22 March 2016

Resort Borgo San Rocco, Savoca - Italy Heaven review

I stayed in Savoca with my parents for one night at the end of a trip to Sicily. The Borgo San Rocco resort (and the great guest reviews I'd read online) was as much of an attraction as the village itself.

We arranged a local taxi through the hotel for our arrival from Taormina and departure for Catania Airport. For three of us this was a cost-effective way of avoiding the hassle of public transport. The hotel's helpfulness over the phone was a foretaste of the customer service we'd receive in person.

Our taxi climbed into Savoca and followed the narrow hillside lane leading to the hotel resort. We knew we'd done the right thing to book the hotel as soon as we stepped out of the taxi and saw the panoramic setting, the well-kept hotel building and its little tables outside in the sun.

The hotel staff seemed genuinely delighted to see us and gave us a warm and friendly welcome and the offer of a drink. The main hotel building houses the reception, a bar area and the dining/breakfast room - plus a remarkable connecting corridor cut from the rocky hillside. We'd arrived in the morning so only one of our rooms was ready; we left our baggage and after a helpful introductory chat with the receptionist we headed out to explore.

Although we only stayed at the hotel for one night, the staff were extremely friendly, warm and helpful. They insisted that all their guests were like family, and when we left we all kissed goodbye with real feelings of friendship. During our stay I saw cheerful staff lending a hand at all kinds of tasks, and even carrying a guest's baby around to be introduced.

The hotel is a 'scattered' resort with its rooms distributed among restored village homes in a little hamlet along the hillside from the main part of the village of Savoca. Seeing the ruinous state of many Savoca houses, it was good to think that here tourism - managed carefully - can actually do some good. The hotel was very restrained in style, and its buildings restored sympathetically, so its impact seemed very positive for the area.

Our two double rooms were in the same row of converted cottages. Accessed directly from the little access lane, both were comfortable, classic hotel rooms with modern comforts. We had little balconies overlooking the hillside, with the hotel swimming pool below and green hills across the valley.

My room was a decent size and very standard in style, with a wooden floor and good-quality furnishings including a big wardrobe, fridge unit, bedside cabinets, a suitcase stand, mirror and coat hooks (I am always delighted to find coat hooks; they're very rare in Italian hotels). The smart bathroom featured a good rainfall shower and good-quality toiletries including an olive oil shower gel. There was air-conditioning for cooling or lowering the room's temperature, and a welcome message plus chocolates. I had no phone signal in the room, probably because of the steep hillside location.

Savoca's village square was a pleasant stroll from the hotel; lanes run in both directions around the little hilltop behind the hotel so exploring the village made a good and picturesque circuit. With churches, a little museum, a crypt, village lanes and a hilltop to explore, there's enough to occupy the visitor for a day in Savoca.

The hotel's views, outdoor tables and swimming pool also offer a great base for whiling away comfortable hours. We were visiting at the end of the summer season, but I made time for a short hour by the pool in the afternoon before the sun moved behind the hilltop and cast the area into shadow. The pool is situated on a grassy plateau beneath the hotel; there are steps or a steep lane down. The walk only takes a couple of minutes and I didn't find it a problem, but you'd probably want to take all your books, sun lotions etc. so you won't be having to climb up and down on a hot day.

We ate dinner in the hotel in the evening, which began with a free tasting of sparkling wine. Food was in refined portions and elegantly presented; not cheap but not extortionately priced either, and very good quality. The menu was short and seasonal, focussing on local ingredients. I enjoyed cauliflower with goats' cheese fondue, ravioli with aubergine and panna cotta. I'm not usually a fan of cauliflower but the chef here had produced a delicious dish; we all thought the entire meal was excellent. Service was slow, but it was explained that one of the waiters was at home ill.

During the meal we became acquainted with the hotel's owner and unique selling point, Vittorio. A wonderful character to whom all guests are personal friends, he moved around the dining room chatting at each table. With a host of interesting anecdotes, life philosophy and local history to share, he was also enthusiastic and generous about offering samples of local wine, cheese and desserts. At one point during dinner he produced a guitar for another guest, and a small assortment of guests moved out onto the terrace for a song and some more chat.

Breakfast was a generous buffet  which included meat and cheese slices, cereals, fresh fruit juices, teas, local fresh bread, croissants, little pastries, a choice of cakes, eggs, fresh fruit, locally-produced jam and cappuccino prepared on request.

We were leaving in the afternoon, but the delights of the hotel had not finished. Vittorio offered to do one of his spaghetti-making demonstrations at lunchtime (a popular event which features in many guest reviews). This impromptu entertainment took place in the spotless hotel kitchen, for us and a newly-arrived pair of guests. Vittorio made a delicious spaghetti meal with tomatoes, olives and garlic (fish were kindly omitted when he learned I was vegetarian). It was fascinating to watch and very enjoyable to eat, served up with wine at a long table with several other guests who'd turned up. Having learned from Vittorio's cooking, I now prepare spaghetti alla Vittorio at home from time to time.  Hopefully the hotel's budget allows for its host's generosity with food and wine; it certainly ought to be classed as highly successful customer relations.

We loved the Borgo San Rocco's blend of simple elegance and warm conviviality. My parents - frequent travellers - have said several times that the hotel is one of the most special they've visited, and how charmed they were by Vittorio. I've been staying in Italian hotels for many years and I would agree that this is one of the best I've encountered. Savoca is a lovely destination - authentic, simple, picturesque - and the hotel is very much in keeping with its setting. If you're looking for a special place to stay in Sicily, or a break during a touring holiday, this is a great place to relax, enjoy yourselves and recharge your batteries.

> Resort Borgo San Rocco
> More about Savoca

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