Ravello has star power. For more than seven centuries it has been attracting celebrities. In 1222 St. Francis is believed to have passed through Ravello on his way to venerate the remains of St. Andrew in nearby Amalfi. In the 14th century, Giovanni Boccaccio, one of the earliest rock stars of the Italian Renaissance, raved about Ravello in the Decameron, and Robert the II, one of the great Norman kings of Naples, enjoyed banquets at the Villa Rufolo.
Not just a nice place to visit, Ravello has provided inspiration to composers, musicians, and writers from around the world. It was here where Richard Wagner composed the second act of the opera Parsifal in 1880, and D.H. Lawrence wrote Lady Chatterley’s Lover in 1927. Gore Vidal, the noted American author, lived and wrote in Ravello for over thirty years, eventually becoming an honorary citizen. Andre Gide, one of the giants of 20th century French literature, wrote his first novel in Ravello at the age of 31, and E.M. Forster, the great English novelist best known for A Passage to India, Howard’s End, and A Room with a View, wrote his first short story, Story of a Panic, while staying at the Villa Episcopio. The great artistic works of M.C. Escher, the famous Dutch graphic artist, were heavily influenced by the lizards and the Moorish decorations that he discovered while staying in Ravello. In the early 20th century, the Villa Cimbrone gained fame as a retreat for Virginia Woolf and other members of London’s Bloomsbury Group., including John Maynard Keynes, the 20th century’s most famous economist.
Numerous Hollywood legends have sought refuge in Ravello. In February of 1938, the reclusive Greta Garbo eloped to the Villa Cimbrone with intentions of marrying Leopold Stokowski, the composer who wrote and conducted the score for Walt Disney’s Fantasia. In 1953, the movie Beat the Devil was filmed in Ravello. The movie script was written on site by Truman Capote, and the cast, starring Humphrey Bogart, Gina Lollobrigida, Jennifer Jones, Robert Morley, and Peter Lorre, stayed at the Hotel Palumbo. While the movie was not an instant box office success, it has since become a minor cult favorite. John Huston, the director, wrote fondly in his memoirs about the fun that everyone had in the filming of the movie, including the poker games organized by Bogart.
Today, Ravello is a popular destination wedding site for rock stars and Hollywood celebrities. Woody Harrelson recently vacationed with his family in Ravello, hanging out during the day in the Piazza Vescovado, and a few years ago Pierce Brosnan took a cooking class from Mamma Agata, who fondly recalls cooking for Humphrey Bogart when she was a young girl.
Ravello has also attracted its fair share of visits from famous political figures, including General Dwight Eisenhower, who in World War II plotted the allied advance on Monte Cassino while staying at the Hotel Palumbo. Britain’s Winston Churchill made a post-war visit to Ravello, and during John F. Kennedy’s presidency, Jackie Kennedy took a two week vacation in Ravello along with her sister, Princess Lee Radziwill, and her two children, John and Caroline.
The guest books of Ravello’s hotels may read like an edition of Who’s Who’s, but fortunately for the rest of us, you do not have to be a celebrity to enjoy Ravello.