The Isle Of Capri
style and serenity
text by David Brown and Sara Robertson
Above: A Panoramic View of Capri.
Capri’s sparkle is multifaceted – a compact four square miles in the middle of the Mediterranean between Italy’s Gulf of Naples and Sorrento with juxtapositions of flowers and fashion, sea and hills, ancient ruins and extravagant villas. The Island is a trifecta: breathtaking terrain, delicious cuisine and memorable sites. Surrounded by the sea, islands such as Capri center us, cleanse us, inspire us as few places do.
Pronounce it incorrectly or you’ll be promptly corrected, “COP-ree,” Greek for “wild boar” or Latin for “goats” or even Etruscan for “rocky.” Whatever the origin, Capri is universal for style and serenity.
“The pace is slower and more upscale on Capri from the mainland,” says Marialaura Boldini Creal, owner of Valley-based Fantastica Italia, travel specialist for Italy. “Just the boat ride from Naples or Sorrento is short and enchanting because you see the island in front of you and the coastline with Mount Vesuvius behind you.” The boats come in at Marina Grande, and a funicular can take you to the town of Capri with its great central piazza, the Piazzetta. Or, take a delightful convertible taxi, the best motorized way to see the island.
A STORIED PAST
A century before Vesuvius went liquid and left Pompeii and Herculaneum in dust, the great emperor of Rome, Caesar Augustus, found Capri, a place of sweet summer idleness. In the garden of his island paradise, Sea Palace, he displayed Neolithic and Bronze Age artifacts his workers had excavated. Today in Capri town enjoy the more contemporary Gardens of Augustus.
Homer’s Odysseus, on the return leg from the battlefield of Troy, heard the sweet seductive voices of the Sirens from rocky Marina Piccola. Fortunately, you won’t have to be strapped to the ship’s mast when experiencing Capri for yourself. Augustus’ less than first-century successor, Tiberius, fled the cabals and assassination rumors of Rome to his fortresses in these hills, and the remains of one, spectacular Villa Jovis, and another, the Villa Damecuta at Anacapri, the island’s other major town, are must-visits during your stay. From the town, a chair lift takes you to the top of the island offering memorable views.
Another fine garden at Villa San Michele is also in Anacapri. Swedish physician, Axel Munthe, climbed the famous Phoenician Steps from Capri to Anacapri in 1887 and bought and restored the ruined chapel there, dedicated to San Michele. The climb is not without effort, but the experience and views are unforgettable.
At the legendary Grotta Azzurra, The Blue Grotto, Tiberius swam and erected statues, some of which have recently been lifted from the cavern floor. Mark Twain wrote about it in Innocents Abroad (1869): “The waters of this placid subterranean lake are the brightest, loveliest blue that can be imagined… No tint could be more ravishing, no lustre more superb.”
Many others have been dazzled by the island luster: Beaux-Arts painter Charles Caryl Coleman worked here as did Russian writer Maxim Gorky. Inspired by its signature hills, Claude Debussy composed Les Collines d’Anacapri. And Charles Dickens unstressed from cacophonous London and its Dickensian conditions, writing “In no place on earth are there so many opportunities for delicious peace and quiet as on this small island.”
For sure, Capri synthesizes music, peace, lushness, azure-blues, limestone/sandstone cliffs and other natural landmarks such as the Faraglioni sea giants –– Stella, di Mezzo and di Fuori –– which rise from the Tyrrhenian Sea like mythical beasts. Near these is the Belvedere of Tragara, one of the island’s best vistas.
Capri has a room to suit every taste. These include stellar hotels such as J.K. Place Capri in Capri town, featuring J. Kitchen Restaurant & Terrace, Grand Hotel Quisisana (“Here One Heals”) and Capri Palace. The latter two are alike in their grandness, different in their guest profiles: “Quisisana is for established celebrity, who want to be in the center of the action and island life, who want to be seen,” Creal says of the family-owned hotel. These have included Ernest Hemingway, Claudette Colbert, Jean Paul Sartre, Somerset Maugham and Sting. The legendary breakfast is served in Il Quisi. Enjoy Neopolitan pizza and other delights poolside at La Columbaia and, looking out on boutique-rich Via Camerelle, dine by candlelight at Restaurant Rendez-Vous.
“Capri Palace in Anacapri is more secluded, whose great views are more for those who want to see Capri rather than be seen on Capri”, says Creal. Built by the father of the owner, Tonino Cecace, the art-rich property is near the Blue Grotto, featuring one-Michelin star Il Riccio restaurant and the two-Michelin-star L’Olivo –– “excellent for an elegant and exquisite meal,” Creal shares. The more famous guests have included Jackie and Aristotle Onassis, Sophia Loren, Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly and Gwyneth Paltrow.
Here, too, in Anacapri is the fine Hotel Caesar Augustus: “like an eagle’s nest, perched on the highest rock,” the hotel says in an apt verbal selfie, and Hotel La Scalinatella, again more secluded, private –– a getaway on a getaway island. Boutique properties include the Hotel Gatto Bianco (Matisse is the mascot white cat), Casa Mariantonia, owned by the great-grandchildren of the founder; Villa Brunella; Excelsior Parco and Hotel Flora. And, some of the fine bed-and-breakfasts are at Hotel La Canasta, Hotel La Reginella and Aiano.
This hotel list is matched by superlative restaurants, trattorias, wine bars and cafés. By the sea, you can anticipate the freshest seafood, so a daily dose of pesce will keep you smiling. Lemons are abundant on the Island and a wonderful flavor to enhance that catch of the day. Be sure to order Limoncello, the signature costal liqueur.
“For something quick and delicious,” Creal returns to Bar Tiberio Café in the Piazzetta, the Piazza Umberto I, with its bars, restaurants and tantalizing people-watching. Steps away is Certosa di San Giacomo, one of the island’s oldest structures, built in 1371. One seafood specialist, Lido del Faro, rests on a terrace above the sea on the west side of the island, overlooking a cove lit by Punta Carena, a large lighthouse. Another, Bagni Tiberio’s Restaurant, is reached on foot or by gozzo, a fishermen’s boat. And Le Grottelle, along the peaceful coastal walkway, Pizzolungo, is a family-owned home-style restaurant with regional dishes such as the tomato-sauce-based Seafood Scialatielli and signature wood-oven chicken.
A SHOPPER’S PARADISE
The experience of shopping in Capri is like none other. It’s downright addictive.The winding cobblestone streets are lined with designer boutiques against a backdrop of staggering natural beauty.
Not to be missed is La Campanina, a luxury jewelry boutique. Founded by Alberto and Lina Frederico in 1950, La Campanina remains a family affair. The children and grandchildren carry on the tradition of unsurpassed quality, originality of design, and exceptional customer service. With a passion and instinct for impeccable style they are synonymous with the exquisite beauty that is Capri.
You mustn’t overlook the local artisans offerings: exquisite coral, embroidered smocks (frumpy anywhere else but here), crocheted string bikinis, brightly painted earthenware and, of course, those legendary capri pants. Made-to-measure in just one day and available in an endless choice of colors, patterns and fabrics, the only question is how many pairs can you squeeze into your suitcase.
Did I mention the sandals? You can place your order and watch as the cobbler makes them as you wait. Styles from the basic to the bejeweled are not only perfect footwear for every occasion, but also a sensible choice to navigate the ancient Caprese streets and hills.
Oozing that charming Mediterranean vibe and lifestyle, the upscale island atmosphere makes it more exclusive than the Greek islands and more unique than the Caribbean. “Capri is and always will be the heart of the Amalfi Coast, with its breathtaking views, warm-hearted locals and the southern Italian [coastal] cuisine,” says Cassandra Santoro, CEO and founder of Travel Italian Style, New York City and Florence. “Capri has the magic so many dream of in experiencing their visit to Italy.”