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First impression: A cheap but chic contemporary hotel with outstanding countryside views.
Staff: Conscientious and keen to share their passion for the local food, wine and olive oil.
Food and drink: Creative spins on traditional Sicilian and local Hyblean dishes, in which the hotel’s award-winning olive oil takes centre stage.
Bed and bath: Mainstream-modern in style but delightfully comfortable and hi-tech.
The crowd: European road trippers exploring the coast in convertibles, families oscillating between the hotel’s self-catering format and restaurant service.
Sustainable credentials: Relais Chiaramonte’s olives are harvested manually (to avoid traumatising the trees) and fertilised organically.
In a nutshell: An affordable gem, with jaw-dropping views and an exciting menu.
Set the scene
What this Ragusan hotel lacks in old-world charm (the word estate could be misleading here), it makes up for in pretty views – on clear days you can see Malta across the strait – and bold foodie ambitions. The near-brutalist building may not satisfy romantic expectations of baroque façades and frescoed ceilings, but its functional contemporary style and upbeat sensibility feel perfectly Italian. Every facet of the place is choreographed around those breath-taking views: rooms seem to lean over the hotel’s olive groves and carob trees and on across the neatly groomed corn fields of the Irminio valley which trails off to meet the sea. A long pool (ideal for morning lengths) frames these greens in vivid blue and candle-lit suppers are warmed by the breeze from the Hyblean coast.
What’s the story?
An Italian gentleman in the field of construction bought this pretty patch in the Ragusan countryside with the intention of turning it into an olive farm. Having decided its views were too special for the olive trees alone, he set about building a hotel which opened in 2019. The format emulates that of a vineyard stay, with tours and tastings. Relais Chiaramonte’s own olive oil (milled on site from 16,000 olive trees) drives the menu, alongside a few playful renditions of regional classics.
What can we expect from our room?
All 12 rooms have a pocket-sized kitchen, ideal when those five-course suppers become more daunting than spoiling. Go for the double suites with lush countryside views; one on the second floor has a particularly large terrace for more private sunbathing and sundowners. Faux-mahogany canopy beds dominate the larger rooms, neatly framed by suspended wooden reading lights and metal tray tables, and there’s a sitting room with a sofa bed, kitchenette and dining table. While standard rooms are on a lower level and thus have less lofty views, the space and large double bed are good value (particularly for this region of Sicily). The style is pleasantly minimalist – a consistent modern interpretation of rustic throughout – and while certainly not Ikea, to describe it as a design-led hotel would be misleading.
What can we expect from the food and drink?
Chef Fabio Ulcano uses the estate’s olive oil in his recipes like a potter uses clay. It is the cornerstone of the menu and is sampled as rigorously as wine with warm, home-baked breads elevating the habitual prelude. Contemporary glassware and cutlery match the hotel’s modernist tilt. Ulcano works imaginative spins on simple dishes, all odes to Ragusan favourites: cinnamon-spiced seafood antipasti includes citrus-flavoured red lobster tartare and fermented caper leaves; spaghetti aglio with sea urchin arrives with lashings of oil and chilli and fresh vegetables from the garden, a beef tenderloin is stuffed with tangerine, chocolate and (of course) olive oil for main.
Expect requests for French wines to be answered with Sicilian iterations of the grape. The hotel’s hip wine bar stocks an encyclopaedia of the island terroir, from intensely plummy reds such as Donnafugata’s Tancredi to fresh, chalky whites such as Le Casematte’s Peloro Bianco from Messina. For pudding there are the same creative spins on the classics: a crispy cannoli stuffed with lightly whipped ricotta, as well as the usual trimmings; miniature glazed fancies of Sicilian lemon curd and whipped cream. The breakfast buffet is another dolce showcase of pastries and fruit, plus ham and cheese, all remarkable given the reasonable room prices.
Anything to say about the service?
The service, particularly in the restaurant, feels well-oiled despite the property’s relatively recent arrival on the scene. Hotel manager Daniel and his team impart their olive oil and wine knowledge as gladly as they cater to niche requests from guests. As locals, their passion for the Ragusa region and the hotel itself feels genuine.
What sort of person comes here?
Young European couples chasing the Sicilian road-trip dream, young families relaxing by the pool without the behavioural pressures of a grande dame hotel, and older couples seeking a foodie stop-off before pushing on to the baroque towns of south-east Sicily.
What to do while you’re here
Try the four types of olive oil at the mill, a 300-metre walk from the main hotel, with one of the passionate and knowledgeable staff. Those visiting during the harvest period in September can roll up their linen sleeves and participate in olive picking (there are seven types at Relais Chiaramonte which are milled into four types of olive oil, one of which has won awards). A QR code maps out a fragrant stroll through the estate’s groves, lined with rosemary, but no one is judging if afternoons are whiled away by the pool with a book.
Anything we missed?
Relais Chiaramonte began building a separate party barn before lockdown struck, and while it’s now up and running for breakfast, the plants have yet to twist and turn around its fairly unsightly metal roof and girders. And it’s worth noting that the sat-nav will take you to Tenuta Chiaramonte, but you must turn in at the hotel, not the olive mill.
Anything you’d change?
The Nineties club classics were an unwelcome accompaniment to a smart three-course supper over romantic views from the terrace but this is easily adjusted. The rooms are not brilliantly soundproofed so it’s worth checking if there are events on when booking. And the road is very close to the hotel, so pack a pair of headphones for afternoon naps by the pool (this format is not unusual in Sicily and it’s probably keeping costs down for that view).
A final note: is it worth it?
For what you’re getting – a contemporary room with modern comforts, knockout countryside views, a good-looking pool and a tasty, locally charged breakfast – it’s absolutely worth it. For those doing Sicily on a budget or a high-low adventure through the island, Relais Chiaramonte is an ideal launchpad for exploring the baroque towns of the south east before retreating to a cooler, less touristy bolthole for Aperols on the terrace.
Address: Relais Chiaramonte, Contrada Gisolfo, SP81, Km 7, 97100 Ragusa RG, Italy
Telephone: +39 0932 651652
Price: Doubles from £62
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