Ravello: the winding poetry of Italy

The road to Ravello is winding, hot, busy and it takes me from Amalfi beach 350 meters up on the hill, in a symphony of scooter horns and Guarda dove stai andando!! shouts (watch where you’re going!). The Tyrrhenian Sea is accompanying me for most of my drive with its blue waters almost touching the sky and this is taking my mind off the heat and the craziness of the Amalfi crowds of tourists.

I am excited about my visit: the town is not as sparkling as Capri but it is most certainly charming and refined, almost entirely dedicated to tourism.  History tells us that Ravello was founded in the 5th century as a shelter place against the barbarian invasions which marked the end of the Western Roman Empire. Today, the town holds impeccable bohemian credentials: personalities such as Jackie Kennedy, Richard Wagner, DH Lawrence, Virginia Woolf, Greta Garbo and Winston Churchill spent time here and were seduced by its beauty. Ravello is well known for its ravishing views, the best on the coast!There is a big parking lot right at the entrance of the town as its extremely narrow streets do not allow cars in. Here is also where the bus stops, just in case there are people reading this post who don’t like driving while on vacation 🙂  Personally, I found out soon enough that having a car on the Amalfi coast does more harm than good because the traffic is terrible during high season and having to pick up your car from where you left it instead of simply walking around, prevents you from uncovering the hidden gems of this beautiful corner of the world.

Ravello welcomes me with the Duomo  which dominates Piazza del Vescovado. The church is dedicated to the assumption of Mary, it was built in 1086 and hosts a museum worthy of a visit. I stop at the nearby San Domingo terrace for a refreshment and I read the testimonials left by Jackie Kennedy and Gore Vidal: they sure loved the cannoli here! To be honest so do I 🙂

Just walking on the streets that are so quiet in the morning, makes me happy. They are narrow, the painting on the houses is not in top notch condition as it so often happens in the Mediterranean small towns due to the weather, but their peace makes even the most troubled soul surrender. I guess sometimes it is true what they say: don’t judge the gift based on the wrapping, you might miss out on the most delicious content. I am curious to check out the hotel Palumbo pictured below as the sign reads 5 stars but the exterior doesn’t really show it. As an avid traveler, it happened to me sometimes that the hotel stars were not truly matching the quality of the services. This time, I am amazed! The same happens with the hotel Parsifal and I can now completely understand why people love this place. Here you get the perfect 3-in-1: all the comfort you need, all the peace you need and the most breathtaking views. Back on the streets, I enjoy spending my day discovering every corner and promising myself I would return one autumn. Being at 350 meters above sea level and surrounded by hills, the heat is not so bad but the sun can be harsh therefore sunscreen and appropriate clothing are required. 

It takes quite a bit of refraining on my side to not knock on the door of the house below. Somehow, my imagination runs wild and I picture all the Aladdin treasures inside. I really want to take a peek but it is a private residence. There are plenty of souvenir shops, mostly ceramic which is famous in this area but also shops where you can have leather sandals custom made at about 40-50 euros a pair. Knowing this is almost entirely a touristic town with a high affluence of tourists only during summertime, I am surprised the price isn’t higher. Close to the Piazza Duomo, Villa Rufolo is one of the most important landmarks to be seen in Ravello. Constructed in the second half of the 13th century by the powerful Rufolo family, the villa is the masterwork of the town’s historic and architectural showpiece. At the height of its importance in the 13th century, it is recorded that it had “more rooms than there are days in the year“. Sicilian, Norman and Moorish influences can be observed in the towers and cloisters, the latter which can be seen in the picture below forming an interesting game of light and shadows. 

The interior is rather spacious than heavily decorated and offers exquisite views over the sea. 

The grounds of the villa are just as famous and beautiful as the building itself. 

Wagner stayed in Villa Rufolo in 1880 whilst composing his Parsifal and was so enamored by the place that he declared “the magic garden of Klingsor has been found“. The area around the well (pictured below) rich in exotic plants, pines and cypresses is the feature of the villa that entranced him. It seems that this was the tangible expression of his most fantastic visions. 

The magnificent cliff edge terrace, perched directly above the sea, is the venue for Ravello’s annual Wagner Festival. Below, gazing at the endless sea marrying the sky, is the church of Santa Maria delle GrazieBack in the main square I stop to eat and study the people. I imagined it to be more crowded but it’s actually not. On Tuesday mornings there’s a lively street market here in Piazza Duomo, where people can buy wine, mozzarella and olive oil, as well as discounted designer clothes.I am fascinated by the ceramic objects that can be found everywhere on Amalfi coast. The richness and the multitude of colors instantly brightens up my day. Some shops proudly display autographs and thank you notes from prestigious celebrities that have purchased ceramic objects from them. Even the kittens look mesmerizing in Ravello. After lunch, I am heading to Villa Cimbrone but not before I stop to take a picture of the surroundings.
Consisting of the main building and six hectares of historic parkland, Villa Cimbrone is considered one of the most important examples of the landscape, botany and culture of England created in the Mediterranean area beginning of the 20th century. In a happy combination of traditional English and Italian landscaped gardens and among the rich and varied local and exotic vegetation, countless decorative elements were introduced such as fountains, nymphs, temples, pavilions and statues, the result of the strong influence of classical literature in the reinterpretation of a roman villa.I can’t really describe the spectacle this splendid natural balcony adorned with 18th century marble busts displayed before my eyes. This is the Terrace of Infinity.

Looking at them, there is something that makes me think about the infinity of days, slowly passing by exactly the same every time and about the solitude these statues are facing, having only their silent selves and the sea to keep them company.

The below open gallery in Gothic style is called The Crypt and although it evokes a medieval atmosphere, it was built somewhere around 1911 and became one of the meeting places of London’s Bloomsbury Group. This was a small, informal association of artists and intellectuals who lived and worked in the Bloomsbury area of central London. The writer Virginia Woolf was part of these. The group gathered for conversation, companionship and to refuel the creative energy. I can certainly understand their attraction to this place as a surge of creation. Besides being a touristic town, Ravello became increasingly popular as a wedding venue. Right at the time of my visit, the villa is in the midst of preparing to host two wedding ceremonies. Before exiting, I snap a picture of the entire villa but I have to admit I liked Rufolo better because of its superb views over the sea.  It’s around 4 o’clock in the afternoon and I’m not in a hurry so I decide to walk back to Amalfi. From Ravello, there are two paths that lead straight to Atrani, a town only 5 minutes walking distance from Amalfi. I decide to take the route called Valle Del Dragone (The Dragon Valley) because it sounds so appropriate. The path is very easy and starts with a few flights of steps. Walking along the paved road, I find the cutest car, luckily without its owner around and I can shamelessly snap a picture of it.

The route leads me to the ruins of a small village with its textile and olive oil mills. I wonder why the village is deserted now…maybe it’s because of the dragon? 

Towards the end of the path, I come across the town’s old cemetery which was used until 1800. Dragon thoughts rush again through my mind but I banish them quickly because from here, I can now see the small town of Atrani. 

To avoid the heavy traffic from Atrani to Amalfi, one can take an alternative route: a very narrow stairway connecting the heart of Atrani to the one of Amalfi. It’s quite interesting and I have shot a video about it which I will post separately.

Atrani reminds me of a scene from an Italian movie I saw when I was very little. It starred Sophia Loren and I can only remember how beautiful she was and how vivid was the decor with the small houses and the laundry hanging from the windows. I’m leaving Atrani behind and I see the sun is about to do the same, getting ready to cross the hill and go to sleep. Already the narrow beach is deserted, the crowds of people will now invade the terraces and the restaurants nearby.
I turn around to see Amalfi and a sudden joy overwhelms me: I will go visit my guy and he will fix me up with a doze of my favorite. He knows that two scoops of yogurt and one of dark chocolate is what I need to clearly engrave in my memory everything I want to remember about Ravello. This would be my “madelaine” until I’ll return when I am older and ready to settle down in one place.

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