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#WhenIn Ravello (& the Amalfi Coast)

Ravello… three delectable syllables that taste as good in the mouth as they symbolize everything a fastidious little heart could desire. A precious gem in every way, Ravello is a place I would rather keep to myself (you’re lucky I won’t shut up about it, otherwise I wouldn’t be telling you any of this). My only dissatisfaction is that I am not old enough to have beaten Tennessee Williams and Richard Wagner (on a donkey, no less) to this magical place, in a time when it was even more seclusive, and then been inspired to create some piece of genius right there on that astonishing hilltop (typical fancy artists and their donkeys). Ravello, an incredible haven of natural beauty, cultured grace, and remarkable food, has officially reached the top of my list…

Where to stay:

Villa Maria in Ravello is a simply gorgeous property with amazing views and an impressive vegetable garden that provides the most delicious ingredients to its fantastic kitchen. The property feels very private because it is tucked away (yet close to everything), and you have parking and pool access at their partner property, Hotel Giordano, a few paths away (Ravello is full of small paths rather than roads). The staff takes pride in its excellent service, and breakfast each morning is so wonderful you just want to wake up early from your perfect sleep to sit there from the moment they open breakfast till the moment they close breakfast. The rooms are super comfortable and charming with lovely hand-painted tiles, and we even stayed in an extra private section with a private patio overlooking the rose garden and vegetable garden (and had to fight Kevin Spacey, our next-door neighbor, for first dibs at the breakfast table)…

Hotel Parsifal in Ravello is a very special property that dates back to 1288 when it served as a convent. When you arrive, you are immediately greeted by the wonderful owner, Antonio, who relieves you of your car to his competent valet and then carries your luggage past the gorgeous courtyard full of beautiful flowers and into your superior room with an absolutely exceptional private patio overlooking the mountains and ocean (there is only a single room with a patio like this, which one should reserve well in advance).

Hotel Pellegrino in Praiano is a mountainside property covered in flowers and greenery and has a beautiful view. Luigi and his family takes genuinely good care of you from the moment you arrive till the moment you leave (even when you check out over an hour late, because you took too long savoring their homemade breakfast and then decided to go for a swim when you should be packing). Praiano is a small town close to Positano with a small tucked-away beach down the hill. It is a far more wonderful (and private) experience staying here rather than in Positano that is completely flooded with tourists.

Palazzo Vingius in Minori is a funky hotel that curves up with the mountain it is attached to. Once you find the entrance to the hotel (that looks like the entrance to the neighboring seafood restaurant) and make your way up the narrow stone stairs (that look like they belong to some ancient ruins), you get to the reception and check in (before making your way up a lot more stairs) to finally reach your room. But hey, you get this really nice view of town, beach, and mountains.

Julius Studio in Salerno is a phenomenal apartment found on airbnb. You really get that “wow” sensation when you walk into the space and experience the compound effect of the lofty ceilings, the gorgeous well-preserved 16th century paintings on the walls (from when Olivetan Benedictine monks lived there), the weathered doors and door frames, and the bright double doors out to two balconies that overlook the ocean. And we had a bottle of wine, Italian snacks, and an espresso-stocked kitchen waiting for us when we arrived.

How to get around:

Drive a fabulous little Fiat! This is definitely the trip where you rent a vintage Fiat 500 and cruise around the curly mountain roads.

Where to eat:

Breakfast:

Villa Maria in Ravello serves an absolutely fabulous breakfast with freshly-made espressos (in cute little cups with cute little lids), cappuccinos, home-baked breads, croissants and torte galore, eggs, fruits, and so much more.

Hotel Pellegrino in Praiano serves a delicious breakfast with an exceptional view. Luigi’s family cooks everything in the kitchen, while he brings out one plate after another of freshly-cut fruits, homemade omelets, Italian cakes, cappuccinos, toasted breads, and homemade jams.

Baba Napoli in Salerno is the perfect little place to stop for sfogliatella. We were driving by quite undramatically when I saw these many-layered little pastries in Baba’s window and yelled “stop”! I jumped out and reappeared a few moments later in the illegally-parked little Fiat with a giant smile on my face and a bag with our very first sfogliatella.

Lunch:

Mimi’ Pizzaria and Cucina in Ravello is unbelievably good at everything they do (literally everything they make is irritatingly good), and it is located 2min away from Villa Maria (really quite unnecessary to put two such great restaurants so close to each other, making every meal in Ravello a mental tug of war). Their burrata, Rebellum pizza, and seafood scialatielli must be some of the best things we have ever eaten, and their tiramisu is disconcertingly tied with Alimentari’s in Copenhagen.

Torre dei Normanni in Maiori is a 16th century tower by the water that has been transformed into a romantic restaurant with exceptional views and very good food (though the service could use a little help). The prices are of course a bit higher than the other restaurants in town, but it is definitely worth a lunch visit.

Caffe’ dei Mercanti in Salerno Old Town has amazing homemade vegetable torte straight out of the oven. It is the perfect place for an afternoon snack when everything else in Old Town is “chiuso per riposo” (closed for midday siesta).

Caracalé in Procida is tucked away at the end of Via Marina di Corricella. They make some of the best food on the island and has a lovely outdoor seating area overlooking the clear waters, the small boats, and Ex Carcere (the large former prison of Procida at the top of the hill). The food, especially the fresh seafood, is incredibly good, and the authentic atmosphere is really quite wonderful.

Dinner:

Villa Maria in Ravello (I guess this must be the fourth mention here) is a fabulous place for dinner (surprise). The gorgeous view of the ocean and mountains in the setting sun is pretty tough to beat; the service is excellent, and their food (especially any vegetable dish from their own garden) is incredible.

Next2 in Positano is an upscale restaurant on your way up the hill from Positano beach that serves delicate dishes on their lovely patio (particularly lovely if you ignore the stream of cars driving by on the one-way mountain road into Positano). The food is very delicious and beautifully presented, and the atmosphere is calm and relaxing.

What to eat:

Sfogliatella (which means small, thin leaf/layer) is a perfect accompaniment to your morning cappuccino. This Italian pastry, also known as a lobster tail, is specifically native to Campania and has many crispy, flaky layers with ricotta and orange filling inside. They are extremely good when fresh, but also quite filling, and I may have gone a bit overboard with them on this trip…

Mozzarella may be very good in this area, but it is easily trumped by burrata, especially the burrata at Mimi’ Pizzaria and Cucina in Ravello. And while we are talking about Mimi’, one must have their pizzas (particularly the Rebellum pizza with aforementioned burrata and 24-month-old prosciutto crudo di parma), and their seafood scialatielli is of course also an absolute necessity.

N’dunderi are Italian dumplings, specifically native to Minori. They are extremely good when prepared with a a delicious seafood sauce (like they do at Torre dei Normanni in Maiori — right next to Minori).

Octopus salad is very common in the area and tastes very fresh and tender, especially when prepared with a little olive oil and fresh tomatoes (like they do at Caracalé in Procida).

Polpette di pesce are fish meatballs that are particularly delicious when served in a delicate dish with greens and pumpkin sauce (like they do at Next2 in Positano).

Fresh ravioli or pasta in this area is just phenomenal.

Tiramisu is a wonderful Italian dessert when made right (like they do at Mimi’).

Local fresh figs are really delicious, especially when they are plucked right off the tree.

What to do:

Get the view of Ravello from Scala. Scala is a quaint town right opposite Ravello, from where you can get some really gorgeous views. It is very easy to walk to, either via the main road or the direct path with stairs up and down the mountain.

Walk between Ravello and Amalfi via La Valle del Dragone. This hike is absolutely amazing and full of beautiful views and impressions. It takes you on very steep stairs and narrow paths on the mountain side, past all kinds of scenery and greenery, between private little houses in the hills, and through incredible landscapes.

Attend the wine and food festival, Calici di Stelle (Chalices of Stars), in Ravello. This is a highly anticipated annual event in Ravello and involves the entire town. Different local wineries and properties set up tables along a path throughout town to give you a taste of their delicious local wines and food. You take a sensational journey through it all with various tastings while experiencing live classical music and opera singers placed along the way. Tickets cost a mere 20 euros, and you get an idea of what Ravello is capable of.

Walk around Villa Cimbrone and Villa Rufolo in Ravello. These two properties are extremely beautiful, each in its own way with its own interesting and unique history. Both gardens are perfect places for afternoon walks, and it becomes easy to imagine how it must have been to live there privately many years ago.

Relax on tiny Praiano beach. Praiano is a small town outside of Positano and has a very small beach tucked away far below the main street (and it is not very apparent where you should be walking down to get there). It is a very nice beach because it feels local and much more private than the beaches of Amalfi, Positano, and Maiori.

Visit Positano. Positano is an incredibly pretty and charming town, and its right by the water, so it is very understandable why it has become so popular and crowded with tourists. Of course that makes the poor place far less charming in my opinion, especially because the one-way street to get there is completely backed up with cars (which really should all be left at the top of the hill). It is definitely worth a visit, but perhaps also just a visit (before returning to your lovely and quiet hotel in Praiano).

Go for a run in the hills of Minori. We were able to fit in some pretty amazing runs on this trip, and one of the best was in Minori, where we came upon a route in the hills that was full of lemon trees and amazing foliage growing over old ruins. It was really quite spectacular.

Visit Castello di Arechi in Salerno. You can get some pretty amazing views of Salerno and its surroundings from this old castle atop the hill, and you can even enjoy a good cappuccino within the castle walls before driving on to the next adventure.

Visit Pompei and climb Vesuvio. The ruins of ancient Pompei are very impressive and span a far wider area than I had expected. It is quite fascinating to walk around in this giant ghost town full of ancient streets and buildings before climbing the once-eruptive volcano that caused its demise.

Take a day trip to Procida Island. Wanting to avoid all the tourists flocking to Capri and Ischia and hoping for a quieter and more authentic experience, we decided to explore Procida, a smaller island outside of Napoli. It is definitely less popular than the other islands, which makes it so much more quaint and charming, especially with its colorful houses, clear waters, and really good food. We spent an entire day just wandering around the small streets, eating fresh seafood at local restaurants, swimming in the ocean, climbing onto large piles of rocks, and having gelato by the water.

What not to do:

Napoli. Just don’t go to Napoli. I heard how it is a dangerous and dodgy city, but that part really doesn’t bother me nearly as much as how it lacks in pride and care for itself. The city is trashed with garbage and cigarette buds (stuck everywhere in the nice old cobblestones), and the once-beautiful buildings have been allowed to fall completely into decay with no attempt for preserving their history or charm. The atmosphere is heavy and dark, and it almost sparks flames of irritation in your body just being there.

Addu Mimi in Pompei boasted extremely good reviews on Tripadvisor, so we decided to go there for lunch before arriving at the ruins, but I simply cannot decide which was more terrible, the food or the service (perhaps they have had a change of management).

Il Maestrale in Procida is at the very top of the list of restaurants on the island, but we were rather disappointed with the quality of the food compared to that of Caracalé just a few stone throws away.

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