24-Hour Room Service: Hotel Palumbo, Ravello, Italy

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The Independent Travel

Ravello feels slightly set apart from the rest of its neighbours on Italy's Amalfi coast. The town is perched on a 350m hill between two dramatically folding valleys draped in vineyards and lemon groves. And, while tour buses and tourists choke the tiny streets of neighbouring Amalfi, Ravello's car-free centre retains an air of tranquillity that's aloof from the chaos of the coast below.

Ravello feels slightly set apart from the rest of its neighbours on Italy's Amalfi coast. The town is perched on a 350m hill between two dramatically folding valleys draped in vineyards and lemon groves. And, while tour buses and tourists choke the tiny streets of neighbouring Amalfi, Ravello's car-free centre retains an air of tranquillity that's aloof from the chaos of the coast below.

Ravello's near-perfect location has inspired many an artist and composer. Richard Wagner famously cited the shady paths of the gardens surrounding the Villa Rufolo as the inspiration for his enchanted garden of Klingsor in Parsifal, and the gardens of the neighbouring Villa Cimbrone are arguably the most spectacularly situated on the entire coast.

When Wagner visited Ravello, he, like a host of other luminaries, stayed at the Hotel Palumbo. In fact, Wagner was one the hotel's first guests when Pasquale Palumbo and his wife, Elisabetta von Wartburg, opened their doors to visitors in 1875. More than a hundred years on the hotel is still in the family and is now owned by Marco Vuilleumier. However, in 1978, the hotel moved to a new location, the Arabic-Norman Palazzo Confalone. You can understand why. The five-storey building has far-reaching views of the Gulf of Salerno and the Cilento coast. Inside, Greek and Roman columns line the arched reception hall and the grand first floor dining room is decorated with a large ceiling fresco and painting of St John the Baptist by Guido Reni, a pupil of Caravaggio.

But this is no museum. The present owner has seamlessly introduced his own tasteful eclecticism throughout the hotel. A Moorish bar lit entirely with candles is decorated with ceramic tiles, while stylish Etro fabrics adorn the chairs and sofas.

You don't have to sacrifice your hilltop eerie for a day by the sea either - guests of the hotel get the use of a villa complete with its own beach and swimming pool. And, if you can drag yourself away from the mesmerising views, you can spend pleasant hours wandering the ancient hillside paths through wild flowers and lemon groves. The hotel even has its own wine label, "Episcopio", established in 1860. And, the only disturbance you'll be faced with is the sound of the bell towers of the local churches ringing out through the valleys below.

LOCATION

Hotel Palumbo, via San Giovanni del Toro 16, 84010 Ravello, Italy (00 39 089 857 244; www.hotelpalumbo.it).

The hotel is situated on one of the highest points in the historic centre of Ravello, up a small flight of steps from the main square.

Time to international airport: Naples airport is around an hour's drive away. The hotel can arrange transfers for £85 each way, which might be money well spent as driving on the Amalfi coast is not for the faint-hearted.

ARE YOU LYING COMFORTABLY?

Despite the grand surroundings there are only 21 rooms, which reinforces the impression that you are staying in a beautiful private home. Bedrooms are decorated with fine antiques from the 16th, 17th and 19th centuries, collected down the years by the Vuilleumier family. The majority of rooms have stunning views framed by terraces or balconies. Beds are luxuriously clad in Frette linen sheets.

Freebies: Own-label toiletries.

Keeping in touch: Each room is equipped with direct-dial telephones and satellite TV. In a room near reception you can access the internet, free of charge.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Double rooms start from €630 (£425) on a half-board basis (no bed and breakfast is offered).

I'm not paying that: The Hotel Parsifal, viale G d'Anna (00 39 089 857 144; www.hotelparsifal.com) has double rooms from an affordable €115 (£82).

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