Sitting high above Italy’s dazzling Amalfi coast, the charming hill town of Ravello offers breath-taking views of sun-drenched terraces cascading down to the azure Mediterranean sea.
Only a 45-minute scenic drive from Naples, it’s a wonderful place for a relaxing break after a business trip to the bustling Neapolitan capital.
Ravello has been here since the sixth century and has been attracting the rich and powerful ever since. A former holiday hotspot for the likes of Hollywood icons Elizabeth Taylor, Humphrey Bogart and Greta Garbo, it still retains an air of quiet sophistication and grandeur.
The opulent palaces along its cobbled streets were once majestic family residences – now they are home to some of the area’s finest luxury hotels, set in stunning secluded gardens, each with their own fabulous views of the coast.
One of the best vantage points for taking it all in is Villa Rufolo, just off Piazza Centrale. Dating back to the 13th century, its impressive grounds and gardens inspired Wagner when he wrote his last opera, Parsifal, and it now hosts performances during the prestigious Ravello Festival, which has taken place every summer since the fifties.
An unforgettable evening of music can be enjoyed in the outdoor auditorium, with the awe-inspiring sea vista as a backdrop. The cypress-lined avenues and pretty courtyards are lovely to wander through. (Open 9:00 AM – 8:00 PM daily; admission €5 ($5.50); villarufolo.it.)
Similarly spectacular panoramas greet the eye from Villa Cimbrone, a short stroll away. This Roman-style palace is home to the Terrace of Infinity, a balcony lined with 18th-century marble busts suspended above the glittering sea – look down if you dare.
The grounds feature a mix of Italian and English-themed gardens, as well as a small tearoom. (Open 9:00 AM – sunset; entry €7 ($7.70); villacimbrone.com.)
An ideal base while staying in Ravello is Palazzo Avino of Preferred Hotels and Resorts. Located through a discreet doorway off a narrow pedestrian street near the town square, this 12th-century palace opened as a five-star hotel in 1997. All rooms are decorated with handmade Vietri tiles, antique carpets, 18th-19th century furniture, brass accessories and appliqués. Inside, modern white public spaces lead to an outdoor restaurant and bar with terraced gardens that descend to a pool and open-air gym. The 43 rooms and suites are also painted white, showing off the ornate Italian furnishings and Moorish architectural features, and most offer beautiful sea or mountain views.
One of the pleasures of visiting Italy is, of course, its food. At Palazzo Avino’s Michelin-starred restaurant, Rossellinis, you can enjoy a contemporary take on the region’s classics. Sampling the exquisite tasting menu on the terrace while drinking in the sea views – and the fine wines – makes for a truly memorable evening.
For something a little more hearty, head for one of the town’s homely trattorie. At Cumpa Cosimo, off the main square, locals and tourists alike relish generous portions of homemade pasta, fresh fish and plump, locally grown vegetables. The proprietor – quite a character – won’t be happy if you leave hungry (44-46 Via Roma; tel +39 089 857 156).
If you feel inspired, you can join a cookery class to learn how to recreate the area’s cuisine at home. An afternoon at Villa Maria’s Nonna Orsola cookery school will give you three dinner-party courses to be proud of.
Energetic chef Vincenzo Amatruda makes it all seem easy, and his homemade limoncello is the best you’ve ever tasted (Via Pa. Alberghi; tel +39 089 857 255; cookingravello.com).
A great way to walk off all the excess is to take the footpath down from Ravello to the seaside town of Minori.
The route takes about an hour, weaving through lemon groves, vineyards and tiny hamlets before arriving at the low-key town, which has a small beach and some nice spots for a well-earned aperitif. In the summer, ferries go from here to the larger, busier resort of Amalfi.
If you’re feeling less energetic, the Palazzo Avino offers a shuttle down to its beach club, an exclusive spot on the coast to sunbathe, swim and lunch in secluded surroundings. Reserved for hotel guests, it never gets too crowded and is a heavenly oasis of calm. Just what you need before returning to reality.
Palazzo Avino is open seasonally between April and October. Room rates in April started from €341 ($375) online. Via San Giovanni del Toro 28; tel +39 089 818 181; palazzoavino.com
By Annie Harris