This Must Be The Place
The Amalfi Coast is one of those fantasy destinations that epitomizes chic Italian glamour. Picturesque cliffside villages, pastel-colored facades, perfect blue seas, lots of limoncello and gorgeous sundresses. This is what dreams are made of, even TikTok dreams. The Amalfi vibe is the inspiration behind this year’s TikTok trend Tomato Girl Summer (yes, it’s a real thing). Here’s my stay at Caruso, a Belmond Hotel in Ravello.
A Hotel with History
What do Greta Garbo, Jacqueline Kennedy, Virginia Woolf and Justin Bieber all have in common? They’ve all enjoyed an escape at Caruso. And I totally understand why. Caruso is perched on a cliff about 1,200 feet above the coast (with a price tag as high as its twice altitude), and is as impenetrable from paparazzi and pirates as you can get. And that’s always been its purpose.
Legend has it that in the 11th century a Roman family set up camp on the hill after being shipwrecked on the Amalfi coast. They claimed the peak, built Palazzo d’Afflitto and the rest is history. Fast foward to Ravello’s Grand Tour Rediscover and 1893, Pantaleone Caruso had the ingenious idea to rent five rooms in the palace and re-christened it as Hotel Caruso Belvedere. 130 years later , Caruso now has 51 rooms and suites and still the best view in the Amalfi Coast.
When I visited in mid June, I caught the end of a week of intense thunderstorms. Rain brought local traffic to a standstill, and kept me inside but not exactly indoors. The sprawling complex has balconies and belvederes (eager staff followed me with umbrellas as I was out taking photos). You can hang out in old fashioned reading rooms, a vintage Arcade bar, a breathtaking Caruso Bar, and event spaces where the staff organized an olive oil tasting.
Ravello, and subsequently the Amalfi Coast, at any time of the year is beautiful. gorgeous. When it rains and you can’t go anywhere, Caruso is at its best. Since the hotel is shoulder to shoulder with the peak of Monte Lattari, during storms the views are conceptual because it is impossible to understand where exactly you are and how high up.
What’s It Like to Stay At Caruso
Caruso is an incredible experience. From hints of its medieval heritage (my room had a pointed arch) and to the vaulted ceilings and restored frescoes of its Renaissance reboot, Caruso can feel like a step back in time without being a dusty time piece. Rooms are spacious and minimal in design and decor, with some Amalfitana artisan pieces (Vietri ceramics) and Assouline books, but the main design element is the view.
Every morning, I woke up to light show of the Amalfi Coast like in Room No. 43, and every evening housekeeping placed a foot pillow beside my bed. Each day, by executive chef Armando Aristarco made sure I had a different local delicacy like slices of Amalfi lemons ready to be salted and eaten whole. and miniature sfogliatelle filled with lemon cream.
Aristarco oversees all of the restaurants which include the casual chic Caruso Grill, the Caruso Bar, where I discovered the very fabulous bartender Tommaso Mansi and his Mediterraneo cocktail, and Ristorante Belvedere. Aristarco should get a star for this incredible nine-course tasting menu which spans the history of Ravello and Campania by sampling all of its amazing local products from the stuzzichino Napolitano (an Only-in-Napoli amuse bouche tris) to the Vesuvius-styled lemon sorbetto. I loved every bite.
Everybody loves local, especially Aristarco. He’s from the Napoli suburb Torre del Greco and has a penchant local producers. Almost all produce is local. Our salad was foraged that morning from the hills, the mozzarella was made that morning in Monte Lattari and the anchovies on the signature Caruso pizza are from Cetara, of course. As for the fish, Aristarco told me the fishermen will never guarantee what is coming on the haul but they will guarantee that it is good.
Caruso offers a lot of amazing food experience from foraging and nature hikes to boat trips and visits with local artisans. Each week local food artisans from the Cilento showcase their products. I tried a tasting course in organic olive oil and I spent a rainy morning making pasta with Aristarco.
By far, my favorite and everyone’s favorite experience is just hanging out at the pool. It’s an infinity of water that stretches into the sky and seeming over the edge. This could be the most Instagrammable location in the Amalfi Coast, and not only did I spy on some photo shoots, I tried to get some “living on the edge shots” as well.
Only two caveats: Caruso’s spa is tiny, but you’re really not hear for that. Its remoteness could be inhibitive but that’s also why you booked a stay here. You want to be away from it. If you are planning on daytripping, you’ll transport to get to the Amalfi marina, the beach Lido degli Artisti (where Caruso has a private club) and the hiking routes. To make it easy, Caruso does have complimentary shuttle service for the beach club but if you are planning a night out in Amalfi, you will have to organize a hired car or taxi.
Welcome to Ravello
Ravello has long been a destination for the who’s who of artists, writers, and musicians. Virginia Woolf stayed here, Richard Wagner dreamed up Parsifal here. Joan Miró painted here. Tennessee Williams and Gore Vidal lived here. M. C. Escher supposedly was inspired by Ravello’s meanderings and steps. And yes, Garbo and Jackie had a few dalliance here.
Caruso is pretty much a gorgeous estate house on a much beloved hill. And that hills offers a lot privacy (shout out Jackie and Greta!) but it’s also the charm of the town and its community that made Vidal, Wagner and Woolf take up residence. A tiny walking town, Ravello is easy to fall in love from the first view of Piazza Centrale (where you’ll find famous sandal shop Passeggiata and the Museo del Corallo) and the 11th century Duomo to the gorgeous gardens of Villa Ruffolo and belvedere of Villa Cimbrone.
Each summer, Ravello hosts the famous Ravello Festival, a months-long music festival where music, arts, and culture converge amidst the awe-inspiring backdrop of the Amalfi Coast. Since its inception in 1953, this cultural extravaganza has captivated audiences with its music and location- the panoramic belvederes from the Oscar Niemeyer auditorium (a crazily amorphic white building) and the Villa Rufolo.
Exploring the Costiera Amalfitana
Let’s be serious, you want to visit Amalfi’s greatest hits Sorrento, Positano, and Amalfi, as well as those tinier fishing towns Maiori, Minori, Cetara, and Furore. My advice? Go by boat because you will never get stuck in traffic and if you have time, swing over to the Campanian archipelago to find islands Capri and/or Procida.
Archaeology loves will have a field day (yes, that is my best archaeo-pun). It’s a pretty easy day trip from Amalfi Coast to the Vesuvian cities of Pompeii, Stabiae and Ercolano. In 79 C.E, Vesuvius erupted, raining down ash and rock, effectively burying the cities of Pompeii, Stabaie and Herculaneum like a time capsule. Each site gives incredible insight into to the ancient Roman world from home culture to city life. My suggestion is that you also include a visit to my personal favorite – the Greek temples in Paestum ,
If you prefer to stay local and get your exercise, take a hike on the Sentiero delle Formichelle (Trail of the Ants), a historic 8km stretch from Tramonti and Minori. The path’s name honors the hardworking Amalfitane women who, from the 18th century up until the 1970s, would single file walk the path with 55kg of baskets on their heads, transporting lemons villages to Maiori and Minori.
Traveling to the Amalfi Coast
Getting to Ravello, and subsequently the Amalfi Coast, is easy but does require some logistical planning. The general goal is to get to Napoli, and for me, the most pleasurable and efficient is to take a train to Napoli Centrale. Flyers will head to Naples International Airport NAP. No matter what you will need a car* to get you to your Amalfi Coast destination.
Driving the Amalfi Coast is beautiful and picturesque ,and frustrating if you get stuck in traffic. But hey, the views are gorgeous. Most hotels offer hired car services to pick you up at the airport and train station. If you prefer to DYI, book your rental car well in advance and plan your route – either a the very winding 90-minute coastal road or the faster and dare-I-say more reliable slightly internal and over-the-hills route.
Will you need a car while you are there? Yes and no. There are taxis, public transport and scooter rentals. For any inland day trips like Pompeii and Paestum, you will need to hire a car.
*Of course you can take a ferry, but that requires expert planning and patience that I don’t have.