They say a picture tells a thousand words, but I guess as a writer, that would be cheating. Still, it’s tempting. There’s so much beauty here, it’s hard to do it justice – a dazzling mix of sunshine, cobalt blue, church bells and ripe, juicy lemons.
To truly appreciate southern Italy’s Amalfi Coast, one must experience it at sea level (Positano) and from the mountains (Ravello). Each have their own charm. In Ravello, you’re above it all – it’s peaceful, secluded and charming. Positano, with its refreshing waters and busy, vibrant laneways is the other side of the coin.
There’s beauty in Positano’s defiance. The Italians took one look at the impossibly steep cliffs and said ‘we’re gonna build here anyway’. These days, the houses and knotted miles of road that decorate this incredible 50km stretch of coastline have become a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We hope for everyone’s sake that nearby Mount Vesuvius – the only active volcano on the European mainland – continues to play nice.
Once you fly into Naples, the best way to reach the Amalfi Coast is by car… driven by someone else! The views are just too distracting for tourists, and these roads are steep, narrow and full of hairpin bends. The more seasoned motorists think nothing of overtaking on blind corners, so you can’t afford to take your eyes off the road for a second! We recommend Car Service Amalfi Coast – they’ll meet you at the airport, whisk you away in air-conditioned comfort and will call your hotel en route to ensure they’re ready for you. Our driver Gianluca gave us a very warm welcome and pointed out interesting landmarks along the 1 hour 10 minute journey to Ravello – like the ruins of Pompeii for instance. Given that the alternative to the car would have involved four buses and three hours of travelling, we were extremely grateful!
A few days here make you want to cancel your flight home and learn Italian. The views are gorgeous, the people are warm and friendly, the towns are cosmopolitan and humming with life, the food and wine are to die for. Once here you can swim, sunbake and shop. There are mountain hiking trails, if your legs are up for it. You can jump on a boat and head out to the Isle of Capri for the day, or you can hop from coastal town to coastal town.
Here are three gorgeous places to hang your hat.
Villa Tre Ville, Positano
With spectacular views across the water to Positano, Villa Tre Ville isn’t so much perched among steep cliffs as elegantly draped. Surrounded by floral, manicured gardens, this truly is a home away from home. In fact, that’s one of their major selling points. As our host Antonio tells us, “we want people to relax and treat this like their home. If guests want to eat breakfast at noon, they can.”
This ethos is evident at every turn – you get what you want, when you want it. The service is slick and seamless, but not alienating. Here, the staff beam with pride at living and working in such a paradise, and they can’t wait to show you around.
Villa Tre Ville was once home to celebrated Italian opera director and moviemaker Maestro Franco Zeffirelli and was converted into a luxury hotel three years ago. It has become one of the area’s most exclusive addresses and is a regular haunt for the likes of Russell Crowe and Penelope Cruz.
The complex is made up of four independent houses, two with private pools and gardens, and has 15 suites in total. The buildings are linked by gardens and underground tunnels. The prime location means that you get a little corner of the Mediterranean all to yourself, and the tourist buzz of nearby Positano is close enough to be convenient, but far enough away to give you respite.
No expense has been spared in decking out this place. From the glorious club lounge to the individually decorated, spacious suites, no detail has been overlooked. We stayed in the La Diaghilev suite which was sublime – hand-painted tiled floors, lofty ceilings, towels as thick as a phone book and decadent views out to sea from every window.
After you’ve strolled through the gardens and relaxed in the jacuzzi, head down to the water’s edge and swim in the deep blue Mediterranean. Afterwards, relax on a soft day bed as staff bring you wine, melon and prosciutto. They’ll even take you across to Positano on the hotel’s private boat, giving you a little sunset tour of the coastline along the way.
Villa Fraulo, Ravello
Located in the heart of Ravello, Villa Fraulo offers modern comfort within a historical setting, and every room boasts a terrace with the same intoxicating ocean view. Expect lots of white leather, marble and gold trim – you’ll definitely feel like you’re in Italy!
The showpiece of this hotel is their sun terrace, which has a large central fountain and incredible Amalfi Coast views. It was being used by a wedding party on the night we were there, but we managed to make do with an afternoon sauna and a refreshing dip in the infinity pool instead.
Being a restored historical building, the hotel is not without its quirks, like needing to take two elevators to get to our room, or having to call reception to adjust the air-conditioning. Also, rooms on higher floors have less street noise, although the thick sliding glass doors will ensure light sleepers get plenty of rest.
Breakfast on the sun terrace is a spectacular way to wake up – a great range of pastries, fresh fruit and thick strong coffee go beautifully with gazing out to sea. All of life’s troubles seem to float away as you ponder the distance to the mountains beyond and the lives that lie within them.
If you’re doing any sightseeing, local buses leave right outside and there’s a walking trail down to the sea near the hotel too. If you’d prefer to while away your days in Ravello drinking limoncello and gazing out to sea, this might just be the perfect place to do it.
Hotel Palumbo, Ravello
Hotel Palumbo feels less like a hotel, and more like you’re staying in a grand refurbished palazzo, which is essentially what it is. This part gay-owned establishment has been in the family since 1875 but the structure of the building itself goes back to the 12th century. Past guests have included Yoko Ono, Truman Capote, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Tennessee Williams, Gore Vidal and Laurence Olivier – if only these walls could talk!
The hotel is spread over two buildings and has 17 rooms, a lobby bar and a spacious, verdant garden with climbing vines, four-person Jacuzzi and uninterrupted views across the Amalfi Coast. It really is spectacular. Breakfast is served each day on the outdoor terrace which is located on the top floor. They really know how to do breakfast in Ravello. There’s something about the coffee, the fresh air and the dizzying heights that just leaves you feeling elated for the rest of the day.
Rooms in the main building are spacious, quiet and have sun terraces overlooking the peaceful gardens and that view! Our suite had a desk positioned near the window, although I’m not sure how anyone could get any work done with such distracting gorgeousness beyond the glass.
Beds are plump and comfortable, curtains will plunge you into full coffin-black darkness, if you’re fussy about that sort of thing. The hotel is in a perfect location – just a short, cobbled stroll to the centre of Ravello.
By Christian Taylor.