For Sale: Gore Vidal’s Italian Cliffhanger (EXCLUSIVE)

For more than three decades, uncommonly erudite American-born writer Gore Vidal famously owned a gravity-defying villa in the resort town of Ravello along Italy’s postcard perfect Amalfi Coast. The whitewashed residence, theatrically cleaved to a craggy and precipitous cliff 1,000 feet above the Tyrrhenian Sea, has come up for sale, we first learned from kindly informant I. Talon Toorist, with an asking price of just over $21.1 million.

Dubbed La Rondinaia for its uncanny resemblance to a swallow’s nest, the 6.5-acre estate was first visited by the rabble-rousing raconteur and gleefully polarizing sociocultural provocateur in 1948, with his playwright pal Tennessee Williams. Vidal bought the property in 1972, made it his full-time home in 1993, and regularly entertained his vast network of high-profile friends and acquaintances, including Greta Garbo, Lauren Bacall, Paul Newman, Susan Sarandon, Andy Warhol and Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Rodham Clinton. In 2004, when it became too cumbersome for Mr. Vidal to navigate the multistory cliffhanger, the estate was sold to a local hotelier, and the writer moved to a dignified but less dramatic 1920s Mediterranean he’d long owned in L.A.’s Outpost Estates neighborhood.

Built around 1930 for a wealthy English banker, La Rondinaia was designed with a classical Roman floor plan — a series of rooms that open off long halls — with barrel vaulted ceilings, carved limestone fireplaces, and exuberantly colorful tile floors. Arched windows with ornate grillwork frame vertiginous views, and French doors open to wrought iron railed Juliet balconies and terra cotta tiled terraces that hover over the cliff. In addition to generously proportioned entertaining spaces, the residence offers six bedrooms and seven bathrooms in approximately 10,500 square feet spread over four floors. Laced with shaded pathways that wind between lemon and olive groves, grape arbors, and extensive mature gardens, the terraced grounds offer a variety of toe-curling overlooks and, added by Vidal in the mid-1980s, a swimming pool and pool house with sauna.

listing photos: Cassiano Sabatini & Partners / Coldwell Banker

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  1. Juvenal says:

    Vidal was the last man who was able to live in such elegant style as a writer. This guy was almost like Petronius in the way he behaved and lived. He was the last great literary gadfly. I wish I had caught on earlier to him, but I didn’t start reading his works until four years before he died. Vidal wasn’t only a pretty damn good writer but an obvious personality, too. He is missed. The world doesn’t turn them out like him anymore. “Tis a pity, since characters like his inspire (at least to me).

  2. Lane Stripe says:

    Andre Gide describes the spot where Vidal’s house stands before it actually stood there, in his 1902 novel titled “The Immoralist”

    . . . We had left the coast near Salerno and reached Ravello. There, a keener air, the charm of the rocks, their recesses, their surprisies, the unexplored depths of valleys, all contributed to my strength and enjoyment and gave impetus to my enthusiasm.
    Not far from the shore and very near the sky, Ravello lies on an abrupt height facing the flat and distant cost of Pæstum. Under the Norman domination, it was a city of no considerable importance; it is nothing now but a narrow village where I think we were the only strangers. We were lodged in an ancient religious house which had been turned into a hotel; it is situated on the extreme edge of the rock, and its terraces and gardens seem to hang suspended over an abyss of azure. Over the wall, festooned with creeping vine, one could at first see nothing but the sea; one had to go right up to the wall to discover the steep, cultivated slope that connects Ravello with the shore by paths that seem more like staircases. Above Ravello, the mountain continues. First come enormous olive and caroub trees, with cyclamen growing in their shadow; then, higher up, Spanish chestnuts in great quantities, cool air, northern plants, lower down, lemon trees near the sea. These are planted in small plots owing to the slope of the ground; they are step gardens, nearly alike; a narrow path goes from end to end through the middle of each; one enters noiselessly, like thief; one dreams in their green shadow; their foliage is thick and heavy; no direct ray of sunlight penetrates it; the lemons, like drops of opaque wax, hand perfumed; they are white and greenish in the shade; they are within reach of one’s hand, of one’s thirst; they are sweet and sharp and refreshing.

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