What d’you mean where’s Ravello?
If you don’t know or you’ve never been you need to google it – fast.
If you head for the region of Campania on your Google Maps (other maps are available) and then zoom in on the province and Bay of Salerno – you’ll find the small town of Ravello clinging to the cliffs directly above Amalfi on the beautiful Italian Riviera.
We visited 7 years ago for a surprise holiday for my husband – who knew nothing about it until 24 hours before the flight. To be honest, planning a secret holiday for your nearest and dearest is not that easy especially when you share an AppleID and I was quite glad when the secret was finally out.
It’s funny how these things come about really. We’re not traditional package holiday types – something about being organised and herded around by tour guides goes against the grain. I wouldn’t exactly say we’re adventurers either or even travellers but we like to find places that are off the beaten track and away from the crowds. We often head for places recommended by Alistair Sawday – renovated farmhouses, remote cottages, and once a beautifully converted hayloft in the middle of rural France.
But Ravello started a different way. It started with a conversation with an old school friend, a scribble on the back of a business card and then a good deal of internet searching. So thank you Dr Kent Hill for telling us about Ravello and for writing down the name of the place so that 10 years later I would find it in my purse and start planning a holiday.
Ravello is the hidden jewel of the Italian Riviera. In many ways it’s beyond description and you really have to see it for yourself. The sea really is crystal clear and a bright shade of turquoise, and the azure blue sky seems to to stretch on forever often without a single cloud.
There’s a few ways to get there and we took the traditional route. We flew to Naples, which in itself is worth a few days stop, and then took the coach to Sorrento taking in the great Mt Vesuvius and the magnificent ancient city of Pompeii. After a short stop in Sorrento to get our bearings, we found another (smaller) local bus which took the incredibly scenic and very windy route across the peninsular through Positano, Praiano, Furore, Conca dei Marini, and finally Amalfi. I’m not the world’s best traveller – trains and planes are fine, I just struggle with ferries and buses – so was very pleased to finally see Amalfi, jump off the bus and soak up the evening sunshine.
However, there was still another bus – the most challenging (and smallest) of them all – to take us out of Amalfi and directly up the mountain at an alarming gradient with twists and bends that left us breathless. We were caught somewhere between awe and wonder at the increasingly amazing view of the coast, and fear and panic that we could quite easily end up at the bottom of the valley! Italians are not known for their sedate driving – if they have a Highway Code in Italy it’s not on the bestseller list and the only consolation, apart from the view, was that we were in a public bus and not a private (very small) hire car.
If you’re ok with perilous bends and crazy drivers, then I highly recommend this route – it’s a great way to see your way into the heart of the Amalfi region and to spot all the places you want to come back and discover later in your holiday. Otherwise, apparently there is an airport taxi service that takes you door to door to your hotel in Ravello via the motorway. There’s no view but it’s quicker and a lot easier on your nerves.
Ravello is a small town perched high on the mountain side hiding what must be some of the best views in the whole of Europe – I don’t exaggerate! The first sight of this view grabs you as soon as you get off the bus, and doesn’t really let go off you the whole time you are there.
It turned out that this little village we had travelled so far to find is the host of the world renowned International Wagner Festival. Richard Wagner, the great German composer, spent much of his time in Ravello so the town has adopted his memory and has held a fabulous classical festival every July since 1953. Ravello has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1996 and, when you visit, it’s easy to see why. You can peruse the Concert Programme for 2016 here.
Ravello is not a resort for ice cream kiosks and tourist tat, it’s a stunning medieval town filled with gorgeous period buildings, an ancient church, and gardens cascading down the mountainside. If you take an early evening pew in the town square – you’ll be mesmerised by the view, you’ll see the swallows ducking and diving, and the only sound to distract you from your peaceful contemplations is the quiet chinking of handcut ice in your Campari and the low hum of happy holidaymakers taking their evening stroll.
Our hotel was modest – compared to some of the Michelin starred accommodation available – but it was a hop and a skip into the town square, had a huge picture window framing the view out to sea, and air conditioning – which is essential in Italy in mid July! We stayed at the Boccaccia B&B – the rooms were clean and cool, the bed crisp and comfortable, and the breakfast just right. We made good use of the pool in the adjoining hotel and for a small charge spent several warm afternoon lounging on steamers, drinking cocktails and enjoying the view.
We are not hugely active travellers. We drink a lot of coffee and try and sample local cakes and baked delicacies where possible, we read books, and I love nothing more than wandering along narrow streets with my camera capturing the secret places. We discovered Disaronno here – they call it Amaretti and it’s gorgeous in a long glass with tonic, ice and lemon. The perfect way to while away the early evening – people watching and soaking in the evening sun – before heading off to one of the clifftop restaurants for a plate of local seafood.
Ravello has a rich history of visits from artists, musicians and writers all spending time here and being inspired by the sheer magic of the place. One morning we ventured along the stone paved walkway passing hidden restaurants, workshops and homes glimpsing the view every so often between the ancient buildings. It’s only a 10 minute walk, but if you’re a hotel resident I’m told you can make use of the valet service for 30 euro per day.
The main entrance of Villa Cimbrone is quite imposing ushering guests into a very grand house dating back to the 11th century and owned by various prominent families through history. Today it is a luxury hotel, michelin starred restaurant and exclusive wedding venue with the most gorgeous gardens I think I have ever seen. Starting with formal lawns and colourful beds, the pathway winds through open and wooded areas taking in the cloister, the crypt, the Avenue of Immensity and finally the Terrace of Infinity. To get the most out of this visit, you really have to put away your smartphone, empty your mind and harness your inner romantic. Only then can you truly appreciate the beauty of this place. Villa Cimbroni is open every day of the year from 9am until sunset and for the small price of 7 euros you can make it your home for the day.
See Villa Cimbrone from above in this beautiful video produced by the Tourist Board.
By far the best way to get around the Italian Riviera is by boat and the choice of trips is endless. You have to smile at the enthusiastic persistence of the cruise vendors as you mooch along the line of kiosks all with their slightly different brand of boat trip. We chose a birthday trip to Capri, complete with iced coffee in the Piazza and traditional hand baked pizza overlooking the azure blue sea and craggy coastline.
When visiting the Amalfi Coast, Positano is, of course, an essential port of call – and it never disappoints. Again we arrived by sea glimpsing the instantly recognisable shape of the town from the sundrenched deck of our day cruiser. It’s only about 40 minutes from Amalfi and the perfect way to arrive. It was hard to avoid the crowds in such a tiny place and the narrow stone paths up and down the hillside became a line of excited visitors, many experiencing Positano for the 1st time. Iced tea and a delicious local cake – perhaps the Italian answer to a Fondant Fancy – helped us to cool down and relax and we both thought it would be nice to return a little out of season and enjoy some quietness.
It’s been 6 long summers since our magical visit to Ravello and we’d love to visit again. We spend many moments recalling this holiday – “Remember when …” The only thing we’d do differently is to visit in May or September when the temperature is a little easier and the crowds are a little thinner. This place is not on the tourist trail, it’s not a resort – it’s a place to be savoured and drunk in. It’s a place to take a deep breath and stop for a while, an oasis of calm.
Our last night was spent at the Villa Amore – a delightful family run hotel and restaurant just a 5 minute walk from the main Piazza. It was the perfect Date Night – we ate fresh local seafood simply cooked, we sat on the edge of the terrace perched high on the mountainside and we drank in the view – trying to bottle the moment and keep it forever.
If you’re tempted to follow our steps and seek out this magical Italian hideaway, we wish you well. It will not disappoint.
Oh, and one more thing – don’t tell anyone – let’s keep it a secret between us.