A lot of great advice already offered up. I think Mel and Ned hit it on the nose regarding the quality and direction of the light.
Shoot during morning or late afternoon when you'll get better side-lighting because the sun is at a lower angle. Shooting during late afternoon for example, gives a warmth to your image that would be very attractive. Side lighting also adds some dimensional form to your subjects, rather than harsh frontal lighting which makes things flat.
Shooting during the harsh lighting conditions of midday completely desaturates an image and introduces atmospheric haze that further degradates quality (even more so given the distance between you and your subject). Use a polarizer as suggested, which works best when the sun is at 90 degrees to your subject, give or take. It should help with reflections for sure.
I would not over-complicate the metering for a scene like this - as Matrix will cover 98% of what you need. Just watch your histogram for highlight clipping and learn how to bracket. Starting out, if the scene exceeds the dynamic range of the camera, it is probably best to exclude the bright areas (like a bright sky for example), or just go back at a later time when the light is more tempered.