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.