When we went to the Amalfi Coast in October 2011, our favorite place was Ravello, and we vowed to go back someday. We finally returned the first weekend in June, and Ravello is charming, peaceful, magical, and glorious, and because of its location on the side of a mountain high above the Amalfi Coast, the views are breathtaking! But here’s my most important discovery: If I were filthy rich, I would live in Villa Cimbrone. Bellisima!
The late-week weather forecast warned us to expect rain, alas, and it poured buckets while we twisted our way up and down a narrow road over a mountain between Naples and Ravello on Friday evening. All roads leading to Ravello feature terrifying, ridiculously narrow, nauseating switchbacks, which are not that much fun when it rains! Instead of arriving in Ravello at 8 or so, rush-hour traffic and bad weather delayed us, so we got there after 9:30. Our hotel’s restaurant had closed for the evening at 9:30 (so early in Italy—most restaurants are just beginning to get busy) and we were pooped, so we ordered room service. We never do that, and it was so much fun (and delicious and dry), especially while we listened to the rain drumming on the roof.
We woke up really early Saturday morning and found sun streaming through our patio door! According to weather.com, we had a small window of sunshine that morning, and I was determined that we would climb up to Villa Cimbrone to see the renowned garden there. We stopped first for breakfast, which was a good thing because the garden didn’t open until 9. We got there a little before 9 and were waiting when it opened. We toured the garden for more than two hours. What an amazing place! The highlight for me is the belvedere, also known as the Infinity Terrace, that sits at the northwest end of the garden and overlooks the Tyrrhenian Sea. Of the many places I’ve visited, that belvedere is one of the most stunning terraces and the garden is one of the most beautiful, peaceful, relaxing gardens that I’ve ever seen. I cannot include all of my photos from the garden in this post, so I’ve added just a few below. To see more of the garden, go here.
But the garden, lovely as it is, is not the only reason to covet Villa Cimbrone. At present the villa has 17 beautiful hotel rooms. A former villa and former monastery, the building dates back to the 11th century, although little remains of the original structure. The hotel hosts many, many weddings, and has special reception areas overlooking the sea. One bride that we spoke to on the belvedere the morning after her wedding told us that everything was perfect except for the weather.
If it isn’t enough to have a gorgeous villa and a spectacular garden, Villa Cimbrone’s restaurant, Il Flauto di Pan, serves interesting and delicious food, has wonderful views of the sea, and holds one Michelin star, which it received this year. I’ll describe our dinner and include a few photos in tomorrow’s post.
Ravello does offer other sights. The garden at Villa Rufolo is also beautiful and is probably visited more often than is Villa Cimbrone because Villa Rufolo sits just off the main square, while Villa Cimbrone is a 10- or 15-minute walk from the main square. Villa Rufolo hosts the Ravello Festival, a classical music festival held every summer. We also enjoyed walking along the hilly streets and sipping cappucini and people watching from one of the bars on the main square.
Ravello has inspired many famous artists, including Richard Wagner, who wrote the opera Parsifal there; André Gide, the Nobel Prize-winning novelist, who wrote L’Immoraliste there in 1902; and the English writer E. M. Forster, who wrote a short story, “The Story of Panic,” there in 1928. A sign on a wall at Villa Cimbrone proudly boasts that it was the site of the much-publicized affair of orchestral conductor Leopold Stokowski and Greta Garbo in the 1930s. (In addition to Garbo and his first wife, Stokowski married Johnson & Johnson heiress Evangeline Love Brewster Johnson and railroad heiress Gloria Vanderbilt. He must have been some guy!)
Ravello is tranquil and enchanting (even more enchanting after the day tours leave). So book a room for a couple of nights and visit Ravello. It has cast its spell on me forever!