Campania , Italy
Capri has been a favored summer playground since the Roman emperor Tiberius made the villa Jovis- now an evocative cliff-top ruin with breathtaking views- his ruling seat in A.D. Today, artists, designers, movie stars, divas, politicians, writers, royals, and financiers make regular appearances in the piazzetta, described by Noel Coward as “the most beautiful operetta stage in the world.” The hallmarks of this 5-square-mile getaway surrounded by emerald waters are the Faraglioni, three needlelike rocks towering just off the rugged coast. A boat trip into the azure light of the GrottaAzzurra(Blue Grotto) is justifiably one of the world’s most written-about tourist experiences, while up in the town of Anacapri, the lush Mediterranean garden of the Villa San Michele offers a chance to escape the day-tripping crowds.
Despite the glitterati, capri is not a fancy place. Pretensions are kept in check at the Hotel la Scalinatella, Capri’s hideway in excelsis, high above the sea. Providing relaxed luxury in a breezy villa, its 30 bright rooms all have open sea views. The bigger, more extravagant Hotel Qusisisana, from the same owners, is one the few accommodations in the heart of town. At the more modest Hotel Luna, there are views of the Faraglioni from the gardens, pool, and most of the 30 rooms.
The sun, the sea, good wine, and great food come together simply but gloriously on a sun-dappled, seaside terrace of La Fontelina, with the Faraglioni in sight. Diners can sunbathe and swim before and after a lunch that’s likely to include the restaurant’s signature fruit-filled sangria and a simple insalatacaprese, the island specialty of super-fresh mozzarella and just-picked tomatoes. Dinner at Da Paolino is served in a lemon grove above the main port, where lantern-size fruits drip from the branches above your table, garnish your grilled fish, and flavor the homemade sorbet.
Larger, more laid-back Ischia, floating nearby in the Bay of Naples, is ringed with sandy beaches and so forested with fragrant pines that it’s known as the Emerald island. Although Ischia’s Monte Epomeo has not erupted in more than 700 years, the dormant volcano still keeps the island’s many thermal pools bubbling; its volcanic mud treatments have been known since antiquity. The seaside Grande AlbergoMezzatorre, built around a 16th century villa and tower once used as a lookout for pirates, now has 59 contemporary rooms and a chic thermal spa.
WHERE : Capri is 22miles/36km south of Naples.
BEST TIMES : May and Sep for mild weather and fewer crowds.