After spending a few days in Ravello, contributing editor Christina Ohly and her family went to Capri for the quintessential experience: fresh seafood, lots of chilling out, intense people watching, and picture-perfect views.
CAPRI, Italy – With its effortless chic vibe and endless blue vistas, Capri is about as close to Nirvana as you're likely to get. Best enjoyed in the shoulder seasons (late spring and early fall), it's a magical place full of natural and archaeological wonders, not to mention delicious food and first-rate hotels. If you're in the market for complete relaxation (and unparalleled people watching), you'll find it on this island.
WHAT TO DO
Relaxation is the name of the game on Capri, with the odd shopping excursion, ice cream cone, and cultural detour thrown in for good measure. The sun is intense and the temperatures soar in the summer months, so come armed with plenty of lightweight clothing, serious sunscreen, and a stack of old New Yorkers or a few good books. Capri is the epitome of la dolce vita, and you'll want to surrender to the preferred island activity of not doing very much at all.
Take to the Seas
While you will have taken a ferry to reach Capri, a small, chartered tour of the island by boat (preferably a Riva) is a wonderful way to experience the azure Tyrrhenian Sea. Many hotels can arrange for the use of their own boats: Capri Palace will rent the owner's 65-foot South Wind for the day.
Capri's biggest attraction is the Grotta Azzurra (Blue Grotto), a coastal sea cave that is flooded with brilliant blue light. Yes, it's beautiful. But be warned: It is also teeming with tourists.
Commune with the Ancients
I wish I'd known about the Villa San Michele before my last day, because this museum and park really should be explored at great length. Built on the ruins of Emperor Tiberius' villa by the Swedish doctor, Axel Munthe, this magnificent spread sits atop a promontory overlooking the sea and houses moss-covered relics, ancient columns, and statuary at every turn. The house is comprised of beautiful loggias, atria, bedrooms, a wonderful kitchen, and an embellished chapel. Within these rooms you'll find over a thousand objects — Etruscan antiquities, Renaissance choir stalls — that Dr. Munthe sourced from all over Europe during his lifetime.
The compound (complete with bird sanctuary) is now overseen by the Swedish state and there is, I swear, a Nordic design sensibility to the whole place. The lush gardens are the perfect place to relax, and I only regret not seeing one of the beautiful, open-air concerts that the villa is so well known for. Before any visit, track down a copy of Dr. Munthe's The Story of San Michele, as fascinating today as it was when it was originally published in 1928.
Another archaeological gem is Villa Jovis, a Roman site completed in 29 AD that is accessible by a footpath and provides views of local homes and flourishing gardens along the way.
Slip into Italian Kicks
Sandals are the best retail game in town, especially those custom-made to your specifications. My favorite shoemaker is Antonio Viva, whose shop, L'Arte del Sandalo Caprese, is located on the main street in Anacapri. A larger-than-life personality, Antonio tends his shop from morning till dusk, making personalized sandals in every imaginable color and style. Go for the Roman classic, a flat sandal, or a jewel-encrusted party shoe. Either way, you'll feel like you're getting a bespoke product — in just fifteen minutes flat.
Second choice — Jackie O's favorite, Canfora. Lovely kicks, but slightly more expensive than Viva's. (You'll find even more expensive sandals throughout Capri.)
Look the Part from the Feet Up
In addition to fine footwear, Capri is also full of shops selling locally made linen items. My favorites are the sheer varieties in hues of blue and white by Puro Lino. Perfect for warm summer evenings and presents. Simple hand towels as well as linen cover-ups and clothing can be found at 100% Capri, a boutique specializing in separates in muted tones.
For pricey jewels, head to Grazia Vozza, specialists in chunky pieces made from exquisite jade, amethyst, and amber. The work of two sisters, Grazia Vozza makes statement-making pieces that will look great with the floaty caftan you'll be sporting poolside.
WHERE TO EAT
You don't exactly need "fuel" to enjoy the leisurely pace of life on Capri. We loved the breakfast spread — meats, cheeses, fruit, delicious breads, and local honey — at the Caesar Augustus' pool-level restaurant. With spectacular patios off most rooms, this is also a great spot to order room service. Croissants with a view of the Bay of Naples: not bad.
Now this is the highlight of any Italian day, and much thought must go into the planning, consumption, and digestion of the meal. In Anacapri, the cliffside Lucullo Terrace at Caesar Augustus is hard to beat for its panini, light pastas, and views of Mount Vesuvius. In fact, it doesn't really matter what you eat. The scenery is truly breathtaking.
The finest overall game in town, however, is the patio at J.K. Place, situated down by Marina Grande. Lunch can last for hours (if you're lucky), as you'll be tended to by the most attentive staff, and, in many instances, by the wonderful manager, Simone Giorgi, who is happy to chat about everything from Italian football to the hotel's killer spa treatments. The meal consists of endless bread baskets (don't miss their grissini), delicious club sandwiches, and caprese salads — all with views of frolicking families on the rocky beach below. (No, you won't ever get tired of the views here.) Make time to sit by the beautifully designed pool (sans children) or hit the J.K. Spa, a sleek and peaceful sanctuary that does relaxing treatments (I'm going back for the pro-collagen quartz facial) and carries Santa Maria Novella products that I never knew existed. A day built around a meal at J.K. Place is pure bliss.
No lunch is complete without gelato. Some of Capri's finest flavors can be found at Gelateria Buonocore (35 Via Vittorio Emanuele; +39-081-837-7826) where stracciatella and chocolate hazelnut are the best bets.
The options are endless, but a few of my favorites included Le Grottelle (Via Arco Naturale; +39-081-837-5719), a casual trattoria/pizzeria steps from the famed, monolithic Arco Naturale. This spot is reached by a gentle twenty-minute walk along the coast that begins at Tragara Point. By the time you reach the top, you are rewarded with stunning views of the Amalfi Coast and the Galli Islands, noto to mention Mama Rosa's homemade ravioli and the simply prepared catch of the day.
Family-owned Da Gelsomina is another culinary highlight recommended by the ever-tasteful staff at J.K. Place. Great views of Ischia; delicious spaghetti alla chiummenzana.
For the ultimate dose of dolce vita head straight for Faraglioni to dine under traditional pagliarelle (straw canopies) and watch the beautiful people go by. Located at the end of the elegant Via Camerelle in central Capri, this is a great spot to savor a cocktail and a fine lemon risotto.
Also fabulous: Ristorante Aurora, an island favorite that draws the likes of Giorgio Armani for Neapolitan specialties like spaghetti alle vongole and thin-crust pizzas served in a chic, if very 1970s, setting.
Slightly cheesy but no less festive is Da Paolino, where dining under twinkling lemon trees is the order of the day. The real highlight for every child (and parent) is the dessert bar for torta caprese, the island's traditional flourless chocolate cake, and gelati galore. I am still in recovery.
WHERE TO STAY
If you're looking for value, then Hotel Caesar Augustus in Anacapri wins, hands-down. Part of the Relais & Chateaux group, this hotel is somewhat off the beaten path and enjoys an ideal cliff-top location in the relatively quiet village of Anacapri. Many rooms literally jut out over the water, as does the infinity pool that overlooks an endless blue expanse. The whole effect is supremely relaxing. Everything is overseen by Lucia Garau, a seasoned hotelier who is happy to help with boat transfers, sourcing the ultimate sandals, and everything in between.
For something more intime, opt for La Scalinatella, a 30-room boutique hotel that has rooms high above the sea. With its white and azure theme, Scalinatella feels very Capri, and its quiet location ensures a peaceful escape. Lunch by the pool is a major plus.
If money is no object, then a stay at J.K. Place is a no-brainer. The entire set-up — from the lobby library to the communal breakfast room to the airy suites — is pure chic. Situated on a spit of land overlooking Marina Grande, the whole J.K. vibe is one of relaxed elegance. It's the perfect place to while away days in the sun or in their world-class spa. Sip Bellinis by the pool on your tasteful lounge chair-cum-couch or feast on the restaurant's patio. Either way, this place is pure glamour.
See all the locations mentioned in this story. (Google Maps)
HOW TO GET THERE
Capri is not easily accessible, but it's certainly worth the effort. Fly to Rome and drive south to Naples where you will connect with a ferry to Capri (journey time approximately 5 hours).
FOR YOUR BEDSIDE TABLE
A few books and films that capture the essence of the island and surrounding area.