On the other side of Scala, Far From the Crowds on the Amalfi Coast… is Ravello. The town hugs the top of a ridge that looks out onto the Gulf of Salerno. Our very first sight of it and we were impossibly, irrevocably, irreversibly hooked. If a fairy godmother swished her wand for me, I would ask for a home in Ravello, on the mountains with a view of the inky Tyrrhenian. We would be then living in a town with a history that goes back all the way to the 5th century when it was founded as a refuge against attacks from barbarians. Ravello later became a wool producing and trading powerhouse in association with the Republic of Amalfi.
There is a story behind Ravello’s name. The first known inhabitants of the former sleepy hamlet were Romans. There is little knowhow about Ravello from that period except for the fact that it was absorbed into the Republic of Amalfi during the 11th century. Two centuries later, the residents rebelled against Amalfi and the hamlet was dubbed ‘Rebellum’. I revel in the sound of Ravello though. The way it rolls off the tongue. And when locals enunciate it their sonorous way, Ravello sounds like a Sophia Loren-esque beauty.
The first thing you will notice from the coastal road that winds around the town, apart from the lush green hills and the very blue duet played by the sky and sea, is most surely a modernist wave-like building. It is a theatre designed by a Brazilian modern architect, Oscar Niemeyer. To me, it stuck out in an otherwise medieval town. But it fit in with the the glitzy stories that hang about Ravello.
The town was the romping grounds of the glamorous and the beautiful during the ’50s and the ’60s. Stories abound Of the reclusive Greta Garbo who took off with conductor-composer Leopold Stokowski to the Villa Cimbrone there during a highly secretive affair. When the villa was thronged, Garbo was heavily annoyed. She is said to have remarked that a doctor should have been kept hand ‘in case anyone is hurt’.
I could, in my imagination, see film stars clinking flutes of bubbly and emitting tinkling notes of laughter as they took breaks from lazy laps in the pool of the uber luxurious hotel that stood adjacent to the theatre building. A contrast to this picture was perched, immediately across the valley, atop lush green mountains in the form of an austere monastery.
We ambled down to the Chiesa di Santa Maria delle Grazie, a 12th-century church with steps leading down to the coastal town of Minori. We descended those steps lured by the quiet. A local led his donkeys down them, beneath a tall, lone Cypress. If we had been going down the steps in the old days, say in the 16th century, we might have been offered wine on our way down to Minori. The man who built the church had stipulated it to his heirs.
We sat on the walls of the church, with a surreal view across the Gulf of Amalfi. You can spot it in the lead photograph and below.
In the cathedral square of Ravello, you cannot miss Villa Rufolo which was named after the powerful family that lived in it. The family became even more famous when the 14th-century Italian author Giovanni Boccaccio made a Landolfo Rufolo the protagonist of his fourth novella in Decameron, a collection of stories. D.H. Lawrence spent some time in the villa when he started writing his controversial novel, Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Yes, writers such as Virginia Woolf, E.M. Forster and Andre Gide too had soaked in the immense charm of Ravello. The villa has played host to many creative people but the one that left an everlasting effect was German opera composer Richard Wagner.
Wagner visited Villa Rufolo in the late 1800s and he was inspired to compose the opera Parsifal. On a stone plaque on the walls of the villa is immortalised his words “Il magico giardino di Klingsor è trovato” which translates into “the magical garden of Klingsor has been found”. Now, every year Villa Rufolo hosts a Wagnerian concert in its gardens and this summer music festival gives it the epithet of la città della musica or ‘The City of Music’.
Standing upon the terraces of Villa Cimbrone, a few yards from Villa Rufolo, I could appreciate the words of Catullus that’s inscribed upon a bronze statute of Hermes: “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.”
Things to Do:
- Mamma Agata’s (http://www.mammaagata.com/) cooking class. She has cooked for the likes of Fred Astaire and Humphrey Bogart and has many a story to tell.
- Take the coastal footpath down to Minori.
- Monastero Di Santa Chiara. You have to plan for it. It is open only on Sundays for morning service.
- Ravello-Atrani walk along one of the oldest routes on the coast. It is strenuous but the views are rewarding.
Where to Stay:
At Villa Amore (http://www.villaamore.it/), a basic bed & breakfast, price range between €120 and €150 per night.
At Hotel Rufolo (http://www.hotelrufolo.com/), Superior Sea View Rooms start at € 195 per night. The hotel has a roll-call of famous names to boast of, and one of it guests, French writer Lucette Desvignes wrote words that makes you want it all. She had noted: “From the medieval towers to the infinity of the sea, all belongs to you: mountains, coast, lemon valley or vineyard, magic garden, Moorish cloister, Byzantine cupolas, pine trees, all is yours and you take it with you when you leave.”