RAVELLO, Italy -- Here along the Amalfi coast, dramatic panoramas of rocky cliffs hanging over the sea are everywhere.
But the views from the town of Ravello -- perched above the gulf of Salerno -- feel like a shortcut to paradise.
Getting to Ravello, which has a rich history dating back to the sixth century, is an adventure in itself. The town remains virtually untouched by the swarms of tourists who visit nearby Capri and Ischia.
Perhaps it is the hairpin bends that drop off into ravines that keep away all but the most determined.
The town is also closed to traffic; cars must be left in parking lots near the main square.
Still, visitors find their way here to relax, sample limoncello liqueur in local cafes or listen to the renowned open-air concerts that are offered each summer as part of the Ravello Festival. Over the years, the town has hosted many celebrities, including Richard Wagner, Arturo Toscanini, Miro and D.H. Lawrence.
Cobblestone alleys, steep lanes and staircases lead to breathtaking views from terraced villas, such as the one at Villa Cimbrone, a well-known local attraction that is also an upscale hotel. Here, statues, temples, fountains, epigraphs, an ancient cloister, natural grottos and exotic flowers and trees lead the way to the breathtaking "Belvedere of Infinity."
The view from the balcony is so wide that writer Gore Vidal -- who owned a nearby villa -- once defined it as "the most beautiful in the
White-marbled statues guard you as you lean out, overlooking the coast. The place is incredibly quiet, even in the high season. Only a few tourists, speechless, take pictures of each other as the sea and the sky merge on the horizon.
Villa Cimbrone dates back centuries and is a fascinating mixture of styles and epochs, ethnic and cultural elements and antique finds. Its name derives from the rocky ridge on which it stands, which is known as "cimbronium." Lord Grimthorpe of England bought the villa in 1904, and it quickly became a meeting place for English visitors to the Amalfi coast, including the famous London Bloomsbury set.
A nearby villa called La Rondinaia was built by Grimthorpe's daughter and for many years was owned by Vidal.
La Rondinaia, which means swallow's nest, was built into the side of the cliff, with six stories and multilevel terraces wrapped around it in a labyrinth of stairs and balconies. Vidal, who has had a prolific career as a playwright, essayist, scriptwriter and novelist, did much of his writing here.
La Rondinaia is now owned by Vincenzo Palumbo, who bought the property from Vidal for a reported $17.87 million. Palumbo, who also owns several local hotels, is renovating the property and said he plans to turn it into a niche lodging for jet-setters.
Palumbo said he hopes to rent the villa out later this summer. With six bedrooms, including suites, two studies and five fireplaces, he said it will accommodate 12 to 18 people at a time.
Palumbo added that Vidal's studio, where he did his writing, will remain untouched and will be part of a small museum inside the mansion.
La Rondinaia is not currently open to the public.
IF YOU GO
FESTIVAL: Through Sept. 30 at the Villa Rufolo. www.ravellofestival.com.
VILLA CIMBRONE: Room rates from $410. www.villacimbrone.com; (011-39-89) 857459.
INFORMATION: www.ravellotime.it; (011-39-89) 857096.