“Twenty-five years ago, I was asked by an American magazine what was the most beautiful place that I have 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,” writer Gore Vidal noted in 1976.
Perfectly poised some 1,200 feet above the Gulf of Salerno in Ravello, the Terrace of Infinity is indeed one of Italy’s finest jewels. This cliffside belvedere is edged with classical marble busts that seem to whisper ancient secrets. Stand alongside them and stare out into the blue abyss, where the limitless hovers just above the horizon.
Partly, it’s the sheer privacy of the place. Villa Cimbrone dates back to the 11th century, when it was a fortified residence. Since then, various noble families have transformed it, and today it’s one of the Amalfi Coast’s most luxurious and discreet hotels, offering 19 unique guest rooms. Just getting there is an effort; guests ascend some 100 winding stone stairs all the way to the top. But once you arrive, you may never want to leave.
That was the idea in 1938 when famed movie star Greta Garbo secretly eloped here to marry the British conductor Leopold Stokowski, (who wrote the score for Disney’s Fantasia). And while the marriage never took place, word of their secluded love nest got out and created a global sensation. Other famed visitors of yesteryear include Coco Chanel, Winston Churchill, Jackie Kennedy and Tennessee Williams.
Refurbished in the early 20th century with help from English author and garden designer Vita Sackville-West, the setting is pure enchantment, with wisteria-covered walkways, classical bronze sculptures and perfumed cypress-rimmed paths. The historic property is so alluring that the gardens and terrace are open to visitors during the day. Lucky Villa guests have the entire property to themselves at night, which is when the magic begins. Take a moonlight amble through the lush plantings, ever so fragrant in the evening air. All the while, crashing waves pulse against the rocky coastline below, infusing everything with a sense of wildness.
You can feel the ancient world here as you stroll through the atmospheric cloisters, a medieval marvel with its pointed gothic arches and vaulted ceilings. Illuminated by spotlights, the vine-covered stone façade is pure drama set against an inky black sky. Look down and spy a stray cat scurrying by. Gaze up, and a whiff of smoke lingers in the distance. You are completely transported to another realm.
Of course, all of these night wanderings deserve a late-evening repast, so settle into an intimate table at onsite restaurant Il Flauto di Pan. Bathed in flickering candlelight, you are perched on a terrace near the cliff’s edge with the twinkling lights of the Amalfi coastline laid out below. The cocktails are scented with violet and blackberries. The stracchino risotto is strewn with wildflowers, and the iconic delizia al limone (“lemon delight”) will charm you with its tiny jewel box shape. The sweet treat, made of airy sponge cake and lavished with Amalfi lemon cream, is what it’s all about. Lemons, gardens, ancient cloisters and the most captivating views anywhere — Your own private la dolce vita.