14 February 2011
Return to Ravello
The idyllic Amalfi Coast sits by the Mediterranean like a vision of what Italy should be. When you first arrive you may even feel you've been here before - in your dreams.
Do you ever have that feeling that you're returning to a place you've never been? You must know what I mean.
My first arrival by air into Naples was a case in point. Glorious views that I seemed to recognise spread along a coastline overlooked by Vesuvius, destroyer of Pompeii. This towering volcano is a constant reminder of carpe diem. And where better to seize the day than the clutch of exquisite Amalfi towns and villages just to its south that tumble down the mountainsides and almost into the Gulf of Salerno below.
Music is in the AirRavello floats on the sounds of music. Daily concerts, often featuring international stars, take place from April to October, staged in gardens and other magical locations. Find out more >
Steer away from the sea, and drive up along roads lined with chestnut trees to arrive at Ravello, set high on an outcrop 'twixt the fishing ports of Minori and Amalfi. This small town, with its old-world, car-free alleys is perfectly positioned to savour the kind of vistas that have been luring the great and the God-blessed for centuries.
Writers in particular have found Ravello's storied streets a strident lure, so much so that Gore Vidal only recently gave up his villa - La Rondinaia (Swallow's Nest) - finally defeated, aged 84, by the punishing climb and descent. It's true: this isn't a place for idle wandering. But it does offer some stunning consolations.
One of these is the Hotel Caruso, an ancient palace with 21st century amenities, including an infinity pool offering views that would shame most other rooms in the area. It's simply staggering, certainly one of the Seven Wonders of the Hotel-keeping World, and reason enough not to stray from the Caruso's immaculately tended grounds.
When you do step outside, it's an area that's perhaps best explored from the water. Certainly, from the deck of a boat nearby Positano looks like a never-to-be-struck stage set of unimaginable, yet exquisite, proportions. And bustling Amalfi itself offers the added attraction of a slow boat to Capri and onwards to the island of Ischia.
Outer SpaceA 'UFO' has landed on the Ravello cliffs. Auditorium Oscar Niemeyer (named for the 103-year-old Brazilian architect who designed it) is a futuristic new centre for year-round cultural events. Find out more >
Wherever you turn you spot lemons - huge, squash-sized symbols of all that is good and zesty about this stretch of coast. Whether squeezed over branzino (sea bass) or turned into the iridescent local liqueur, limoncello (look for the real, cloudy stuff), their scent is an ever-present siren-call: the essence of a place we feel we've always known.
By Bill Prince, Deputy Editor of British GQ.