Words by Rosalind Milani Gallieni
Capri, famed for attracting romantics and those with deep pockets to its glittering coastline, is the very epitome of la dolce vita. Set on the outermost tip of the Sorrentine peninsula in southern Italy, Capri has become a haven to those drawn to this paradise island not only for its balmy climate and outstanding natural beauty, but also for its pure air and rich, health-giving waters. Today, it is known as one of Europe’s most highly regarded wellness centres.
No trip to Capri would be complete without a stay at the island’s award-winning Capri Palace hotel, once the iconic Europa Palace, where I stayed on my honeymoon back when. It stands majestically in Anacapri, at the foot of Monte Solare – and what Capri is really about is here! Secular Mediterranean pine trees still line the sea view, with the wild skies beyond, just as they did years back. This is the place to be, in this secluded corner of the island a stone’s throw from Axel Munthe’s home, and in the more realistic “village” of the island. Carabinieri stand outside the local dressmakers’ shop to collect their altered trousers, while Antonio Viva makes the most stunning, sparkly summer kicks. The spirit of a Mediterranean lifestyle runs throughout the hotel’s design-scape and the interior colour palette of fresh-whites, greiges and bright turquoise blues, typical of the island, set off all the unique art, sculptures, paintings and design pieces, which are poised throughout for everyone to enjoy.
The hotel is also home to the Beauty Farm and Professor Canonaco’s Leg School, which is known throughout the world for the excellent results achieved in the prevention and cure of cellulite, water retention and vascular problems. Developed over several years of practice and research, the focus of the program is for participants to leave with perfect-looking pins. Massages, medicated mud wraps, relaxation, sunshine, teas and the most tempting Kneipp hydro-therapy walking through lengths of cold water measuring 18 degrees one way, and back through temperatures of 40 degrees celsius…. best foot forward, then! And get the pedicure in, as you will be meeting Antonio later on….
Meanwhile, the hotel’s Capri Beauty Farm is a perfect mix of divine spa treatments and with its medical focus, the team constantly gets involved in university research to perfect protocols and personalise each treatment.
When your legs recover, get them walking, and head to Antonio for further therapy – this time, retail. Sandals are something of a Capri speciality, and there are several places that make them bespoke, in every conceivable cocktail of colour, size, sprangle, shape and style imaginable. My personal preference – and the most authentic, as many have set up shop following his good example – is Antonio Viva, who has sat on his stool outside his shop since 1958, running his L’Arte del Sandalo down the main street of Anacapri. Not only is he there all day, every day, but he’ll also create a good quality, long-lasting pair of sandals for you in little more than fifteen minutes. The worlds of glamour and fashion from Hollywood, Miami, Rome, Paris, Monte Carlo, Melbourne, Copenhagen and Capri have bought from him, as the thousands of postcards, pinned to every surface available in the shop, can vouch for.
Once the shoes are sorted, complete the experience of first hand craftsmanship by dropping by Farella, the go-to for many of Capri’s fashionistas, which still retains its heritage and personal touch. Shoppers include Fiona Swarovski and Tory Burch, who have both been spotted browsing the shelves of knitwear, and the choice of “hard to choose from” colours. Founded by four enterprising sisters, the company is famed for its wool work, with yarns spun from high-quality natural fibres including cashmere, linen, silk and merino wool. Not many know, but Farella’s desirable creations have dominated the catwalks of Italy for three decades. The philosophy at Farella is prevalent in every piece that makes its way off the looms – that of skilfully weaving their love and passion for art into tastefully beautiful pieces. Each garment has its own history, mood and texture, and therefore its own identity.
Each of the collections by Farella are characterised by the interpretation of traditional knitwear in a contemporary style, and most styles can be made to measure. One of the more fundamental traits of a Farella garment is that the colours of Capri are woven into each and every piece. The brand’s most iconic pieces are its ponchos with their signature tassels on the corners, its softest cardigans and loosely tailored fine wool jackets.
If the shopping all becomes a bit too much, there is also a scenic way to see the island – you can rent the 65-foot South Wind for the day, from the owner of Capri Palace. There’s simply nothing better than sailing the circumference of the island’s gorgeous shoreline. It’s a day trip, with a stop for lunch – certamente! – and all the while you float on the inimitable crystal-clear blue waters, passing the many grottos, the Faraglioni, the rock side restos and villas, inviting your mind to travel to their stories and visitors over the ages. Just don’t forget your hat, and possibly spare clothes, as the seas can get choppy out on the West side of the island, where the weather makes you aware of your size – particularly if you’re in the little local fishing boat – so hold on tight! I know a tale or two from my travels there, as documented over the years!
Back at the Capri Palace, after all the seaborne adventures, the evening invites you to step back into style at L’Olivo restaurant with its two Michelin stars. The menu here is reinterpreted in an elegant and evolved fashion, using Capri’s abundant fresh produce to develop innovative dishes – the signature of which is a lemon-scented homemade tagliolini pasta with burrata, red prawns and fine sea asparagus. However, my personal favourite is Il Riccio Beach Club, once a “baracca” on the rock where a local fisherman started serving fresh sea urchins with lemon, straight from his morning catch. Today, Il Riccio hugs the cliffside under a thatched roof, with unbeatable panoramic views stretching out to sea, and the Grotta Azzurra glistening below. There is a smart beach club vibe here and a few chic sun decks and white cabanas are dotted on the rocks to allow you to recover from the fantastic menu; a stone staircase quietly invites you to journey down to the deep blue sea, but be sure to wait at least 3 hours before a swim.
Lovers of seafood will be heartily satisfied by the treasure trove of flavours that flow out of the kitchen here. The star dish on the menu is the out-of-this-world spaghetti alla chitarra with the freshest sea urchins, or the branzino in crosta – just try; don’t ask – not to mention the sins that occur in the Temptation room, carpeted with the most incredible presentation of sweets, Neapolitan pasties, Capri cakes, gateaux, semi-freddi, tiramisu, fruit and locally made ceramic majolica ladies keeping a beady eye on your selection.
The standard of the family-owned Capri Palace hotel, its suites, spa and Michelin-starred restaurants are second to none, making this destination one of the most enticing places to stay and enjoy all that this incredible island has to offer. Importantly, don’t travel here in summer, but choose April or May, for the flowers which are a spectacle of scents. Alternatively, head over in September just before the hotels close and feel the pace of the island, when you can make limoncello with the locals, ready for the winter….