Tag Archives: Amalfi Coast

Ravishing Ravello

10 Nov

We headed south for the Veterans’ Day weekend. Last time we were south of Rome on the mainland was in December 2011 when we spent a lovely week in Sorrento visiting sites from Naples to Pompeii, Ercolano and Amalfitown. Ravello has been on my list for some time, and it seemed a good idea to hit the hiking paths of the Sorrentine Peninsula during the cooler weather of the off-season.

The view from B&B Auditorium Rooms.

The view from B&B Auditorium Rooms.

As the week prior to travel progressed, it looked like we might be rained out. But the train tickets had been purchased and a B&B secured, so off we went on a gloriously sunny Friday. Ravello did not disappoint and the weather has been kind. Our B&B overlooked the Bay of Salerno from a delightful east-facing balcony where we were able to eat freshly baked cornetti and ham-and-cheese toast kindly prepared by our hosts Marco & Pasquale. We’d have to walk a lot to amortize breakfast.

Italy's show

Italy’s show

Friday evening was a fireworks contest between Japan and Italy, held in the gorge below Ravello, with the fireworks rocketing to a height easily visible from the Piazza del Duomo. There, ensconced with glasses of good red wine, we joined the locals and enjoyed the spectacle of two 3-minute shows before heading off to dinner at a cliffside restaurant overlooking the bay. What luck to arrive the evening if such an event!

Gathering for fireworks contest, Italy vs Japan.

Gathering for fireworks contest, Italy vs Japan.

There is an amazing variety of surfaces in this network of trails around Ravello. this one of stones set in concrete with retaining walls. Far more sophisticated than the Cinque Terre.

There is an amazing variety of surfaces in this network of trails around Ravello. this one of stones set in concrete with retaining walls. Far more sophisticated than the Cinque Terre.

I had hoped to hike the Sentiero degli Dei, but it would have required a couple of buses to achieve the start of the trail, four hours of walking, and an additional two buses to return.  As I am nursing a bum knee (possible torn meniscus and under care of a physical therapist) we opted for a shorter hike with no buses, thinking it would be a shorter journey. Ha!  It turned out to be an arduous hike between five small towns: Ravello, Santa Caterina, Campidoglio, Minuta and Pontone. We were the ONLY PEOPLE hiking this path on a Saturday, testament to the fact that the tourist season had passed.

Photographer on the edge. Beautiful vista over the Mediterranean.

Photographer on the edge. Beautiful vista over the Mediterranean.

These sheep along our trail eyed us suspiciously.

These sheep along our trail eyed us suspiciously.

Our hiking book (under)estimated the hike at 7km. It was closer to 10km by our reckoning, and took  4.5 hours of walking due to the crazy number of stairs we had to ascend and descend…and my bad knee. My physical therapist would not be amused as she told me to avoid stairs for “awhile.” Oh well! It was trek, through amazing terrain and a variety of surfaces and stellar views. We encountered hard-working farm folk, horses, sheep and a talkative kitty that escorted us through Minuta. We took a wrong trail for about 20 minutes, where we almost gave up and turned around,

Decision point - we chose incorrectly and went left for 20 HARD minutes down through the forest.

Decision point – we chose incorrectly and went left for 20 HARD minutes down through the forest.

thinking the trail the book depicted had fallen into disuse.  (The book said “Where the pavement ends take the dirt path on the left.” It said nothing about the staircase to the right, which was the correct way.) Luckily we decided to ascend said staircase to see where we were and picked up the rightful trail, one with mush easier going. We’ve encountered many un-groomed trails in Italy. This one had parts that were almost too good to be true! Contrary to the ruggedness of the Cinque Terre, parts of this trail were stone embedded in concrete with retaining walls.  But oh-my-God there were stairs!

Farmers use horses and mules to carry products and supplies on the network of paths.

Farmers use horses and mules to carry products and supplies on the network of paths.

Italians usually do not eat pizza for lunch. We have no such reluctance. This one with tomatoes, spicy salami, anchovies, mozzarella and pecorino.

Italians usually do not eat pizza for lunch. We have no such reluctance. This one with tomatoes, spicy salami, anchovies, mozzarella and pecorino.

We wore off those cornetti. At Pontone we had to refuel. The only restaurant along the way served up mid-day pizza, much to our satisfaction, fueling us for the uphill slog back to Ravello. Three minutes after returning to our room, the skies opened. We barely avoided being soaked, and reveled in afternoon naps and reading until it was time to eat again. (As I’ve said before, our trips are great meals strung together by long walks.)

Sunday we awoke to mostly clear skies and another fine breakfast. Time to walk

We were the first visitors this day. No one else arrived until we were leaving.

We were the first visitors this day. No one else arrived until we were leaving.

again! Ravello is blessed with two beautiful villas and lots of charming alleyways (and stairs!). We set off for Villa Cimbrone where we meandered completely alone for an hour-and-a half. This is a remarkable property. An estate dating to the 11th century, fallen into disuse and decay, restored in the early 20th century by an English nobleman who had more money than God. It is truly lovely. In addition to being open to the public, it is an ultra-exclusive hotel, booked up for months in advance despite the high prices.

This was called the crypt....not sure why. Magnificent vaulted arches. Villa Cimbrone.

This was called the crypt….not sure why. Magnificent vaulted arches. Villa Cimbrone.

Infinity Terrace at Villa Cimbrone.

Infinity Terrace at Villa Cimbrone. A little overcast but no rain.

Avenue of Immensity, Villa Cimbrone

Avenue of Immensity, Villa Cimbrone

Much of Villa Rufolo is lost to the ages. This tower dominates the remains.

Much of Villa Rufolo is lost to the ages. This tower dominates the remains.

After a restorative double espresso in the Piazza, we tackled the smaller but lovely Villa Rufolo. This one dating to the 13th century, where it was once of such an impressive size, it was said to have “more rooms than days in the year.”  Here we found magnificent sea views, ancient ruins, gardens, and a weird purple man floating in a pond. After, we ate a nice lunch of seafood and fresh vegetables in the company of two very vocal cats.

Note the purple man, floating in the pool in a garden of pansies.

Note the purple man, floating in the pool in a garden of pansies.

Ravello is peaceful. There is no traffic to intrude on a good night’s sleep, nice locals who seem happy it is now off-season, breathtaking vistas in every direction, and (we think) good food, leaning toward fish, with one of our favorites prominently featured in most establishments, marinated anchovies. But then as Ric says, “We’ve never had a bad meal in Italy. Some are just better than others.”

Iconic Ravello view from Villa Rufolo.

Iconic Ravello view from Villa Rufolo.

In a place where land is scarce, gardens are strung along hillsides in tiny plots. Ingenuity! Pumpkin vines and other squash are hung from lattices and caught in netting to prevent falling.
In a place where land is scarce, gardens are strung along hillsides in tiny plots. Ingenuity! Pumpkin vines and other squash are hung from lattices and caught in netting to prevent falling.

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