Room with a view
Liz Lowe visits Villa San Michele, Castiglione di Ravello – a cliffside hideaway with private access to a secluded corner of the Tyrrhenian Sea
Villa San Michele is a place people return to. This three-star hotel that isn't quite in Ravello, but isn't quite anywhere else either, was recommended by a well-travelled friend after his second visit. He talked of plunging from a cliffside hideaway into a secluded corner of the Tyrrhenian Sea. We booked our flights.
The twelve-bedroom villa is in fact located in Castiglione di Ravello; more an intersection than a village and five winding kilometres below Ravello itself. We took the first of many steps down from the roadside into the vertiginous hotel garden. The view across the Salerno Gulf was balm to our tired eyes, and the lemons tangling overhead and vivid bougainvillea popping against azure sea lifted any trace of the Gatwick gloom we'd left behind.
Top: the view from Villa San Michele; above: the hotel garden
I was travelling with two friends. We'd hopped off the treadmill of family life for a weekend during which we hoped to embrace the Italian concept of 'la dolce far niente' – the sweetness of doing nothing.
The Dipino family have run Villa San Michele for over 20 years. Our mid-October visit was just weeks before the hotel closed for the winter, but our weary hosts were still beaming with Italian hospitality. Andrea lugged our bags down more steps, stopping to introduce us to 'the best housekeeper in the world' (also very smiley despite our early arrival).
My friends and I were bunking in together to allow for more reminiscing over our misspent and much-missed thirties. Our family room was basic and clean; a little dated but somehow the expansive view, drumming waves, and quiet soul of the place rendered such details irrelevant. All the bedrooms face the water, sharing the same captivating view.
The view from the room
We were staying half-board and chose to eat one lunch and one dinner in the hotel's restaurant. The setting was simple but again our eyes were focused on the sparkling blue and characterful coastline below – and the food of course. Brothers Andrea and Francesco greeted us and asked what we'd like to eat; possibly the loveliest words three tired mums could hear.
For lunch they helped us decide on a mix of seafood and salad dishes, and later complimented us on our 'very good' selection. The set dinner menu showcased typical produce from the Lattari Mountains and featured local sausages, smoked mozzarella in lemon leaves, fresh sea bream and homemade pasta.
We drank local wines made from robust Aglianico and aromatic Falanghina grapes. After dinner, Andrea began explaining the local range of digestifs before saying 'here, you can try' and letting us taste them all. We settled on locally produced fennel-based finocchietto, which we sipped outside on a terrace.
Exploring the Amalfi Coast was easy and we didn't need a car – thankfully, as the narrow mountainous roads were terrifying. There was a bus stop adjacent to the hotel, but we got around on foot, or by taxi after dark. We walked ten minutes to neighbouring Atrani, which has several restaurants and a beach. A further ten minutes' walk took us to Amalfi, where ferries depart for Positano, Capri and Sorrento.
Ravello was an hour or so's steep walk up a trillion steps. We did it one day, setting out in our summer sandals to smirking wishes of luck from fellow walkers. The Aperol Spritzes up in breezy Ravello tasted particularly good that day.
Our mornings began with a splash and a shiver. With a private sun deck and a ladder into the water, we couldn't resist swimming twice a day. The beaches of the Amalfi Coast are generally over-crowded and pebbly, so we were happy with our private sea access.
Villa San Michele views
Looking up at the blue and white villa and Ravello in the mountains beyond, we could see why our friend had returned. He wasn't the only one. As we warmed up after one swim, we talked to a woman who was visiting with her husband. They first came here on honeymoon, when they were checked-in by Andrea and Francesco's father Nicola. He's still around, but takes more of a back seat these days, she said. They've returned every five years since, and this year were joined by one of their grown-up sons. I sense I will return too, although I'm not sure I can wait another five years.
WAY TO GO
Villa San Michele costs from 50 – 90 Euros B&B and 92 - 115 Euros for Half board (breakfast and lunch or dinner).
During high season, Villa San Michele's rooms are bookable only with the half board package.
Naples is the closest airport. The hotel can arrange a transfer – we paid 120 Euros between the three of us for a private car.
Green Adventures December 2018
Liz Lowe is a freelance writer based in Bath, UK. Liz spent many years working in the wine trade, combining some of her favourite pursuits: eating, drinking and travel. After having children, and to give her liver a break, she began journalism training. Liz loves yoga, reading, wine and chocolate, and can currently manage three out of four at the same time.