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Thursday, August 25, 2005

High above the Tyrrhenian Sea is the romantic town of Ravello, rivalling its better-known neighbour Positano. It's a place of splendid gardens and historic villas. The town is car-free, so you can take time to enjoy its Moorish architecture and hidden gardens, palaces, churches and sudden glimpses of the sea at a leisurely pace on foot.

Thought to have been founded in the 4th century by Romans escaping Barbarians, its position is more elevated than other Amalfi Coast towns. Among the numerous churches in Ravello, the cathedral is magnificent. The first bishop of Ravello, Orso Pavicio, ordered its construction and it has some interesting treasures.

The pulpit, designed by Nicolò di Bartolomeo in the 13th century, is richly decorated by mosaics and its chiseled bronze door is magnificent.

Near the cathedral you will see the quadrangular tower which gives way to Villa Rufolo, an Arabesque-style group of buildings symbolising the wealth of the family whose name it bears. The public is admitted to the Moorish cloister, tower and gardens, the beauty of which inspired Wagner to write his Parsifal. Wagner and his music are celebrated in the gardens each July.

Ravello has long been a magnet for intellectuals, artists, the creative and famous — Greta Garbo hid there, Longfellow came for inspiration, Gore Vidal and Tennessee Williams thought it charming. Its blend of old buildings and gardens was instrumental in DH Lawrence's masterpiece, Lady Chatterley's Lover.

Villa Cimbrone is a most aristocratic-looking palace. Built in the 15th century, it can be reached by steps on a 10-minute walk from the main square. It was once owned by a wealthy and eccentric Englishman, Lord Grinthorpe, who was responsible for its present status. He entertained Henrik Ibsen, DH Lawrence, Virginia Woolf, Tennessee Williams, the elusive Greta Garbo, Leopold Stokowsky, the Bloomsbury Group, Winston Churchill and the Duke and Duchess of Kent. Now you are able to stay there.

At the entrance, a bell on the old wooden gates is rung to summon the attendant. You will see ancient vaulted cloisters, ruined chapels, wonderful architecture and breathtaking views over the Bay of Salerno. You wander through one of Italy's most beautiful gardens, along an avenue of trees lined with statues and fountains, leading to the Terrace of the Infinite, to be rewarded with the view Gore Vidal called "the most beautiful in the world".

Just 20 guest rooms have been fastidiously preserved, with frescoed vaults, stone fireplaces and floors paved with tiles from Vietri Sul mare, the nearby town famous for its artistic ceramics. Despite the beauty, peace and tranquillity, the hotel has all modern comforts, including hydro-massage. Cuisine is Mediterranean-inspired and includes many ingredients from the Villa's gardens.

If you're out exploring and fancy a spot of pasta, the family-run Cumpa' Cosimo has more than just great food. It has history. It opened in 1929 and is now run by Donna Netta Bottone, daughter of the original owners. Most of what she serves comes from her garden or the butcher next door. She sings as she piles plates high with pasta or house specialties of roast lamb or cheese crepes.


Italy's Amalfi Coast.


CIT Travel has a range of accommodation in Ravello, starting at $206 a couple a night.

Please note that the prices listed are valid at the time of filming.

More information

CIT World Travel Group
Ph: (02) 9267 1255

Villa Cimbrone
Via Santa Chiara 26
Ravello 84010 Italy
Ph: 089 857 459
Fax: 089 857 777

Villa Rufolo
Piazza Duomo
Ravello 84010 Italy
Ph: 089 857 657

Cumpa' Cosimo
Via Roma 44
Ravello Italy
Ph: 089 857 156

Italian Government Tourist Office
Ph: (02) 9262 1666
Fax: (02) 9262 1677

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