Ravello …. a gorgeous town set high up in the cliffs, 365 metres above the Tyrrhenian Sea overlooking the Italian Amalfi coastline and the famous resorts of Amalfi and Positano. Being slightly inland from its famous close neighbours, Ravello offers a more peaceful retreat from the hustle and bustle. Ravello offers the same shopping opportunities, has an abundance of bars and restaurants and a gorgeous square – that alone gives Ravello a more “airier and relaxed” feel. The jewel in Ravello’s crown is the stunning 13th century Moorish-style Villa Rufolo with its glorious terraced gardens overlooking the Amalfi coastline. It reminded me of the Monte gardens in Funchal, Madeira (albeit on a smaller scale). In the summer, Ravello is buzzing with the sound of music as the villa and gardens house the popular Ravello Festival – an outdoor music extravaganza with far reaching views. The Villa Rufolo and gardens are wheelchair accessible, according to the Fondazione Ravello who own the property – there were a lot of steps but I did see some slopes and signs for stairlifts.
Villa Rufolo was built in the 13th century by the Rufolo family. When the Villa was first built, it was said to have boasted that it had more rooms than the days of the year! Over the centuries though, the Villa had been slowly neglected and weather worn. It wasn’t until 1851 when Scottish industrialist Francis Neville Reid bought the Villa and began to restore the property and gardens. Although the original 13th century Villa had been a truly unique mixture of Arabic, Sicilian and Norman architecture; Francis added the romantic gardens. Sometime in the 18th century, heavy looking cloisters were bizarrely added. More recently, in 2007, modern facilities were added for the new owners – Fondazione Ravello, the Ravello Festival and the Centro Universitano Europea per I Beni Culturali.
My first stop as I entered the Villa Rufolo was the Moorish Courtyard. Originally columns surrounded all three sides of the courtyard, but today only 36 columns and 2 arches remain on the left hand side. It still looked impressive though. During some restoration work undertaken in the 1990s, the remains of two “ovens” were uncovered behind the courtyard, each had fire resistant vaults and lava bases. Traces of smoke was visible on the sides. Archaeologists believe that this was probably the site of the original kitchen.
La Torre Maggiore is the 30m high tower with views that overlooked both the mountains and the sea. The height of the tower suggests that the Rufolo family must have been pretty important people socially, economically and politically in the 13th century to have built this tall tower in such a strategic position. Today, the tower has just been opened to the public after some impressive restoration work. The tower has three floors and hosts a museum displaying artwork and some archaeological finds. There is also a flight of stairs leading up to the roof terrace that are made of steel and crystal!
The gardens though are lush! The gardens have been kept alive to this day thanks to the descendants of the original team of gardeners employed by Francis Neville Reid in 1851. The view from the garden terraces over the coastline is one of the most photographed panoramas in the world. Definitely instagram worthy!! Musician Richard Wagner visited the Villa in 1880 and was enthralled by the exotic plants that he apparently claimed he had found “the magical garden of Klingsor.” A plaque on the wall commemorates his visit on 26th May 1880.
The Upper garden looks out across the lower gardens to an area known as “Il Belvedere”. This is where the Ravello Festival takes place, with a stage that projects out over the sea. The stage is erected each year at the start of the Festival season.
During archaeological excavations undertaken between 1988 – 1998, the “Balnea” was uncovered – a site of baths, in particular a Turkish bath with remains of water ducts and an intact ribbed dome ceiling. Latest thoughts are that this complex had existed prior to the building of the Villa Rufolo in the 13th century!
WHAT ELSE TO DO IN RAVELLO?
Sit in the main square, Piazza Duomo , which has a lovely spacious feel that you don’t get in either Amalfi or Positano. Around the square are restaurants with outdoor seating .
Go shopping. The narrow shopping streets are lined with ceramic shops, clothing stores, shoe makers, limoncello outlets, sweet shops selling lemon and pistachio delights (yum!) and at the top of the Main Street is the most delicious ice cream shop – Baffone Gelato – the “lemon crumble” flavoured ice cream I had was absolutely scrumptious. Also , try the freshly made lemon slushies drink from the many vendors that line the streets – heaven on a hot day 😊
Go on limoncello tastings – a liqueur made from the town’s abundant lemon groves. Limoncello Spritzer is the latest trendy drink in the bars here too!
Lastly, take instagram worthy photographs. The scenery in this area is stunning. It is so easy to see why Villa Rufolo was awarded the Expert Choice Award 2022 by Tripexpert based on the positive reviews by Frommer’s, Michelin, Fodors, Lonely Planet & Afar Magazine.
Historic info was provided by Fondazione Ravello;
Photographs by Linda Hobden