Tuesday, April 15, 2008

La Dolce Vita in Capri

If there is a place to roll around on your bed in La Perla underwear while eating bonbons and drinking expensive champagne, it is Capri. So if this sounds like your thing, then book your tickets, drop your kids/pets/live-in manny at your mother-in-law’s house and fly to Italy as soon as humanly possible.

Once used as a getaway for Roman emperors and later on, as a destination for the world’s fashionable elite, it should come as no surprise that Capri is overwhelmingly chic. It’s the Audrey Hepburn, the Carolina Herrera, the dare I say it…Jackie O. of the vacation world. Yet what separates this Italian island from other exclusive retreats is that Capri isn’t overdone. It’s not a scene, nor does it cater to tourists in all of the obvious ways that so many destinations often do in order to attract business. There are no flashing lights or casinos. No Pizza Hut darkens these shores (thankfully this is the land of homemade pizza dough, made with real herbs and recipes passed down from Nonna). And since there are no sixty floor mega-hotels crowding the waterfront, when you ride the funicular on your way up the steep, rocky coast to the top, all you see are tiny whitewashed villas perching daintily over miles of sparkling turquoise sea.

Refreshingly, the locals own thriving businesses cooking, managing small hotels and operating upscale boutiques. Vespas cruise up and down side streets while children walk home from soccer practice. The fact that locals continue to live here adds an element of timelessness to Capri’s beauty that one rarely finds when traveling. There is nothing manufactured about this island’s glamour and in stark contrast to a place like Dubai, it is the island’s appealing authenticity that is a simple luxury in itself. Its homage to culture, tradition and antiquity is something that exists organically, upping the charm factor immensely.

On my recent jaunt here I began my day at the Piazzetta, the social heart of the island where over glasses of Italian wine my husband and I watched men in cashmere sweaters savor bowls of pasta, immaculately turned out in leather shoes and cufflinks. Europeans on vacation lazily read newspapers at nearby cafĂ© tables, shaded from the sun by large umbrellas. Women laden down with gold jewelry and oversized Tod’s bags navigated the cobblestone streets in stiletto heels. There was bubbly conversation. Air kisses were exchanged. Cocktail waiters bustled between the crowded bistro tables with silver trays balancing cocktails and bowls of taralli, a sort of savory, addictive Italian cracker. It could have been the beautiful weather or the result of a limoncello-induced haze, but everyone seemed to be smiling, staring at the cloudless blue sky and taking their time eating, drinking and enjoying life through the lenses of their very expensive sunglasses. It’s a very welcoming place this Capri, especially after a few glasses of Chianti.

Sadly, our plan to visit the Blue Grotto was foiled as it was closed due to rough seas so instead Matt and I made the executive decision to scoot down a series of turret-like steps to La Pergola for lunch. Our table practically hovered over the water, situated as it was on a stone terrace surrounded by breathtaking ocean views on one side and a fragrant lemon grove on the other. Hours passed along with the courses - a Caprese salad, crusty bread, fresh seafood, fruit, more wine. Our waiter, applauding our basic attempts at Italian conversation loaded us down with free glasses of the chef’s personal limoncello, made from the fruit trees in the garden. It is at this point that I fully fell in love with Capri, and maybe a little bit, our Italian chef.

The generosity of the welcoming locals, the so-simple-it's-sophisticated food, the impressive cliffside views and flowering vegetation all create an enveloping experience of understated elegance. In Capri you can sink into a lazy afternoon from a hotel balcony, sip a bottle of the best wine in the world or shop for $30,000 jewelry crafted out of diamonds and coral. Or you can swim in the sea, nibble on lemon granita and spend the afternoon in a local’s kitchen. This island is at once sophisticated and childish, luxurious and humble. You can engage exactly as much or as little with the world around you as you wish, which is why it makes the perfect spot for a honeymoon as well as an ideal place for a family vacation. My idea of a perfect day would involve quietly lounging poolside, listening to the ebb and flow of the waves below while reading and drinking strong, Italian espresso. In the afternoon I’d dress for shopping, cocktails and a fabulous Italian dinner followed by a walk with my husband down those romantic alleyways, overgrown with flowers and vines. Needless to say - I'm coming back as soon as I possibly can.


J.K. Place – This fashion forward boutique hotel set above the Marina Grande offers concierge service including helicopter transfers and boat rides, the use of a stunning heated outdoor pool, posh dining room, bar and spa services. Prices range from $500 to $2,200 Euros a night.

Da Paolino (Palazzo a Mare 11, 081-8376102) – Located only a short walk away from J.K. Place, this classic Capri standby often plays host to celebrities, but still remains popular for its fresh, homemade pasta with locals and visiting tourists. Outdoor seating in a fragrant lemon grove ups the romance factor. Prices range from $30 to $60 Euros per/person.

Guarracino Taverna (Via Castello 7, 081-837-0514) – This rustic, authentic tavern (formerly an olive oil press) is conveniently located a stone’s throw from La Piazzetta and makes you feel like a real Italian without the exorbitant prices so common in Capri.

Carthusia – Go home smelling like those beautiful Italian women or pick up a bottle as a gift for a special friend. These limited production perfumes are created using the ancient techniques of the Carthusian monks, while local flora is added to give the various fragrances their exotic, special scent.

Limoncello di Capri – Lemon trees run rampant on Capri and this traditional Italian after-dinner drink celebrates the local fruit in a delicious way. Less sugary and refreshingly tarter than many other limoncellos available Stateside, this one packs a punch and is the perfect thing to remind you of your vacation once you return home.

Canfora – Handmade leather sandals ranging from the demure to more eye-catching versions embellished with bling, whimsical flowers and sea life are available for purchase. Undoubtedly chic, these classic kicks are the perfect complement to a simple summer shift dress or a pair of raw silk cropped pants.

No comments: