Garden in the sky
Getting to heaven can be tricky but it has to be done
FOLLOWING on from the story last week about Italy’s Amalfi Coast and its beguiling beauty (despite it being overrun with tourists like me), let’s make our way to Ravello, the mother of all the beautiful towns on the Amalfi Coast. Ravello is one of those legendary places that must be seen to be believed for its staggeringly stunning views over the Gulf of Salerno.
Suspended somewhere just below heaven and the tips of the soaring mountains that signify the Amalfi Coast, Ravello is most known for its exquisite villas, lush gardens and transfixing beauty. Getting there was never going to be simple, although it should have been.
From our rented-villa base in Praiano, mid-way between Positano and Amalfi, it was only a short distance.
The bus came through Praiano every half hour to Amalfi, where a change of bus could take us high up in the mountains to Ravello. But it was getting on the crowded bus that posed the tricky bit, impossible with such summer crowds. So we inquired about hiring a car and a driver.
That became impossible, too, when we heard the cost – several hundred euros for a return trip. How to get to this tantalising place so close, so high in the sky, but seemingly so unreachable unless a lot of money changed hands?
We eventually found a small private bus hire that would take us for a reasonable price.
The 7km drive up through the Valle del Dragone was a spine-tingling thrill of twists and turns and tight corners and one breathtaking view after another over mountains and valleys and endless sky.
Way up there in Ravello, at 365 metres above sea level, we found stately villas interspersed with elegant art galleries, expensive shops, grand hotels, quaint cafes and the ubiquitous colourful ceramic shops of the area.
A day in Ravello is not enough. Just exploring one of the villas gobbles up the hours, so we chose carefully and found ourselves inside the gardens of Villa Cimbrone armed with a map and a determination to see as many of its highlights as we could. The villa’s gorgeous restoration is due to an English politician called Lord Grimthorpe who, in the early 20th century, was determined to bring a generous slice of genteel English style to the Mediterranean.
Wisteria-covered stairways, gardens of French and English roses, brimming flowerbeds, marble fountains, handsome rotundas, moss-covered doorways, meandering paths, marble busts, lyrical statues and views to infinity are all part of the landscape, botany and culture of England up there on the clifftops of Italy.
The serenity and stillness when you are up so high add to the marvellous experience. Looking down to the sea so far below instils a sense of wonder. Boats that are probably speeding across the sea seem to be at a standstill. The colours of the water vary from clear green to deep sapphire with patches of dense navy.
We had arrived early before the crowds and enjoyed relative peace and space, coffee in the morning with views over the valleys, lunch at midday with views over the sea and mountains, and strolls in between.
Ravello is like one large luxe floating garden in the sky, and worth a visit no matter how difficult or costly.
The view of the sea from one of the lookouts in Ravello, Italy, and, below right, the Villa Rufolo gardens in Ravello.