Unlike Positano, Priano and Amalfi, Ravello is high up. Founded in the fifth century, Ravello grew wealthy on the basis of its wool processing industry and its Mediterranean trading capabilities. While its fortunes, like those of many of its neighboring towns, foundered around the 13th century, its beautiful setting overlooking the coast and its once-grand villas began to attract European intellectuals and elites on the Grand Tour. By the late 19th and 20th centuries, it drew numerous artists and intellectuals (including Richard Wagner, Tennessee Williams, Jean Miro and Gore Vidal), and increasingly tourists. Its creation of the Ravello Music festival and opening of a number of art galleries, meanwhile, solidified the town cultural bona fides.
Today, it’s pretty alleyways, interesting shops, stunning views and five-star hotels extend its draw.
Once here, the town offers three primary historic sights:
- Villa Cimbone, which had been a grand estate from late Roman times, fell into disrepair and gardens were replanted as a farm. The former estate was purchased by an English lord in 1904. He renovated and dramatically enhanced the gothic villa with its particularly lovely cloisters and arched crypt and converted the farm into grand, English- and Italian-style gardens. It is these lovely gardens that are estates’ primary draw. This is especially true for the long avenues of trees and, in season, multi-colored, fragrant plants that traverse the gardens. Many of these gardens, not do speak of the grand “Terrace of Infinity” balcony (which provides sweeping views of Amalfi, neighboring towns, the mountains and the Mediterranean) are also studded with classical statues;
- Villa Rufolo, a grand estate since the 13th century, also few into decrepitude before being rescued by a Scottish industrialist at the turn of the 20th century. While little is left of the original design, the current structure, which is now home to the Ravello festival, contains an amalgum of Moorish (as in the cloister), Gothic (as in the entrance gateway and tower). The thirty meter tower, the oldest of the remaining structures, provides an overview of the estate and its renovation, a few historic artifacts, and a lovely view. The estate also contains ruins of old mineral baths, pretty, two-level garden and a belvedere with panoramic views; and
- Duomo, which is stretch to consider a major attraction, but it is along with its Piazza, the center of the town. Built in the 11th century (primarily by the Rufolo family), combines a less than aesthetic combination of architectural styles and its interior, other than its ornate Pulpit of the Gospels, is rather plain. It also contains a small, equally nondescript (at least in our view), museum.
And then there are the remnants of the original city gate.
- Villa Maria,a restaurant at a pretty hotel with a lovely view off its balcony. We there had two very enjoyable dinner entrees. Neopolitan scialatielli (pasta similar to fettucini) ragu with buffalo mozzarella fondue and basil pesto; and rabbit loin and leg stuffed with porcini mushrooms with balsamic reduction sauce and baked potato. Wine was a very pleasant 2016 Sandrone dolcetta d’Alba.
- Cocina di Sophia, along the town’s main commercial alleyway, provides a pleasant outdoor eating area and, judging from our very limited experience (a Margharita pizza) and that of people at the tables next to us, offers acceptable food.
- Sapori Mediterranei is not a restaurant, but a great, family-owned Italian deli run by a lovely, very accommodating husband and wife team. It was here that we picked up lunch for our next morning’s all-day train trip through southern Italy, to Palermo Sicily. The lunch, an over-stuffed panini with parma ham, mozzarella, tomato and basil, along with bottle of locally grown and made Torre dei Chiusi Aglianico.
Il Ducato di Ravello. The hotel is right by a parking lot so you hear cars going in and out. But it is quiet at night. The location is great and only minutes walk to the main area. Wifi worked well. The air conditional was not operating as it was May so we had windows open for cooler air. We were concerned but it cooled off sufficiently at night for us. While the room looked exactly as shown in the picture on the web, in real life it felt a little disappointing. Still, it was clean (well, except for the ants that continued to come out of our computers for the next day), if basic. Breakfast was very good. Fresh fruit, bread, croissants, yogurt and cold cuts. And Peter went out of his way to answer questions and to help. Would we stay there again? Probably not. But there wasn’t anything wrong with it if you are looking for a reasonably priced place to stay. We’d probably opt for a 4 or 5 star hotel.