sicilians just love to start the day with. There was also cake and lots of fresh fruit when we visited, and coffee and tea were brought to our table. Since our visit, the hotel has also started serving lunch daily, so you could quite easily spend the whole day relaxing in the grounds.

For more variety, drive down to Noto (15 minutes away). We adored Il Cantuccio, tucked into tastefully lit, vaulted chambers, where you get impeccably presented nouveau Sicilian cuisine, including mini platters of local cheeses with pistachio sauce, fronds of grilled octopus, and a perfect ratatouille. We also loved the more down-to-earth fare and laid-back atmosphere at Trattoria Baglieri, also dubbed Crocifisso, being near the church of that name. Pasta portions are big, fresh and decidedly al dente, accompanied by fried fennel, artichokes or wild asparagus, washed down with decent Nero d'Avola, and followed by a deliciously melting chocolate mousse.

While you're in town, don't on any account miss Caffe Sicilia, which serves the island's best sweets at simple streetside tables on the main drag: creamy cassata and cannoli, iced coffee with whipped cream, moist cupcakes, and homemade gelati and granite bursting with the flavours of strawberry, almond and a dozen other fruits.

Features include:

  • Bar
  • Minibar/fridge
  • Restaurant
Eating:
Activity:

Activities

  • Explore the Unesco World Heritage town of Noto, one of the Baroque gems of Sicily and rebuilt from scratch after the 1693 earthquake. Take in ornate palazzi, honey-stoned churches (the duomo was recently restored) and the pedestrianised Corso Emmanuele (a people-watcher's paradise)

  • Further afield (1-1.5 hours) are the equally stunning Baroque towns of Modica (famous for its chocolate), Ragusa (home to Michelin-starred restaurants) and Scicli (walk up to the abandoned cathedral for fantastic rooftop views)

  • You're well placed for a day trip to Siracusa, once the most important city in the Mediterranean and settled for over 2,000 years. Its old town (Ortigia) sits on a sea-washed spur, with a restored cathedral bearing traces of every passing culture, and there's a Greek theatre in the newer town

  • A must-see for hikers is the spectacular Cava Grande gorge, just 5km from the hotel. It's 300m deep and bissected by an emerald river which forms green pools. To escape the weekend crowds, turn left when you reach the valley floor and picnic on the smooth-rocked banks

  • The pretty town of Palazzolo Acreide, famous for its Greek theatre, is also nearby (20km away)

  • Drive down to the coast and check out some of the beautiful beaches; the nearest is Lido di Noto, 16km away, but far lovelier are the secluded coves of the Vendicari Nature Reserve, particularly Calamosche and Eloro (both a 15-minute walk from the road)

  • There's great birdwatching in the wetlands around Vendicari, including flamingos, herons, spoonbills and collared pratincoles

  • Other activities include diving courses in Siracusa, and horse riding around Noto

  • Or just laze around the masseria's gorgeous pool, enjoying the view and the peaceful atmosphere

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Birdwatching
  • Cycling
  • Hiking
  • Historical sites
  • Horse-riding
  • Museums / galleries
  • Plantlife / flora
  • Scuba diving
  • Scuba diving courses
  • Shopping / markets
  • Swimming
  • Tennis
  • Wine tasting

Kids

Children are welcome in both the hotel and the restaurant. The larger rooms cater well for families and our very young children enjoyed the pool, meeting the hotel's friendly dogs, and running around in the garden. Cots and highchairs are available, and babysitters can be organised on request.

Family friendly accommodation:

Triple Rooms (1 double bed and 1 single bed) and Family Rooms (1 double bed and 2 single beds) are available; the latter are split over 2 levels. Cots can be added to all rooms for a small charge. Note that all rooms have showers only (no bathtubs).

Babysitting:

Babysitting is available on request.

Baby equipment:

  • Cots
  • Highchairs

Remember  baby and child equipment may be limited or need pre-booking

Kid Friendly:

Our guests' ratings...

9/
Rooms
9/
Food
8/
Service
8/
Value
8/
Overall

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