Famed for its hedonism and glamour, magical Capri is a tiny island in the Tyrrhenian Sea, in the Gulf of Naples, just off the Amalfi Coast of western Italy,made up of Jagged cliffs, rocky beaches, secret caves and grottos, bright flowers, hidden gardens, dramatic promontories, deep caves (the most famous is the Blue Grotto or Grotta Azzurra), beautiful little streets and pretty houses perched on the steep hillsides.
Celebrities have flocked to this island known as dolce far niente (sweet idleness) for many years, Jacqueline Kennedy, Kirk Douglas Sofia Loren, Graham Greene, Audrey Hepburn, Rita Hayworth, Grace Kelly, Liz Taylor and Richard Burton have all graced its charming hotels and little restaurants and soaked up the effusive, vibrant atmosphere.
Nothing is more delightful than a passagiata into the main Piazzetta in the orange sunlight of the early evening for an aperitivo, passing its fabulous designer shops, selling the famed gorgeous jeweled sandals, glamorous swim wear and couture clothing, as you pass along the way. The best way to enjoy this wildly beautiful little island is to avoid the sometimes oppressive crowds and tourists off cruise ships, who arrive here during the summer months in high season. If you can plan a visit when things calm down, it certainly makes availability in hotels better and access to beach clubs and restaurants more realistic. Capri is all about walking so you need to be quite fit to get around and it is not ideal with tiny children.
To get to Capri you need to either drive from Rome, or fly into Naples and take a taxi from the airport to Molo Beverello Harbour, the port, where, like everyone else, you board a high speed jetfoil which takes about 40 minutes and whisks you off to Capri Porto di Marina Grande. Private transfers are available at a substantial cost. On arrival you are met by your hotel representative. They are all there from all the hotels, shouting your name, waving their boards and hands, a cacophony of frenzy and excitement, all conversing loudly. Once they find you, they will be welcoming, delighted you are in Capri, offering to take your luggage for you. You can either get to your hotel by tiny Fiat limousine (everything is miniature it seems), or you can walk. We handed over our luggage but then chose to find our own way, which was a fun adventure, using the main cable car to get up to the Piazzetta. There are some lovely hotels to choose from on Capri, but the four I love are Capri Palace Hotel & Spa, Hotel La Scalinatella, Hotel Punta Tragara, JK Place Capri and La Minerva. All are very different in size and cost, and location, some in Capri, some on Anacapri, the village above, which is quieter but literally a twenty-minute walk from the Piazzetta, and five minutes by taxi. Each is very different with its own individual charm. Some of Capri’s best restaurants are hidden away, others reachable by boat or lovely walks on little rocky promontories.
We happened to go for a 50th birthday party and outside of the wonderful celebrations, our days were spent at various beach clubs, or lounging by the pool at the hotel.
As far as beach clubs goes, La Fontelina is a firm favourite. Set at the bottom of a dramatic cliff face, below the Punta Tragara, it is open from April to October, opposite Faraglioni, Capri’s famous rock ‘stacks’ (three dramatic, side by side rock formations including a huge rock arch, created by oceanic rock erosion of waves). You get there by either walking past the Punta Tragara, then down the cliff path, or you can call the restaurant staff who organise their shuttle boat to collect you from the Marina Piccola. Or vice versa. After a rather languid lunch, I walked to our hotel, up the cliff pathway, less painful after a couple of glasses of wine. You can enjoy a lovely lunch, with delicious food and sit on the rocks afterwards in deck chairs to enjoy the sun and people watch.
Our next stop was Positano. We left Capri by private boat from the Piccola Marina, and they whizzed us around the island so we could see some of the beautiful caves and dramatic scenery. Our Captain took us to a remote part of the coast line where we enjoyed a refreshing swim off a little beach, in a tiny cove.
We stopped for the most wonderful lunch at the atmospheric Lo Scoglio da Tommaso, a family run restaurant where they serve fresh fish, mouth-watering lobster pasta and tasty vegetables, grown organically on their own farm.
When we arrived in Positano, we docked by the harbour wall, right next to the dark pebble beach (don’t expect sandy beaches in this part of Italy) and our luggage was collected and taken to the hotel. We gently meandered through the myriad of tiny streets with their vertiginous colourful houses, buying a couple of hats along the way from a little tourist boutique to protect us from late afternoon, strong sun. We stayed at the iconic Le Sirenuse run by the ever present owner Antonio Sersale. We had dinner one night in their sushi restaurant and enjoyed really good breakfasts on the terrace each morning. A couple of nights in Positano were enough for us and from here you can easily access other spectacular places such as Ravello, and Sorrento. Don’t miss visiting Mount Vesuvius and the remains of Pompeii on your way back to the airport; take some time, it is worth it. If you want to by pass Positano and go straight to one of our most favourite Italian haunts, then take a private boat from Capri to the breathtaking Villa Tre Ville.
All the hotels in Capri are booked months in advance so if you are planning a trip, make sure you bear this in mind. For reservations in August, you need to be booking latest in January.
HOTELS on CAPRI and ANACAPRI
JK Place is one of my favourite hotels on the island. Set away from the main town, in Ana Capri (a five minute taxi ride up the hill takes you into the main square), this boutique hotel has a truly relaxed atmosphere, with a splendid large pool, fabulous spa, wonderful restaurant and stunning views over the sea. Staff are efficient and the service excellent.
Hotel Punta Tragara
The Punta Tragara is the hotel with the most spectacular view over the Faraglioni and the bay of Marina Piccola . Originally a private villa designed by Le Corbusier in the 1920’s, it is a 15-minute walk from the Piazzetta, and history tells us it was used as the American Head Quarters by General Eisenhower during the Second World War. Here he met to plot and discuss strategies with Winston Churchill. Rooms are spacious and modern, the food is very good, it has two pools and the service is excellent.
This thirty-room hotel was opened in 1965 and is a hugely popular with a high repeat guest list. Set out of Capri town on Anacapri, it is traditional in décor and filled with gorgeous antiques. Bedrooms have beautiful tiled floors and big comfy beds. Rooms with large terraces are the most popular and you can while away the afternoons by its little pool, enjoying the spectacular views.
We stayed at this adorable little hotel with its 18 bedrooms. It is run by three charming brothers, and is a ten-minute walk away from the main piazza on a quiet street. Our bedroom was beautiful with a private terrace, big comfy bed made up with wonderful Italian linens.
The hotel combines modern with traditional island elements. It is peaceful and simple. The service is really good, the terrace on the top floor has great views and it is where breakfast is served each morning.
Each morning we chose a different walk. We walked up to see the Natural Arch and Via Pizzolungo one morning and Villa Jovis the next. The latter is on top of a giant precipice, and overlooks Ischia, Naples, Sorrento, Amalfi, and the Li Galli. Built for the Roman Emperor Tiberius who ruled the Roman Empire from Capri by using a lighthouse to signal communication, he also occasionally delighted in throwing unsuspecting slaves over the cliff edge if he felt so inclined. Better news is that we loved this hotel and would always go back. La Minerva is very popular and you have to book far in advance to get a room.
Away from the busy centre, on Ana Capri, this popular hotel is home to the renowned Capri Beauty Farm Spa as well as a superb Michelin starred restaurant. It is a modern hotel with some beautiful art installations, the owner being a serious collector.
The pool with its orange sun loungers overlooks the sea.
Suites are named after Callas, Magritte and Warhol to name a few. The Beach Club Il Riccio is charming, in short it is a perfect holiday treat. From Anacapri you can take beautiful scenic walks up to the San Michele and up Monte Solaro which take about an hour each.
HOTELS IN POSITANO
Le Sirenuse is the most famous hotel in Positano. Family run it takes its name from the Sirens islands, which it overlooks. It is a well-run, elegant, traditional hotel with pretty terraces, a lovely spa and great restaurants including a sushi bar. We had a beautiful room overlooking the pool, and the long sparkling Mediterranean as far as the eye could see and the sunset was spectacular.
Villa Tre Ville
If you want to find a very special place, then head off to one of our most favourite hotels in Italy, Villa Tre Ville, just around the corner from the main village. In love with Positano, Italian film director Franco Zeferelli bought three adjacent villas (hence the name) where he entertained his Hollywood friends. In 1965 it was sold and is now owned by a private family who look after it to the highest standards. The gardens are beautiful and filled with jasmine, wisteria and bougainvillea , the interiors are a superb and offer an eclectic fusion of modern facilities with traditional, local artisanal touches. You might never leave…