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The drive from the airport in Naples to Ravello on the Amalfi Coast of Italy takes about an hour. I spent half that time in a state of abject terror as my taxi driver sped around the hairpin turns, oblivious to the thousand-foot drop that was inches from the road’s edge. By the halfway point, I was exhausted from continually bracing for head-on collisions with the armada of Fiats, Vespas, and bicycles that packed the road. But whenever I managed to lift my eyes from whatever impending crash was threatening me at the moment, feelings of peace and serenity would descend. Before me was a spectacular panorama of mountains, terraced with grape arbors and olive trees, towering above the Windex-blue Mediterranean. The high point of the Amalfi Coast, in many ways, is Ravello, with its quiet stone-lined streets and antique churches and villas suspended above the sea. Ravello is relatively unburdened with historic sights, leaving you plenty of time for gazing into the distance. At the center is the Piazza del Duomo, an open square filled with outdoor cafes and an 11th-century cathedral. The Villa Cimbrone, where Greta Garbo found sanctuary, features lush gardens and the aptly named Belvedere of Infinity, a stone balcony with marble busts and a view that Gore Vidal, Ravello’s best-known resident, has called “the most beautiful on earth.” Another point of interest is the Villa Rufolo, a 13th-century villa, set among gardens, that inspired Wagner’s Parsifal. This is the site of the Festival Musicale di Ravello (Tel. 011-39-089-858149), a series of classical concerts, mostly chamber music, held from April to November. The view is the dominant feature of most restaurants and hotels, but some manage to enhance it with stellar cuisine and accommodations. The classically graceful Palazzo Sasso (Tel. 011-39-089-818181) and the slightly more showy Palumbo (Tel. 011-39-089-857244) offer five-star accommodations, and are priced accordingly. The Hotel Rufolo (Tel. 011-39-089-857133) is a bit less expensive, and concerts from the nearby Villa Rufolo can be overheard for free. The Sasso and Palumbo have topflight dining rooms, with exquisite cuisine and high-powered wines from Barolo and Amarone to match. But the true glory of Italian cuisine is found at simpler establishments, where well-prepared local ingredients are served in an atmosphere of warm hospitality. Villa Maria (Tel. 011-39-089-857071) and La Colonna (Tel. 011-39-089-857876) are excellent choices, both featuring home-made pasta and fish caught that morning. For lunch, try the Cumpa Cosimo (Tel. 011-39-089-857156), presided over by a boisterous matron who offers a terrific vegetable antipasto and stewed rabbit. The proper accompaniment for this cucina rustica are the local wines: an agreeable red and a crisp white. For those brave enough to face the drive, there’s plenty to see within a short distance. The town of Amalfi is about a half hour west, featuring the impressive Duomo di Sant’ Andrea, parts of which date to the ninth century, and which contains the headless body of Saint Andrew (the head is in the Vatican). The town is heavily crowded with tourists, but escape can be had via a short elevator ride to the Hotel Cappuccini Convento (Tel. 011-39-089-871886), for lunch on the terrace overlooking the marina. Further west is Positano, the glamour capital of the coast, whose pastel-colored buildings climb the hillside, providing both beauty and muscle fatigue to those who struggle up the steep streets. Positano handles the crowds with more aplomb than Amalfi, perhaps because there are more shops to divert them. For a real taste of Positano, stop by for a drink at the Buca di Bacco (Tel. 011-39-089-875400). After the crowds in the other towns, you’ll be glad to get back to the serenity of Ravello. Those seeking more physical activity might consider hiking down the long, twisting staircase to the seaside town of Maiori, but after another meal and a few more drinks, the feeling will thankfully pass. Unfortunately, so will your time in Ravello.

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