La Costiera Amalfitana
Ravello and The Amalfi Coast
Friday, September 28
After a day and a half of (very enjoyable) family activities, Elvira and I wanted to get out and do a bit more touristing. Of the remaining items on my pre-trip attractions list was a tour of the Amalfi coast, and my sister had indicated that that would be something she'd like to do. Another sunny day had dawned (in fact, pretty much every day had so far been sunny and warm), making this a perfect time to go.
The Amalfi coast is a world-famous stretch of coastline along Italy's western coastline, not far south of Naples (and, consequently, not far from Avellino). It is a steep, rugged section of coast, with many small picturesque communities clinging to its steep slopes. It is a UNESCO world heritage site, and in their words, the Amalfi Coast is "an outstanding example of a Mediterranean landscape, with exceptional cultural and natural scenic values resulting from its dramatic topography and historical evolution".
Vietri sul Mare
We drove south along the Autostrada from Avellino towards the coastal city of Salerno, at the eastern end of the Amalfi coast. We would be travelling the tortuously twisty Amalfi coast highway from east to west. I had hoped that it being late September, the normally crowded highway would be a little more quiet, but this turned out not to be the case. Perhaps by mid-October?
In any event, in the clear and warm late morning sunshine, the beauty of the Amalfi coast soon enveloped us. As soon as we started west from Salerno, we were treated to colorful views of rows upon rows of stacked sea-side houses and buildings. Each of the little settlements along the coast seemed to have their own interpretation of a multicolored, tile-domed church.
Beginnings of Amalfi coast
Given the sharp, blind curves and limited sight lines, it was difficult to pull out onto the infrequent and often tiny little road pullouts. We did so anyway - many of the views were too stunning to pass up, and I wanted some sort of picture record of our drive.
Coastline near Capo D'orso
Strada Statale Amalfitana
Mile after twisty mile passed, coastal town after coastal town - Vietri Sul Mare, Raito, Cetara, Maiori, Minori - all quaint and beautiful. We passed the remnants of Saracen and Norman forts, reminders of a period of time when the settlements along this coast were of strategic importance and needed to be defended from pirates and other naval powers.
Each of the little towns along the Amalfi coast is worth hours of exploration. Clearly, we didn't have the time in one day to do this. I had in my mind a couple of high-runners, the foremost of these being the town of Ravello. Perched halfway up the slopes of the Lattari Mountains from sea-level, Ravello is reknown for its scenery, some very nice churches, and two sublimely beautiful villas, complete with interesting architecture, beautiful gardens and far-ranging Amalfi coast vistas.
Even in 2001 I had heard of Ravello's beauty, and had stopped there during a previous drive along the Amalfi coast. However, I hadn't had a very good understanding of the specific sights of Ravello nor of its overall layout. As a result, I had wandered around a bit but not really seen all that much. This time, I had come much better prepared.
Main Piazza, Ravello
After driving up the narrow and winding side road from the coastal highway, we found a pay parking lot and walked up to the main piazza - the logical starting point for any visit to Ravello. It is a beautiful spot - anchored by the large 1000-year old white-washed main cathedral, the entrance to the Villa Rufalo, and ringed by large Italian pine and cypress trees.
Ravello is laid out along the top of a long and narrow ridge that extends out towards the coast from the main mass of the Lattari Mountains - this means that there are plenty of spots where there are substantial lookouts and views. The main piazza is on the western side of the ridgetop, giving views into a steep valley. We struck out eastwards, across the top, in search of views facing eastwards.
Via S. Giovanni del Toro, Ravello
We soon reached the Via San Giovanni del Toro, a street that turned out to be quite scenic. The lower section had several ancient-looking buildings with shops tucked underneath, as well as a quaint little municipal park. Farther up, came a series of very elegant, upscale buildings, many housing four and five-star hotels. Soon we encountered another small park, this time on the east side of the road. This was the Belvedere principessa di Piemonte, or The Princess Piedmont Lookout. This park is ringed by tropical vegetation and was well-manicured, and provided wonderful views east along the coastline. It was a magical little spot.
Shady side-alley, Ravello
Beautiful Archway section
Small Ravello Garden Park
After enjoying the views at the belvedere, we retraced our steps back south, in search of the first of Ravello's two famous villas.
A bit of trial and error brought us to the gates of Villa Rufalo. The villa once belonged to a wealthy local family and has gone through several periods of decline and restoration over its nearly 1000-year history, finally becoming a public heritage site in the 1970s. It has a unique combination of architectural styles, including some strong arabic and byzantine influences. We paid the five euro entrance fee, and went inside to have a look.
My sister and I wandered about for the better part of an hour, admiring the moorish courtyard and the terraced gardens, which in places offered beautiful and classic views east along the Amalfi coast. It is likely that some of the pictures you see here will be familiar, because you surely saw them in some coffee-table book or magazine ad for Italy.
Interior work, Moorish courtyard
After touring Villa Rufalo, it was early afternoon - or as it usually is in Italy - lunch time. We decided to stake out a shady table belonging to one of the cafes in the main piazza, where I had a light lunch consisting of a pizza slice and a can of Fanta.
Ravello was indeed turning out to be a highly worthwhile visit. Although we had already burned up much of the day's time here, I did not want to leave without seeing what is perhaps the most famous attraction in the town - the Villa Cimbrone. So, after lunch, we began the walk south from the piazza, towards the very tip of Ravello's ridge, where the Villa Cimbrone was perched.
Villa Maria's Organic Vegetable Garden
The Villa Cimbrone, like many structures in Ravello, date from about 1000 years ago, in the period from 1000 to 1100 A.D. It was the residence of a powerful aristocratic family for hundreds of years. After a period of decline in the 19th century, the Villa has been restored to much of its former glory. And what a glory it is!
For one, the main entrance itself is magical. Not just magical in the standard sense of beauty, but also in a fairytale-like sense, with excessively lush greenery (impeccably maintained), and castle-like turrets and towers.
Turrets at Villa Cimbrone
Once inside (and after paying the entrance fee - 6 Euro), the theme continued, with a Romeo-and-Juliet like romantic cloister, and the gothic beauty of "The Crypt" - a very recent addition that can be used to hold banquets and other occasions. It had a superb eastern view along the Amalfi coast.
Video, The Cloister - Click on video above to start