Picture yourself at the bottom of a set of stone steps, facing a whitewashed church. To your left, a narrow cobbled street winds away from you, and to your right, purple flowers spill over a stone wall. Turn around, and just beyond a vast piazza of teracottas and whites, a mass of green trees covers a steep hillside. Look beyond the trees and you can catch glimpses of a sea, far far below you.
You’re in Ravello. You won’t want to leave when you’ve taken it in, mostly because you want to take it in again. We spent a few hours there one afternoon, walking through the streets hoping to get lost so we wouldn’t have to leave.
Ravello’s roots began in the 5th century. It was strategically set far above sea level, giving inhabitants the advantage of distance and visibility for miles along what is now the infamous Amalfi coast. Its rustic past is what makes it so captivating today. Despite being primarily a tourist destination, it has an air of understated beauty about it, requiring nothing but the sun to reveal its medieval treasures.
Our bus climbed 365m from Amalfi along hairpin bends and impossibly narrow roads for an hour or so. It dropped us just outside a tunnel which was covered with posters for concerts, performances and exhibitions. When you walk through the tunnel, you feel like you’re walking through a dark subway in London or Birmingham (slightly less glamorous) but keep walking. The tunnel opens out onto the Via Giovanni Boccaccio which leads to the central piazza, Piazza Duomo. I turned the full 360° a couple of times, not knowing where to look first and what to take in. This seems to be a common trait in me when I travel but I assure you, you will feel the same.
It does feel touristy, but there’s something about the quiet air up in the hills that makes you feel like you’ve been swept away into another time. We spent some time winding through the streets (I did mention that we tried to get lost to avoid going home, right?) before deciding to visit the famous Villa Rufolo and its gardens. Entry is expensive but if you appreciate a good panoramic view, or flowers, or ruins, then go. It’s easy to spend hours in the gardens. They’re perfectly manicured and set against dramatic hillside views of the Amalfi coast and the Tyrrhenian sea.
If you’re visiting, I’d recommend staying for a few days. For me, it was the views that made it incredible, I could have sat in the gardens all day, eyes glazed over, absorbing the view and the mountain air. The gardeners have crafted it perfectly: crumbling ruins from another age, surrounded by perfectly pruned flowers and arbours.
We loved the stark contrast between busy, crowded Amalfi and the quiet fresh mountain air of Ravello. It felt almost like respite and was very refreshing. I wouldn’t return to Amalfi again, even with its coves and world renowned reputation, unless it was to go straight to Ravello.
Our entire evening passed us by as we meandered about the town, and after what felt like the blink of an eye, night had fallen, revealing even more magic. I am aware that I sound like a poet over here, but I challenge you to go to Ravello and not be transformed into a poet or an artist!
It has inspired creative legends through the years, Richard Wagner composed part of Parsifal in Ravello, Gore Vidal (American author) wrote and lived there for thirty years, and Virginia Woolf was known to visit often. That’s me justifying my love letter for Ravello if you hadn’t realised.
We ordered the best pizza I have ever had from the restaurant on Via Richard Wagner but had to order it to go when we realised we were about to miss the last bus back to Amalfi. Whilst they made the pizza (apparently it only takes 15 minutes to stonebake perfection) we ran up Via Richard Wagner and turned left on Via S. Giovanni del Torro to get a final glimpse of Ravello by night. I felt like a kid at bedtime when I got a call to say the pizza was done and it was time to go back.
We circled Piazza Duomo one final time, climbed up the steps to the Duomo church and walked in hungry silence through the dark tunnel to the bus stop. In complete contrast to the class and splendour of Ravello, I ate my first street pizza crouched on the pavement whilst waiting for the bus, where I learned that if you roll it up, it retains the heat better. Swore I’d never repeat that to a soul.
What I will repeat, is that I returned from Ravello with regret of not having spent more time there. Visit. Visit soon and visit for longer than I did. Let me know when you inevitably become a poet.
Sights and activities: 1.5