Unravel Ravello

By Eddie Harrison, Metro

Last updated at 17:21 24 June 2003

It's 1880, and composer Richard Wagner, guest of the Princess of Agri, is strolling in the gardens of Pasquale Palumbo's villa in Ravello.

Seeking inspiration for the orchestration of Parsifal, he discovers the 'magic garden' he sought in the surroundings of the hotel.

Five years old at the time, Hotel Palumbo is now one of the oldest family-owned establishments in Italy, playing host to stellar personages from all disciplines of the arts. Including me.

It's 123 years after Wagner's visit, and I'm standing in the same gardens, seeking out the inspiration for a slightly less demanding task - writing a review of a five-star hotel that seems like another world.

It's not even that far away. British Airways flies from Gatwick to Naples three times a day, with fares starting at £108.80.

There's an hour-long transfer in a people carrier through lots of dangerous-looking hairpin bends before you are welcomed by the dazzling sight of the hotel lobby's polychrome ceramic flooring, designed at the request of film director John Huston.

All the rooms have names. Mine's on a fifth-floor deck and called La Colombaia.

I spend my first night gingerly investigating a posh, cold dinner. The sophistication of the hotel makes me feel as Neanderthal as Tarzan in New York.

The gentle ambience hints at why so many writers have come here to work, including DH Lawrence, Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams.

If I feel like joining them, my suite has a writing desk. Upstairs there's a deck that catches the evening sun, a neat bathroom and a small, airy bedroom looking down the Amalfi coast to the Gulf of Salerno.

Foodies' paradise

Despite some choice confusion over breakfast the next morning (the waiters seem to bring me huge slices of fruit pies every time I order toast), the standard of the service is very high.

The real lure, however, is the food and drink. The hotel's restaurant, Ristorante Confalone, is accessed through a 17th-century dining room named San Giovanni.

As dusk falls, hotel manager Mark Artiste Vuilleumier treats us to the seven-course menu degustazione. Highlights include red prawns in Kataifi pastry, gratin aubergines, pezzoga (local fish) and a ricotta souffle.

The wine, from the hotel's own vineyard, is clear, sharp and fresh. The next day, I visit the vineyard to see the vats, kegs and other wine-making paraphernalia.

After a few trips to Ravello, and along the coast to the resort town of Amalfi, I lunch at the hotel's private beach, with lemon-infused olive oil and fresh sea air combining to leave me with the feeling I've stepped out of a dream.

But those dreams don't come cheap - the Hotel Palumbo will set you back a cool £440 a night for a double room, half board.



  • Tel: 0039 089 857 244, www.hote-palumbo.it Eddie flew to Naples with BA. Tel: 0845 77 333 77, www.ba.com

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