Its origins date back to the 11th century, but the villa and the gardens were extensively renovated by a British nobleman, Lord Grimthorpe, in the early 20th century.
With its expansive gardens and dramatic views, the villa is a popular place for weddings, honeymoons, and receptions. The villa is a private 5-star hotel (Hotel Villa Cimbrone), but the gardens are open to the public and it ranks, perhaps, as the most memorable sight on the Amalfi Coast.
The villa’s belvedere, Terrazza dell’Infinito (Terrace of Infinity), is lined by a series of marble busts that on clear days sparkle against the bluesky above and the azure waters of the Mediterranean below.
Gore Vidal, the noted American author and long-time resident of Ravello, once boasted that the view from the Belvedere is the finest in the world, and anyone who has ever visited the Belvedere on a clear day would have troubling disputing him.
“Twenty five years ago I was asked by an American magazine what was the most beautiful place that I had ever seen in all my travels and I said the view from the belvedere of the Villa Cimbrone on a bright winter’s day when the sky and the sea were each so vividly blue that it was not possible to tell one from the other.”
Looming more than 1200 feet (~365 meters) above the Mediterranean, the view looking downward is not for the faint of heart, and on windy days the updraft can make it a positively hair-raising experience.
In the distance, you can see the outline of the Cilento Mountains and next to them the level plain on which the ancient city of Paestum was built.
The main walkway, Viale dell’Immenso (Ally of Immensity), features a pergola, best seen in the summer when the white and blue wisteria are in full bloom. The gardens themselves are adorned with temples, statuary, and other recreations that give it a distinctly classical feel.
While the hotel is not open to the general public, the chiostro ("cloister") and the cripta ("crypt") are well worth visiting.
The cloister, right across from the ticket office, was extensively redecorated by Lord Grimthorpe a century ago. It has a magnificent covered well in the center, and the walls of the cloister are richly ornamented with imported bas reliefs and old terracotta, the most notable being a tile by the famous Luca Della Robbia.
The crypt, another Lord Grimthorpe creation, is modelled after the monk’s cellarium at Fountains Abbey, a Cistercian monastery near Malton, England, where Grimthorpe was born. With its massive columns, shady interior, and expansive views of the Mediterranean, it’s an ideal spot for receptions.
A century ago, shortly after it was renovated by Grimthorpe, the Villa Cimbrone became a popular retreat for London’s famed Bloomsbury Group, a circle of early 20th century intellectuals that featured Virginia Woolf and Lytton Strachey.
Other noted guests, included Winston Churchill, author E.M Forster, and famed economist Maynard Keynes. D.H. Lawrence, the author of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, literally left his mark on the villa’s garden, when he and a friend decided to give the Statue of Eve a fresh, and unauthorized, coat of paint.
“Lost to a world in which I crave no part, I sit alone and commune with my heart. Pleased with my little corner of the earth, glad that I came, not sorry to depart.”
The Villa Cimbrone also served as a romantic rendezvous for Greta Garbo, the beautiful and reclusive movie actress, who quietly eloped to here in February of 1938 with intentions of marrying Leopold Stowkowski, the British-American conductor who wrote and produced the score for Walt Disney’s Fantasia.
While their marriage was never consummated, their stay at the Villa Cimbrone quickly became an international sensation when word of their arrival was leaked to the newspapers.
Robert Walker, a lawyer, economist, and consultant who has worked in Washington, D.C. for over 30 years, is the author of Discovering Ravello, a short booklet on the history and attractions of Ravello. He and his wife, Chris Apel, first visited Ravello nearly 25 years ago, and have been frequent visitors ever since. His wife is an award winning artist who recently created a website (www.discoveringravello.com) to showcase her paintings of Ravello. He and his wife both lecture on Ravello. They live in Alexandria, Virginia.
...not to be missed!