InStyle's Managing Director, Justine Southall, makes a case for Italy's Amalfi coast being the most romantic spot in Europe...
The most romantic spot in Europe? A bold claim...
Yes, a claim indeed, but believe you me you are not being over-sold. Ravello, on Italy’s Neapolitan Riviera, is one of the most beautiful and romantic spots you could hope to go to. Spend the day there and you'll couples getting married left, right and centre (they go for the day, get married and have their photos taken with the beautiful back drops) but somehow the pretty town absorbs this and is all the more charming for it.
Sounds wonderful. How do I get there?
We picked up a hire car from Naples airport and drove for a couple of hours. It isn’t a long distance but the roads can be busy and driving on the coastal roads is not for the fainthearted as they wind their way up and down the cliffs! You can get a taxi, which is easier, but means it’s less convenient to explore the surrounding region once you're there.
Tell me more about charming Ravello?
It is a delight. We were there in late May so it was reasonably busy, but never felt at all crowded. The village square is large enough to accommodate plenty of people, cafés and restaurants and the fact the village is perched on the edge of the cliffs, looking at over the surrounding landscape, gives it a sense of space. The more obviously famous places like Positano and Amalfi, are more touristy and so were already much, much busier.
So where did you stay?
It's a medieval village so there's limited car access and we dropped our car in the car park area and then walked a short distance to the hotel down a pedestrian path. We stayed at the Palazzo Avino which is a beautiful, elegant and very well established five-star luxury hotel. Built in what was once a 12th century private villa for an Italian noble family and opened as a hotel in 1997, Palazzo Avino has been lauded as one of the world’s finest hotels and boasts Michelin dining. It is built on the edge of a cliff with views of the sparkling Mediterranean. It's impressive from the outside and opens into a marble floored reception and lounge area, with multiple different terraces and seating areas. It fits into its position overlooking the glorious views perfectly. The service was fantastic as were the facilities and the general ambience. Whilst large and luxurious it's absolutely not corporate in any way, and feels very personal and even a bit quirky.
What did you get up to while you were there?
The hotel itself is so lovely you could quite easily just spend the whole time lying by the glorious pool, sunbathing, using the spa and out door gym and eating the delicious food, but Ravello is also really interesting so I would highly recommend doing it all!
While we were there they had one of the many religious festivals on, the Infiorata, which was stunning. Processions of locals, priests and babies dressed as angels walked through the village past beautiful petal art work on the street outside the church. They then assembled in the square where they continued their celebrations, and it really did feel like were in the middle of a Francis Ford Coppola production!
We also visited the Villa Rufalo, a 13th century mansion renovated and extended in the 19th century, with beautiful gardens and view, just off the main square. But, really, one of the best things to do is to just explore. Take a decent pair of trainers and walk down the paths through the village down through the vines and the little hillside houses and see where you end up.
You hired a car, so did you explore any further?
We did a little afternoon trip to Amalfi and a day trip to Pompei. It's about a couple of hours drive depending on traffic. It's amazing and well worth the effort. The site is so much bigger than you can imagine in the photos, and after hours of walking we still didn’t see the whole expanse of the remaining city of Pompei. It's quite extraordinary to see it in real life. My top tip is the get there early so you miss the queues or book online.
This is Italy so tell us about the food!
We mainly ate in the hotel because it was so good, but there are lots of great restaurants and cafes in the village, too. Lunch at the hotel was on a terrace that overlooks the precipitous drop down the side of the cliff and the pasta in particular was sublime. Everything homemade and freshly grown, and the service was immaculate. Attentive yet relaxed, the best combination of seamless attention to detail and professionalism.
We also had dinner in the main Michelin starred restaurant, which was a particularly special experience. This is sophisticated cuisine at its best, and the combination of the location, the service, the ambiance and the quality of the food, made it very special indeed. It would be the perfect place for a really memorable celebration.
Finally the rooms, did they live up to expectations?
The room we had was very comfortable and had a great view. The bed and linens were of the highest quality and they were immensely peaceful and quiet, we were not disturbed at all during the stay. For me, the whole point about being somewhere so lovely is to be out enjoying the place though, not in the room.
This really is a beautiful and very special spot, I would recommend spring, late summer or autumn to avoid the crowds, but Ravello in particular seems less affected by the coach loads, so a good find!