24-Hour Room Service: Caruso Belvedere, Ravello

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The Independent Culture
AFTER THE hair-raising drive up the winding mountain road that links Ravello with the villages along the coast, it is a relief to walk into the calm surroundings of the Hotel Caruso Belvedere. Every guest is made to feel like part of the family, and the friendly atmosphere quickly makes you forget that you are eventually going to have to pay for the pleasure of staying here. Homely touches, like a bowl of fresh flowers in every room, add to the welcome.

When you see the view from the terrace you will probably want to stay for ever. Ravello is 400m above sea level, and looks out over the glorious Amalfi coastline, but at a safe distance from the tourists on the beaches below. If you ever get bored with the view, a steep mountain path leads you on the long walk down to the coast. If you can face the walk back up again, you'll work up a hearty appetite for the copious dinner: don't miss the crespolini, the house speciality.

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

Hotel Caruso Belvedere is at via Toro 52, Ravello, Italy (00 39 089 857111, fax 00 39 089 857372).

Time to international airport: Naples is about an hour away by taxi. The hotel will arrange one for you at the fixed price of 150,000 lire (pounds 53), saving you from getting ripped off by a rogue driver.

Time to railway station: Salerno is also about an hour away by taxi. Although it's closer than Naples, most of the journey is on the very winding and slow coast road.

ARE YOU LYING COMFORTABLY?

Every room is different, most still with the original (1893) furniture. All the rooms, except for the one single, have their own bathroom, stocked with a comprehensive selection of cosmetics. Most rooms have also got a balcony.

What to book: Gino Caruso, the current owner, and grandson of the hotel's founder, says that his favourite room changes with his mood. Room 21 is exactly as it was when Greta Garbo stayed there in 1938; Graham Greene liked room 5; and Gore Vidal used room 9 while he was writing Myra Breckinridge.

Keeping in touch: None of the rooms has a television: "when you see our view, you won't need anything else to look at." There are no radios, either, but at least there is a phone in every room. Fax is available at reception, but there is nowhere to plug in a computer.

IT'S ALL IN THE DETAILS

Who stays there? Guests have included Margot Fonteyn, Sir Alexander Fleming, and Ronald Reagan. These days you might bump into Dustin Hoffman or Wim Wenders.

A taste of La Dolce Vita? Ravello's main festival, the feast day of San Pantaleone on 27 July, includes a procession through the village and fireworks in the evening. In the summer, there are regular concerts in the Rufolo Gardens, but on any night of the year you can visit the belvedere at the Villa Cimbrone, and watch the sun set over the water.

The usual? Try a Caruso cocktail (fruit of the season topped up with champagne) before dinner and end it with a Caruso coffee (a delicious mix of coffee and the local liqueur, limoncello).

THE BOTTOM LINE

Double rooms, all with private bathroom, cost 230,000L (around pounds 80) per night, including breakfast; from the beginning of June the rate goes up to 280,000L. The only single room costs 149,000L (pounds 52).

I'm not paying that: There are no weekend rates, although there are discounts of between 10 and 20 per cent according to the time of year, if you stay for seven nights.

Cathy Packe

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