Positano may focus on pleasure, and Amalfi on history, but cool, serene Ravello revels in refinement. Thrust over the Bay of Salerno on a mountain promontory, below forests of chestnut and ash, above terraced lemon groves and vineyards, Ravello early on beckoned the affluent with its island-in-the-sky views and secluded defensive positioning. Gardens out of the Arabian Nights, pastel palazzi, tucked-away piazzas with medieval fountains, architecture ranging from Romano-Byzantine to Norman-Saracen, and those sweeping blue-water, blue-sky vistas have inspired a panoply of large personalities, including Wagner and Boccaccio, princes and popes, aesthetes and hedonists, and a stream of famous authors from Virginia Woolf to Tennessee Williams. Today, many visitors flock here to discover this paradisical place, some to enjoy the town's celebrated music festival, others just to stroll through the hillside streets to gape at the bluer-than-blue panoramas of sea and sky.
At the Villa Rufolo, the noted Ravello Festival is held in its shaded gardens. Here, Wagnerian concerts are often held to pay homage to the great composer, who was inspired by these gardens to compose scenes of Parsifal. With the exception of the Villa Rufolo, concerts and the occasional event at the Auditorium Oscar Niemeyer, the hush lingers. Empty, narrow streets morph into whitewashed staircases rising into a haze of azure, which could be from the sea, the sky, or a union of both. About the only places that don't seem to be in slow motion are Piazza Duomo, in front of the cathedral, during the evening passeggiata, or cafés at pranzo (luncheon) or cena (dinner). The town likes to celebrate religious festivals throughout the year—one of the nicest celebrations is the blossom-strewn celebration of Corpus Domini (usually the end of May or beginning of June), when Piazza del Duomo is ornamented with sidewalk pictures created with flower petals.