Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Our European Adventure - Days 8, 9, and 10 - Ravello, the Amalfi Coast and on to Sorrento.

The Amalfi Highway, ItalyThe Amalfi Drive is one of the scariest in the world to navigate by car. It gives “hairpin turns” a whole new meaning. The road twists and turns half way between sea and sky, so narrow at times that there are lights allowing traffic to move in only one direction at a time. When a bus comes toward you, as happened to us several times, you must literally hug the cliff to let it pass.

Why bother? It’s simply some of the most spectacular scenery in the world, and it’s interspersed with tiny charming towns: Amalfi, Positano, Ravello, Minori, Maiori… we love the names of the last two, being musicians—Italian for minor and major. But having been here before, our favorite towns are Positano and Ravello. On our last trip, we stayed in a dreamy little inn, the Casa Teresa in Positano, a hundred and ten steps down from the road. Much of the novel I’m presently writing is set in Positano. However, we opted to stay in Ravello this time. Our faulty memories of it told us that once in the town, the terrain was relatively flat. (WRONG!). Just to be careful, we booked into a hotel with a lift (that’s elevator to any Americans reading this.)

The Amalfi Highway, Italy
Ravello, Italy
To get to Ravello, you leave the twisting, turning Amalfi Drive and head upwards on an even narrower twisting, turning road. Ravello sits like an eagle’s nest on a mountain top overlooking the whole coast. Our trusty GPS, Geraldine, took us right to the door of our hotel. The wife of the proprietor of the small, family-run Hotel Garden, was at the car instantly telling us we could not park there. It was pouring rain, a virtual downpour. Bags were hastily unloaded and she led us to the entrance as a young man, presumably her son, took the car away to a legal parking lot. Yes, the hotel did possess an elevator, but to get to it one had to go down eighteen wet slippery steps from the road. This is not easy for a traveler with a tricky left knee and a painful right hip, and a cane. We now know that in the future we must ask “How many steps are there before we get to the lift?”

Garden Hotel, Ravello, Italy
Entrance to Garden Hotel, Ravello
However we soon found ourselves ensconced in a room with a view forever, and all was forgiven. We discovered we were right next door to a restaurant we had discovered on an earlier trip, da Salvatore, one of the best we’ve ever encountered in all of Italy.

I was content to sit on our little balcony and enjoy the view and then eat at da Salvatore, but JP was seeking some culture, so she bought a ticket to a concert to be held that night in the historic grounds of the Villa Rufolo.  Ravello hosts a world-class chamber music festival from June through October every year. The concert didn’t start until 9:30 pm—I knew it would be wasted on me.

Villa Rufolo, Ravello, Italy
Part of Villa Rufolo in Ravello
There are two sites in Ravello that make the trip up the tortuous road worthwhile. The Villa Rufolo dates back to the 13th Century and has extensive and beautiful gardens.  But Cimbrone is my favourite. Situated on a rocky promontory, it was first an ancient Roman villa. Building has been built over building in the succeeding centuries.  The gardens and the view from the Belvedere are spectacular. Composer Richard Wagner is said to have used it and the Villa Rufolo as his setting for the second act of Parsifal. Cimbrone operates as a luxury hotel today. Guests are picked up by helicopter at Naples Airport and transported there, thus eliminating the need for a long, traffic clogged drive.

We enjoyed sitting at a café on the piazza in Ravello that afternoon, watching three successive wedding parties, three brides all dressed in white satin and lace, descend the
church steps to be pelted with rice and rose petals. We enjoyed it less later, when one of those brides held her reception over our heads until midnight.

Ravello, Italy
Ravello Street
I must explain that most of the hotels start with the main level at zero. Then the rooms descend the cliff. At the Hotel Garden we were on -1. That’s minus one. The music and laughter was immediately over our heads. We cannot seem to escape weddings on this trip. This brings the number we have observed to eight.

I must admit I would not opt to stay in Ravello again. I much prefer Positano. Artist Paul Klee said of Positano that it was “the only town in the world conceived on a vertical rather than a horizontal plane”. Positano with its pastel houses, vistas of the azure sea and narrow little laneways that always end in steps is my favorite on this coast.  It’s crowded with bus tours during the day, but they don’t arrive until after ten and they’re gone by four.

One might expect such cliffs and precipices to denote a rather barren landscape. Nothing could be farther from the reality. The steep hills are terraced and covered with grape vines from which a very pleasant local wine is made.  There are many lemon and orange orchards. Lemons here are the size of grapefruit and are delicious. Both desserts and an
aromatic after dinner liquor, Limoncello, are made from them. Olive trees and palm trees vie for position and hibiscus and bougainvillea are everywhere. From one end to the other of the Amalfi Drive is one vast lush sub-tropical garden.

Sorrento, Italy
Sorrento at sunset
After two days we left Ravello and headed for Sorrento. My desire to see Sorrento comes largely from hearing Pavarotti sing about returning to it on countless recordings. I’m a huge Pavarotti fan.

Once again our trusty Geraldine took us without a hitch to the Hotel Belair. I really got it right this time. This lovely four star hotel sits right in the edge of the promontory, hanging out over the Bay of Naples. It is decorated beautifully and tastefully in Italian style with many antique pieces. Our room is a delight. And for once our two beds are comfortable and wide enough so that I don’t worry about falling out of mine in my sleep. Across from us, in the distance, we see the Naples and, looming over it, Mount Vesuvius, the still live although hopefully dormant volcano that destroyed Pompeii two millennia ago.

The food in the restaurant is far better than we’ve come to expect in hotel dining rooms. Nevertheless we’ll explore other options. As I predicted in my last blog, the prices of everything escalate as we move north. But, apparently, so do the standards. The last four-star hotel we stayed in (near Paestum) was in no way comparable to this jewel.

Hotel Belair, Sorrento, Italy
Hotel Belair, Sorrento
As I’ve been writing a thunder storm has raged outside. We can see a massive waterfall gushing down the cliff from above the town to the sea. The concierge said, “Don’t go into town in the rain. Nothing moves.” JP took the storm as an opportunity to nap. She’s sound asleep.  Fine. I’m more than content to sit and write.

But now the sun has come out. With any luck we’ll be able to get into the cliff-side pool in an hour or so. Life could be worse.


Following are my published novels. Go to my Goodreads page, to find more info and reviews.  

To purchase one of these books, just click on the book link below and select the vendor of your choice.

The Memory of Roses, Blair McDowell
 • The Memory of Roses ~ The story of a secret and how it impacts two generations of the McQuaid family.  It unfolds on the beautiful Greek Island of Corfu and is a tale complete with beautiful and passionate women, handsome and fiery men, and an intriguing mystery.

"The Memory of Roses by Blair McDowell is simply an incredibly lovely story. It’s also a love story, and a story about finding yourself, and about closure. The theme running through the book is “all’s well that ends well.”  --  Marlene, Reading Reality


Delighting In Your Company, Blair McDowell
 • Delighting In Your Company ~ Delighting In Your Company is a paranormal romance set on an exotic Caribbean island, featuring a handsome ghost and an adventurous heroine who travels back in time to solve a mystery!

"Delighting In Your Company is a unique paranormal romance that brings together island folklore, history, and mystery with an unlikely romance between the past and present that had me going through a torrent of emotions and made it impossible to put down." -- The Romance Reviews


Sonata, Blair McDowell
 • Sonata ~ Sayuri McAllister has just arrived home to Vancouver to find some shocking situations 
~ A robbery has taken place at her family home, and it is being investigated by her old flame;
~ Alyssa James who she barely knows, is about to become her new stepmother; 
~ and Alyssa’s brother, Hugh James, is a charming Irishman who is intent on bedding and wedding the rich and beautiful Sayuri. 

It’s a confusing and difficult time for Sayuri, especially when dangerous accidents happen to her father and herself – or are they accidents?

“I found Sonata to be a charming novel that left me laughing out loud in parts and gnawing nails in others. It was a delight to read.” – Night Owl Reviews


Abigail's Christmas, Blair McDowell
 • Abigail's Christmas (short story) ~ An enchanting tale of love and romance, with a magical touch of fantasy.
Abigail's Christmas is a holiday story about Abigail who goes looking for a tree on Christmas Eve, and ends up with the man of her dreams in a sleigh in the Rockies --- with a wedding in the offing! Is it real?  Is she dreaming?  Or is it just Christmas magic?

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Blair McDowell