Capri: playground of the rich and famous

by Rebecca.Burgess

The tiny Italian island of Capri is the beautiful summer playground of the world’s rich and famous, promising glamour, sophistication and a touch of exclusivity in a stunning setting

Surrounded by shimmering seas lapping stunning coves and beaches, Capri is as beautiful and glamorous as its famous visitors and inhabitants. Since the early 19th century, poets, artists, writers and socialites have been drawn to the island, including, in the 1950s, the likes of Clark Gable, Sofia Loren and Jackie Kennedy.
Even today, the temptation to sit and stare at the sophisticated holidaymakers is as much a draw as the turquoise seas, the fine art or rare wildlife. Capri is very much the playground of the rich and famous, and so not the easiest destination to visit on a budget. In fact many of the thousands of tourists only come on day trips from the mainland or stop-offs from cruise ships.
This can make for a crowded island in the height of summer, but as the sun sets it is still possible to explore in quieter moments. The place to start is around the 17-kilometre coastline, on a boat trip from the Marina Grande on the eastern side, home to the ferries, hydrofoils and private yachts, or Marina Piccola on the south.
This way you can explore the grottos and rugged limestone coastline, anchor for a swim in the clear blue seas or drop into a beachside restaurant for lunch. And no visit would be complete without a trip to the infamous Grotta Azzurra – Blue Lagoon – which was rediscovered by German artist August Kopisch, in 1826. The entrance is through a tiny gap in the cliff face, on board one of the rowing boats that queue to ferry in tourists who arrive by boat or down the steep steps in the cliff face. Crammed like sardines, you are rowed through the narrow gap and need to lie flat to avoid decapitation. However, once inside, the cave opens up and the cobalt blue waters created by the refracted light are stunning.
Other landmarks to pick out round the coast are the hammer-and-sickle-emblazoned roof on the former home of the communist writer Curzio Malaparte, and the Faraglioni – two giant rocks that are home to the rare Blue Lizard.
Back on dry land, the best place to soak up the ‘theatre’ of Capri is in the main piazetta (Piazza Umberto) – otherwise known as the drawing room of the world and the focus of the cobbled streets, which house shops, hotels and restaurants. From here you can branch out to discover the designer boutiques, including Armani, Dolce & Gabbana, Cartier and Prada, the scented Gardens of Augustus for a tranquil retreat, and a host of restaurants and cafes.
Eating is a very important pastime in Capri, so it’s worth making time to sample typical Caprese dishes including the locally-caught white fish pezzogna - cooked in a ‘crazy’ water of salt and tomatoes. The island’s most well known dish is ravioli alla caprese, made with caciotta cheese, Parmesan-Reggiano and an optional pinch of marjoram. Dessert is a must: torta caprese – made from almonds and dark chocolate with a touch of vanilla – topped off with the locally-made lImoncello – a sweet and potent lemon liqueur fresh from the local groves.
When refreshed, it’s time to explore further, making use of the funicular railway, which runs from Marina Grande to central Capri, and the plethora of buses that scurry endlessly up and down the winding paths.
There is only so much shopping and people-watching to be done in Capri – then it’s time to head upwards to Anacapri, where most of the 15,000 Caprese live and normal signs of life are more evident. It is also home to the stunning Villa San Michele – built on the ruins of an ancient Roman site by the Swedish writer and doctor Alex Munthe. Explore the stunning gardens, soak up the panoramic views and stop by the head of the stone sphinx to follow Caprese tradition and make a wish. Casa Rossa (Red House) and Chiesa di San Michele are also worth a visit – for their art collections.
From here, take the chair lift from Anacapri to Piazza Vittoria at the highest point on the island (589 metres) to soak up panoramic views across the island and the bay. It’s in Anacapri that you also get a taste of Capri’s reputation as a haven for wildlife and it’s worth picking up the tourist board’s botanical walk guide if you have a free hour.
That’s the fascination of Capri: for such a small island, there is so much to explore and experience during a perfect long weekend of luxury and leisure in the sun.


Getting there
There’s only one real way to arrive in Capri – and that’s by sea across the Bay of Naples. You could charter a helicopter if you’re in a hurry but hurrying is not really what Capri is about.
The quickest route is to fly to Naples (Capodichino Airport). British Airways fly from Gatwick, easyjet from Stansted, and Thomson and Monarch  offer regional flights. From the airport there are regular buses (ALIBUS) to Piazza Minicipio near Molo Beverello port, or take a metered taxi.
To reach Capri from the mainland take a ferry or hydrofoil, from either port Mergellina or Molo Beverello, which has the largest choice of departures. The ferry takes about an hour and a half and the hydrofoil about half the time. Several companies offer private transfers, including a driver pick-up from the airport or station; try Capritime. Helicopter transfers are available from Naples airport to Capri; try Elipartenope or Capri-Helicopters.
Where to stay
Hotel Gatto Bianco: historic, modern and comfortable three-star hotel in the centre of Capri, built in the 1950s by the Esposito brothers. (Via Vittorio Emanuele 32)
Hotel San Michele: three-star hotel, built in a neo-classical style in the 1870s and located in Anacapri in a large mature garden. (Via G Orlandi 1, Anacapri)
La Scalinatella: a typical Capri-style luxury five-star hotel in a panoramic and peaceful area of central Capri. (Via Tragara 6/8)
Where to eat
Ristorante da Paolino: a large and friendly restaurant set among overhanging lemon trees along the coast of Capri, about two kilometres from the port. Tantalising menu of speciality dishes and a sumptuous buffet. (Via Palazzo a Mare 11) Average cost of dinner for two - £70.
La Capannina: an elegant restaurant in the heart of Capri with sister delicatessen La Capannina Piu. (Via Le Botteghe 12/14) Average cost of dinner for two - £90.
Il Tinello: small and homely restaurant, tucked in the alleyways behind the central piazzeta, offering the owner’s homemade dishes. (Via L’Abate 1/3) Average cost of dinner for two - £40.
Ristorante La Rondinella: welcoming restaurant in a quiet street of Anacapri, serving traditional dishes on a flower-decked terrace. (Via G Orlandi 295, Anacapri) Average cost of dinner for two - £55.
Where to drink
Sip a cappuccino or martini in the main square, Piazza Umberto – try the Piccolo Bar, Pulalli Wine Bar, Gran Caffe or Bar Tiberio.
Stopping over in Naples
Grand Hotel Parkers: historic and antique-filled five-star hotel overlooking the Bay of Naples and only a 10-minute walk from Plebiscito Square, the Royal Palace and National Museum and Porto Santa Lucia. The hotel’s rooftop terrace offers stunning views over the Bay of Naples and Pompei and is a favourite with Neapolitans, alongside Bidder’s Bar on the panoramic sixth floor. (Corso Vittorio Emanuele 135, Naples)