There’s nothing like a quick hop to Sicily for a spot of biotourism to reconnect with nature. Ramona Depares gets her spirits soothed with unending supplies of zero-kilometre home cooking under the shade of the olive groves at the Cambiocavallo Unesco Area & Resort.
The temperature across Sicily is hovering somewhere between 39 and 40 degrees. But not where I am sitting, in the shade of a huge olive tree, a slight breeze teasing a pretty orange butterfly that’s trying to flutter about its business. Sipping on some fresh pear juice, I’m not even breaking a sweat.
The location is the Cambiocavallo Unesco Area & Resort, located in the Zimmardo area of Sicily and perfectly placed for when you just want to grab your car and nip up for a short Sicilian break. Two hours snoozing on Virtu Ferries, and by early morning we are there, ready to take on a full weekend and catch the ferry back late Sunday evening, replete with good food and good cheer.
The resort is a 10-minute drive away from the port of Pozzallo. It’s not that far off from the town centre but, amazingly, the proliferation of greenery gives the feel of being deep in the countryside. And drops the temperature considerably, too.
The resort is based on the concept of biotourism, which involves making sustainable choices while allowing visitors to experience an environmental appreciation. At Cambiocavallo they do this without much fanfare, simply by offering the right choices. Such as an incredibly delicious breakfast that focuses on zero kilometre ingredients, so that visitors get to enjoy local produce as part of the buffet.
Thus, every morning, I make a pig of myself on the fresh ricotta, made on nearby farms, as are the fruits and veggies on offer. There is biological honey and a variety of homemade jams, pastries and pies fresh out of the on-site kitchen, warm bread and cheeses and cured meats from the Ragusa region (oh, the Ragusano cheese, I could happily feast on that every day).
Breakfast is had on the terrace, in the shade of trees and canopy, and because the resort is not overly-commercialised it is the sort of place where you can have a relaxed chat with other guests if you’re in the mood to be sociable. Or you can just hang out with just a book for company, and no-one will bother you.
After my first breakfast I ventured into the kitchen to enquire about that evening’s dinner potential at Zimma, the resort restaurant. Because everything is based on the concept of fresh and local, the restaurant does everything to order – two menus, meat and fish-based, are offered to guests every morning, with a vegetarian option available on request. Orders are taken in the morning, to ensure full freshness, homely cooking and zero waste. This ‘custom’ approach also means that the hotel is able to keep the prices extraordinarily low. The same four-course bonanza elsewhere would probably cost twice as much.
I make the most of this refreshing approach to hotel cooking by dining at the hotel on two nights. The first night, we’ve just returned from a day of sightseeing in nearby Modica. We are tired, famished and in no mood to dress up for strangers.
This is no place for those who expect to be handed mojitos and a steady stream of dance music blaring. It’s literally you and nature
Not a problem – the hotel offers guests the choice of eating at the restaurant or on the private terrace attached to their room. We opt for the latter, of course, and before too long the chilled wine of our choice is on the way, and sunset is turning the sky in a kaleidoscope of oranges and reds. A light breeze rustles the trees, and a huge, green lizard stops next to us to investigate. It really doesn’t get more peaceful than this.
The food arrives to our private table unobtrusively and with just the right intervals in between. It certainly isn’t a case of out of sight, out of mind at the Cambiocavallo. We haven’t felt this relaxed in… heavens know how long.
The food itself is inspired. I have opted for the fish-based menu, and it includes a beautiful medley of tuna carpaccio, breaded fish, pasta with fresh herbs and sea-bass and a highly surprising sweet ending, ricotta ice-cream that is truly exquisite. The dinner is the result of fresh, sustainable produce sourced from nearby farmers and fishermen, a decision that is vindicated by the intense flavour.
The next day dawns with another leisurely breakfast session, this time featuring fresh pancakes, before we set out for Vendicari. Five unspoilt beaches, protected of course; get ready to park a substantial way off (thankfully). My favourites were Eleoro and Marianelli – long stretches of unspoilt beach and water so clear that I suddenly understood how those ‘floating boat’ optical illusion photos were possible. Take water and sunscreen with you, as this is no place for those who expect to be handed mojitos and a steady stream of dance music blaring. It’s literally you and nature.
That evening, we choose to join the handful of other diners at the al fresco Zimma. Service is quiet and unobtrusive, the food as delicious as the night before. The only sounds are the quiet murmurings of soft conversation and the occasional hooting of an owl. After dinner we walk to the pool area, flop down on the deckchairs, finish the wine and gaze at the stars. It really doesn’t get much better.
Our last day in Sicily dawns with perfect summer weather. Part of the appeal of using Virtu Ferries is that we are scheduled to depart at 9.15pm in the evening, which gives us another full day of exploration. We’re still in holiday mode, but we really don’t want to over-exert ourselves, so spending the day at Marza Summer, the lido that is owned by the hotel itself, sounds like the perfect prospect.
Marza Summer is a 30-minute drive away from where we are staying – we get there expecting the Maltese-styled, overcrowded, over-loud commercial establishment. We couldn’t have been more wrong.
Even here, nature is respected with upcycled beach furniture, big olive trees lining the sandy beach, and a fragrant herb garden. The music is discreet and, best of all, the beach is kept accessible to the public. There is no pressure at all to rent an umbrella; should you choose to do so, it will be provided. We choose to, and a most chill day was spent swimming in the clear waters while enjoying the amenities of a lido that could teach a thing or two to our entrepreneurs. So refreshing to find an environmental angle to a successful business, and I certainly hope that Malta will find a way to emulate this.
Being our last day, it was easy to let it slip by lazing, enjoying the occasional drink and a yummy pizza from the Marza kitchen. Read, swim, nap, repeat. Perfection.
Towards 7pm we had our last shower and drink and regretfully drove off to Pozzallo, feeling super grateful at the ease of commute afforded by the Virtu Ferries connection. Another nap on the ferry, and before I knew it we were back home, already planning our next getaway to this beautiful land.
Virtu Ferries operate daily trips between Malta and Pozzallo and Pozzallo and Catania. Coach transfers between Pozzallo and Catania are possible, and check out their site for regular special offers. (http://www.virtuferries.com/)
Where we stayed: The 4-star Cambiocavallo Unesco-Area & Resort is a boutique hotel located in the countryside, just 4km from the beaches, a short drive away from Modica, Noto, Scicli and Ibla. (http://www.cambiocavallo.it/)