Positano & beyond | Ravello
It would have been sinful to take the 45 minute long boat journey all the way from Positano to Amalfi only to miss the real jewel of the Amalfi Coast to be found a mere 5km behind the town. Containing some of the most luxurious of the coast’s hotels, playing host to a string of celebrities past and present from DH Lawrence and Humphrey Bogart, to Salvador Dali and Leonardo DiCaprio, and boasting its own internationally renowned arts festival extending from June until the early Autumn each year, the town of Ravello is an unmissable high point of the Amalfi experience.
And high it really is. For the mere 5km distance of which I have alluded does not take into account the fact that Ravello is a spectacular 1,200ft above sea level, set along a perfectly situated mountain ridge, and that the journey to get there takes in some of the most dizzyingly vertiginous hairpin bends of all the roads on the coast. Yet even though many a visitor will arrive in the town with their nails bitten down halfway closer to their cuticles, the views that will greet you, and remain in sight from almost every aspect in Ravello are well worth the stomach flips. Glittering, stunning vistas down to the coast around Salerno and beyond make these views some of, if not the most stunning anywhere in Italy.
Ravello’s Duomo and the stunning views it’s famed for
We and a vast number of other tourists crammed somewhat hazardously into the once-an-hour bus from Amalfi to Ravello and arrived in the town around 40 stomach-churning minutes later. Knowing that Ravello contains two of the most stunning gardens in the Amalfi region, we headed straight for the first – the Villa Rufolo, former villa/palace of the wealthy Rufolo family whose gardens are so picture-perfect that Wagner modeled the magical gardens in his opera Parsifal on them. Owing to the recent start of Ravello’s arts festival, much of these gardens was taken up with the construction of a temporary auditorium and stage benefiting from the very best of the jaw-dropping views (I wonder how anyone concentrates on the performers with these views behind them). However there were still sufficient treats in store in this garden to make us realise quite why the gardens had provided such inspiration to Wagner and many others before and after him.
The Villa Rufolo
But in retrospect, I can see that the Villa Rufolo was only the appetizer of the great banquet which was to follow – the incredible Villa Cimbrone. Created in the “English style” by Vita Sackville-West who bought the sight for mere spare change, and later made the home of Gore Vidal, these six acres of lush gardens boasting the most incredible position at the edge of a rocky peninsular with commanding views extending almost 300 degrees over coast and valley are probably the most paradisally perfect gardens I have ever been in. They contain almost everything you could want from a garden. Shady sun-dappled paths lined with cypress trees and olives, bouncy green lawns interspersed with moss-covered greek and roman statues, little hidden cupolas and grottos, and avenues lined with hydrangeas and wisteria and every other kind of beautiful flower. But most stunning of all is what can be found at the bottom of the garden – the Terrace of Infinity, with views over the bay of Salerno so ravishing that Gore Vidal declared it to be “the most beautiful view in the world”. I am not going to disagree.
The Villa Cimbrone
Asides from those two great garden paradises, Ravello is a small and quiet little town compared with the boutique filled mecca of Capri or the bustling shopping streets of Amalfi down on the coast. With one main square flanked by a simple white washed Duomo and a few friendly cafes, it is the perfect place to sit back and contemplate the breathtaking views that are all around, somewhere to breathe deep the freshest of air in these mountain heights, and try to make sense of what it was to sample paradise, before finally heading back down to sea level, and to reality. But let’s face it, if that reality is still the Amalfi Coast, it’s never going to be far from heaven is it?
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