There is little more beautiful than a view that falls down cliffs over patterns of lemon groves, to the sea way, way below. The senses drift in the sunshine, caught between sky and sea.
We found such a view on the Terrace of Infinity at the edge of the gardens of the Villa Cimbrone in Ravello. It was a late afternoon at the end of December and hardly anyone was there.
Ravello is so popular with tourists that in the summer it’s hard to know what would be there without them.
Part of the reason it gets so swamped is its location.
It’s high, it’s cooler than below, and when the clouds aren’t there, the gardens at Villa Cimbrone seem to have fallen entirely into a pot of sunshine and then been perched on the edge of a cliff to soak up some blue.
On days without crowds there is a great feeling of seclusion, of places to hide.
Statues pose amongst rose gardens and ornamental pots; busts turn their backs on the handsome view; and all around grand, ridiculous umbrella pines (Pinus pinea) stretch their cheerful arms up to the sky.
Time seems still on that cliff top, but its speed, and the repeated effects of love, neglect and restoration over the centuries have all left their scars.
The villa, first a farmhouse and then an increasingly important residence and garden, was in powerful Italian hands until 1904 when it was bought by a wealthy Yorkshireman, Ernest William Beckett, who became Lord Grimthorpe.
His young American wife had died in 1891 and he, known both before her death and after it, as a lover of beauty in all its forms chose Villa Cimbrone as an outlet for his passions.
The location suited him perfectly, and the house and gardens went on to host some of England’s most creative and influential names from the early twentieth century. It seems everyone from D H Lawrence, to John Maynard Keynes, to Greta Garbo has stayed there.
After Lord Grimthorpe’s day and the Second World War the Italian state took over the villa and it fell into decline, but there have been new owners since and extensive restoration.
Now, a little wobbly in parts, it sits as serenely as ever whilst the world traipses to and fro. In high season it’s not easy to find a quiet day in Ravello but if you’re in the area in the off-season, and the skies are clear … don’t hesitate.
Copyright Georgie Knaggs & The Phraser 2018