Little known by most tourists, the environs of Ravello offer dramatic mountain and sea views as well as unspoiled rural retreats.
Scala, only 2.5km (1 1/2 miles) from Ravello, was once a fortified town protecting the Amalfi Maritime Republic. Its two castles -- one guarding inland approaches, the other overlooking the sea -- were connected by walls that enclosed the town completely, but are now in ruins. The 12th-century Duomo, Piazza Municipio 5 (tel. 089-857397; daily 8am-1pm and 6-7pm), contains a crypt with a 14th-century funerary monument for Marinella Rufolo, erected by her husband Antonio Coppola. Of the smaller surrounding hamlets, each a small replica of Scala's defensive structure, Minuto is our pick: Only 1km (a half-mile) south of Scala, its interesting Chiesa della Santissima Annunziata was probably Scala's original cathedral. Built between the 11th and 12th centuries, it's one of the best examples of Romanesque architecture on the whole Amalfi Coast (and the view alone is worth a stop). Be sure to visit the crypt, where you will find 12th-century frescoes, including a Christ Pantocraor that accurately represents Byzantine style. Note: The church is open only for Mass on Sunday (9:30-10:30am), but can be visited upon request (ask at the parish house on Via Ficuciello).
About 10km (6 miles) farther inland from Scala, is Tramonti, a fertile agricultural area intra montes, or "between the mountains" which comprises 13 historic casali (farms), each graced by its own small church. This area is famous today for its D.O.C. wine and for concierto, a bittersweet digestive liquor concocted in the 17th century by the nuns of the local convent using nine different mountain herbs and spices. The convent, Regio Conservatorio dei Santi Giuseppe e Teresa, Località Pucara, is open to visitors, and still makes the drink -- which makes an excellent souvenir. We also recommend the drive to Valico di Chiunzi, the high pass in the mountains once guarded by a powerful castle, now reduced to a single tower. At an altitude of 656m (2,152 ft.), it affords a spectacular panorama of the plain of Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius.
If you'd like to explore the area on horseback, sign up for a pleasant horse ride and guided excursion in the countryside at one of the horse farms in Scala; the best is La Piccola California, Via Sento (tel. 089-858042). Alternatively, the best hike in the area is from Campidoglio di Scala -- one of the bourgs connected to Scala, at an altitude of 470m (1,542 ft.). The first part is a ridge trail, extremely scenic and not very arduous. You can make the walk more challenging by descending all the way to Amalfi. Along the way you will find, on your left, the ruins of the 12th-century church of Sant'Eustachio. The trail continues through a natural rock formation in the form of an amphitheater, showing the ruins of ancient fortifications, called Castello. About halfway through the descent, you will reach the waterfalls at the top of the Vallone delle Ferriere of Amalfi. If you want, you can then walk down along the Vallone and reach Amalfi through the Valle dei Mulini. Figure on spending about 2 hours to get to the waterfall and an additional 2 hours to get to Amalfi.