Devotees of the Amalfi coast, which would surely win any competition for the loveliest in Italy, are repeatedly drawn back. And the small town of Ravello, towering 350 metres above the sea, is one of its main attractions. Founded over 1500 years ago, it was once an important part of the powerful maritime republic of Amalfi. But now, with only 2,500 residents, though thronged with day trippers, it’s most famous for its extraordinary views, its historic villas – and the Caruso, A Belmond Hotel.
Hotel Review: Caruso, A Belmond Hotel – Ravello, Italy
An hour by car from Naples airport, the Caruso has quite a heritage. It’s housed in a former palazzo dating from the 11th Century, which became a hotel in 1893, and was run by the Caruso family until it was taken over by the Orient Express group (now Belmond) in 2005.
Its original name was Belvedere, meaning ‘beautiful view’, and it’s immediately obvious why. The views from the main part of the hotel and its extensive gardens of the Bay of Naples are stunning. Its large footprint belies the fact that it has only 50 rooms and suites – but they are spacious and almost all have a terrace, balcony or garden. Those in the main building have sea views, but even the entry-level rooms, across the road, are impressive, and have small gardens.
The rooms themselves are subtly stylish, with tiled floors and an eclectic mix of mid-century and antique furniture, enlivened by touches of colour provided by flowers, splendid rugs, elegant ceramics and traditional painted wood doors. You get a Nespresso machine, kettle and – typical of the attention to detail and quality – fine china cups and saucers to go with them.
The marble bathrooms are roomy and very well equipped and, now that Belmond is part of LVMH, come with Acqua di Parma toiletries.
Given the romantic location, the Caruso is popular with couples, honeymooners and (there is a church next door) for weddings. And the Villa Margherita, in its own grounds with two suites, well away from the main building, is the perfect place for privacy – but just a hop from the hotel’s infinity pool.
You can get pampered in the small spa using products from the Italian Comfort Zone brand, and get a work-out with a view in the well-equipped gym. And, if you’ve forgotten your sunglasses, the Caruso’s boutique is there to supply a range of Italian clothes and accessories.
Service throughout is exemplary, and if there’s an amiable esprit de corps among the attentive and well-drilled staff, it might be because most of them come from the area. And Caruso’s commitment to sustainability goes well beyond leaving your towels on the floor. Water comes in glass or metal bottles, for instance, and the ceramics in the rooms and restaurants are sourced locally. Even leftover soap is put to other uses, and though the room keys are electronic, they are made of wood and not plastic.
Breakfast is a treat. Although there is a small buffet selection of pastries and fruit, most of the unusually interesting menu is ordered a la carte, and eaten in a room in the main building, or on the terrace next to it.
It’s surprisingly difficult to eat well on the Amalfi coast, but the Caruso’s main restaurant, Belvedere, is an exception and, of course, has a view. The cuisine is firmly Italian: flavourful, essentially simple dishes, mostly from the local region of Campania, but elevated by precise cooking and sophisticated presentation. The lively Pool Grill has a much more extensive menu than the name suggests, with excellent local fish and seafood, pasta and delicious wood-fired Neapolitan pizza.
The hotel’s dedication to sustainability means that the food in both restaurants is enhanced by the use of superb fresh ingredients, sourced where possible from artisanal producers in the region – onions, lemons, oil, mozzarella and pasta, for instance. And herbs are from the hotel’s own garden, where the exclusive chef’s table is the place for a special dinner.
There are several serene spots to sip the very drinkable Costa d’Amalfi wines in the Caruso’s gardens, but the bar, with its views and covered terrace, is the place to gather – and try head barman, Tomasso’s cocktails using prized Amalfi lemons.
You can easily spend a day in Ravello itself, not only to visit the lovely little 11th century cathedral, but also the historically important Villa Cimbrone with its magnificent gardens and legendary Terrace of Infinity viewpoint. And Villa Rufulo is here, too – an inspiration for Richard Wagner’s Parsifal, and one of the homes of the prestigious Ravello music festival, held every summer. There are numerous art galleries, shops selling ceramics (the best is Ravello Arte), and food shops from which to bring back local delicacies.
It’s tempting to stay put, but a room at the Caruso comes with free use of its private beach, near Amalfi (a half hour drive by the hotel’s shuttle or bus), and daily boat trips along the coast to Positano.
The Caruso tries to keep close to the local community and culture, and even recently sponsored the Art and Sensuality in the Houses of Pompeii exhibition at the ancient city – only an hour away – to which the concierge can arrange guided tours. If you’re a foodie, go on a trip (including lunch) to one of the coast’s finest lemon groves, owned by the Aceto family for generations, just outside Amalfi. Or choose from several other visits to local food producers the Caruso team can organise.
THE FINAL WORD
On the Amalfi coast, everything else comes second to the views. The Caruso has some of the best, combined with sophistication, good food and relaxed luxury in a beautiful setting. There are only a handful of rival hotels in the area, and none more inviting.
BOOK IT: Doubles with a private terrace or garden start from £1120 per night B&B. belmond.com