“The most beautiful sight that I have ever seen in the world is the panoramic view from Villa Cimbrone on a bright winter’s day, when the sky and the sea are so vividly blue that it is not possible to distinguish them from each other”
As told to an American Magazine by Gore Vidal
As an avid gardener and designer myself, I think I was drawn to Ravello initially since it is the home to two spectacular public gardens on the Amalfi Coast, Villa Cimbrone and Villa Rufulo. There are very few public gardens actually in this area of Italy. I am lucky to have visited here three times. Ravello was my first introduction to Italy and again, maybe this is why it holds such a special place in my heart.
Even my husband fell in love with Ravello, its gardens, views, its narrow streets, its people, its Piazza and of course, its pizza and gelato. We would sit nightly in the Piazza, bordered by cafes and the 11th century Romanesque Duomo, me drinking coffee, him eating gelato even in the rain. Great special memories, we will always take with us.
Villa Cimbrone and Ravello may be the ideal spot for an Amalfi Coast wedding. To tell the truth, I think every church we have been in on the Amalfi Coast had a wedding going one at one visit or another. The Amalfi Coast is a UNESCO World Heritage site and the Mediterranean landscape doesn’t disappoint providing some of the most picturesque views of the coast.
The Lattari Mountains divide the Bay of Naples from the Bay of Salerno and dominate the entire Amalfi Coast. The stunning beauty of this entire coast from Sorrento to Salerno should be experienced at some point in everyone’s travel. Just my opinion, of course!
Ravello is the only town not on the water but 360 meters high in the hills above the sea and sits between Atrani and Minori in the hills, built by peasants not fisherman and is a quiet respite from Capri, Positano and Amalfi which are always crowded during the season.
To be fair, this town stole my heart. I could easily spend months here and never tire of the calm and peaceful atmosphere. From the Piazza to the views, to the gardens and the people it is so special. The town is dotted with the signature umbrella pines and cypress trees so prevalent on the coast.
From here it is easy to visit Scala, Minuta, Pontone, Atrani, Minori and the vineyards of Tramonti. There is hiking all around the Lattari mountains, fabulous food, outstanding restaurants and hotels. Of course, you are only a bus, taxi, car or scooter ride from Atrani, Amalfi and Positano.
One of those gardens open to the public is the Villa Cimbrone. The property includes a 5-star luxury hotel that history dates back to a 12th century residence. While the hotel is private to guests, the gardens are open with a small entrance fee.
Villa Cimbrone and Villa Rufulo are the 2 large gardens here and both are worth your time as both have jaw-dropping views of the coastline. Ravello was a popular spot for Gore Vidal who lived here and was very involved in local affairs, as well as many others like Virginia Woolf, Richard Wagner, DH Lawrence and this town has had its fair share of celebs. By the beginning of the 19th century the international crowd had discovered this marvelous spot. Gore Vidal was known to say:
“When I’m away, I think about Ravello all the time ….”
(I know exactly how he felt)
We stayed in Ravello for an entire week and used this as our home base. Most people come for the day while visiting Amalfi or Positano. If possible, I highly suggest staying overnight at least one night just like I mentioned about Capri. Things really become magical after the crowds leave. Thankfully I have never seen it too crowded as it’s off the beaten path just enough since it is not on the water. The road up from Amalfi is full of crazy switchbacks and one way areas where only 1 vehicle can pass at a time. We were stuck once headed down when an upcoming car broke down in a very narrow section and there was a bus behind her- YIKES! Everyone was trying to get cars to back up to push her out of the way enough for the upcoming traffic to pass by. Too funny, but I mention this to warn you to leave extra time going and coming if you are headed for instance, to Amalfi to catch a ferry to Positano or Capri.
From the Piazza Duomo (or more specifically Piazza Vescovado) just follow the signs past Villa Rufulo to Villa Cimbrone on Via Santa Chiara. No car access! It’s about a 10 minute walk along a stone paved walkway with views towards Scala, Pontone and Atrani.
Villa Cimbrone sits on a promontory high above the Tyrrhenian Sea. You can walk around the garden paths at your own pace. Follow the long wisteria covered central path to the Statue of Ceres which opens up to the Terrace of Infinity lined with sculptured marble Roman busts. I guarantee a sight you will never forget and a very popular destination for wedding photography or selfies 🙂
Gore Vidal proclaimed this “The most beautiful view in the world”
The garden is a blend of English and Renaissance elements. There are many grottoes, fountains, statues, Temples and small pavilions scattered throughout the gardens. Overlooking the Bay of Salerno the hotel complex and pool are perched on the edge of a cliff and are adjacent to the Rose Garden. Luckily, I was there once when it was still blooming. It is laid out in a geometric pattern and the smell is just yummy.
The Cloister on the left when you enter with its very impressive Gothic Architecture of pointed arches and spiral, symmetrical columns gives you a hint at the beauty you are about to experience. Highlighting the center is a covered well. This blend of Arab, Sicilian and Norman details gives you a hint of the history of this coastline. (right across from the ticket office)
As you walk around be sure to look down at the terraced hillsides below.
There is a Tea Room, open pavilion with its columns and green and yellow tiles. Eve’s Grotto with a marble statue of Eve,(sorry for the horrible photo) (Eve appears to turn, surprised to be caught naked) and the Crest of Mercury. Try to find time to walk throughout not just to the Belvedere of Infinity. You may even spot a copy of Donatello’s famous sculpture of David. Mercury’s Seat is a statue meant to inspire relaxation. The inscription thereon reads: “Lost to the world of which I desire no part, I sit alone and speak to my heart, satisfied with my little corner of the world, content to feel no more sadness for death.”
There is a spot where drinks and snacks are available below the Infinity Terrace offering stunning views to just sit and enjoy it all.
As you wander you will come to the Temple of Bacchus overlooking Scala. The property was home to noble Roman families in the Middle Ages like the rest of the area since it was originally settled by the Romans. The property has a very long history which I will not get into here.
The gardens were redesigned early in the 20th century with the help of noted English gardeners Vita Sackville-West, Gertrude Jekyll (of whom I am a huge fan) and Edwin Lutyens.
One of the iconic views you see in Ravello is of the ancient sentinel towers.
As I mentioned earlier, while in Ravello take time to grab a meal. The food here is sourced locally from the surrounding hills and of course, from the sea. There are some excellent restaurants in case you are staying overnight. Absolutely top off your meal with some Limoncello and take some home to remember your trip. Another must have is ceramics! Wow, I have sent home many pieces of ceramics from my trips. They have always arrived in one piece and expertly packed! The Amalfi Coast and especially towns like Ravello and Vietri sul Mare (just down the coast) have fabulous ceramics.
Some suggestions of where to stay and eat in Ravello: (not sponsored)
A fun spot for pizza and pasta is La Vecchia Cantina which overlooks the valley and Scala and is a personal favorite of ours.
Do you want to attend a cooking school? The world famous Mamma Agata cooking school is here in Ravello but you need to make reservations WAYYYYYY in advance. Also the Hotel Villa Maria has a cooking class we thoroughly enjoyed. You can tour their organic gardens that overlook the valley (stunning views), pick the produce you will use to cook with while enjoying a glass of wine.
Enjoy Falanghina white wine from the region or visit a winery for a more complete experience. Ravello offers many hiking opportunities into the hills or down to the sea. Be prepared with decent walking shoes. Just like Positano, there are many steps and little car access. We hiked down to Minori but took a taxi back up. We aren’t totally crazy!
Ravello captured our hearts. Why are we obsessed? The sense of calms it inspires. We would love to live here at least part of the year and I hope to go back many more times to this town that inspired so many artists, musicians, poets and authors from the world over. If you come in summer get tickets to the Ravello Music Festival held at Villa Rufulo. I guarantee you will not be disappointed. The stage overlooks the sea and Minori and Maiori and is the highlight of the summer.
I love this quote I found
“One doesn’t come to Italy for niceness… one comes for life”
E.M. Forster, writer
The romance of the Amalfi Coast its colors, architecture, scents and old world low key lifestyle will steal your heart. This is La Dolce Vita at its best.
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