CAPRI, Italy (MainStreet) -- For those who haven't been, Capri is a travel fantasy born in glossy fashion spreads of lush hillsides of impossibly perfect lemon trees and a horizon of emerald-blue Tyrrhenian Sea. For those who have, Capri is one of travel's true wonders, often exceeding even the highest of expectations through its impossibly stylish infrastructure and remote island corners where emperors, kings, czars and dictators have pontificated the fate of the modern world while on dreamy summer sojourns.
Whether by hydrofoil from Naples or private yacht from Sorrento, most visitors make their way to Capri via the Marina Grande on the island's northern nape. Most hotels are concentrated in the island's interior around the main town, but stylish visitors will find the best hotel properties beyond the main village along the Via Tragara or a short ride away in Anacapri, where the Capri Palace Hotel is located.
The Capri Palace is worthy of a celeb clientele that includes the likes of Keanu Reeves and Victoria Beckham.
It's a harrowing ride from the Marina Grande. on buses that take three-point turns on shoulderless two-lane highways teetering above sheer 200-foot cliffs. Anacapri is a small-town refuge from all that's excessive and crowded in Capri's inner village, and Capri Palace is its star attraction. It starts with a quirky entrance walkway that offers underwater views of the main resort pool and a grand arrival into an all-white lobby with marble floors, rococo mirrors and exaggerated chandeliers that ooze Caprese glamour.
A few hours deep into a stay at the Capri Palace and one discovers the island's most serene pool scene, with its mix of professional tanners and celeb clientele that includes the likes of Keanu Reeves and Victoria Beckham. Rooms mix the style of the main lobby with four-poster beds tucked with starched linen sheets, the occasional private swimming pool and even, in select suites, hanging gardens. The hotel is home to the island's most awarded eatery, L'Olivo, a two-star Michelin culinary force that serves as the nightly dining room for many. Last year the hotel added the cliffside Il Riccio beach club to its restaurant roster.
Those looking for an address closer to the village find such top properties as the Grand Hotel Quisisana and La Scalinatella in addition to slightly more obscure properties including La Minerva, a four-star boutique hotel that's refreshingly Italian even during August high season. Located a short walk toward the Punta Tragara from La Piazzetta, Capri's main square, the hotel is found above the chicest part of the island along a garden path exploding in fragrant pink and white. The creamy palazzo is a former private home that's evolved into an 18-room, family-owned hotel. Rooms feature colorful Italian tile floors, large open terraces and more modern furnishings and lux undertones than most local hotels, even the five-star ones.
Days in Capri are best spent exploring grottos and private inlets, preferably by private boat hired directly at the Marina Grande or through companies such as Bluride Boats, which put you in luxurious vessels with bow-front sunbeds for grand arrival to area beach clubs such as Bagni Internazaionale in the backdrop of the famous Faraglioni. Perhaps the most glamorous swimming hole you will ever visit, the pebble beach here is lined in colorful striped loungers with a surrounding beach club and vintage wooden changing cabanas. A formal restaurant, Ciro a Mare, is on the upper level of the multitiered club.
Those looking to get an even closer look at the famous rock formations can opt for da Luigi ai Faraglioni, directly next to Faraglioni. What it lacks in perfect swimming it makes up for in an eatery benefiting from a rehab and new menu and chef; it offers a trove of fresh, grilled seafood lunches and heaping of traditional pasta dishes using vegetables from an Anacapri farmstead. The crowd of da Luigi attracts a more native Italian following than Bagni, with its small beach area and swimming platform popular with the local 20- to 30-something set.
Capri typically gets a late start to evening dining after visitors indulge in a bit of shopping at stores such as La Conchiglia, with its books and vintage artwork, or a stroll through well-known conglomerates such as Louis Vuitton or posh swimwear shop Vilebrequin -- just two of the many international labels with glitzy outposts in town. Afterward guests hit perennial hot spots such as Aurora, with its polished dining room of Italian specialties, or newer Rondez-Vous at the front of the Hotel Quisi offering a glamorous supper club for Capri's champagne and caviar society. Cast in a black-and-white palette aglow in Murano chandeliers and soft lounge anthems, its mix of Italian specialties and showy sushi contributes to one of Capri's newest be-seen dining rooms (with prices to match).
At the opposite extreme, one of Capri's most beloved eateries isn't even in an actual building. With guests that include fashion icons Alberta Ferretti and Frida Giannini, da Paolino is the most unique of outdoor garden eateries. It's cast under a canopy of mature lemon trees so thick the restaurant can stay open even during a mild summer storm. Along the Palazzo a Mare near the Marina Grande is its black iron gate, which opens to a manicured path with small seating alcoves that lead to a succession of small bungalows framing a central garden of vegetable beds and that legendary dining room under the lemon trees. Divided between a series of indoor and outdoor spaces, da Paolino has a rustic farmhouse feel. There's friendly service and a lemony theme, and it's one of the most romantic and dreamy of dining experiences found on Capri.
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>>Chill Out on the Chicer Side of Capri
Michael Martin is the managing editor of JetSetReport.com, a luxury travel and lifestyle guide based in Los Angeles and London. His work has appeared in InStyle, Blackbook, Elle, U.K.'s Red magazine and on ITV and the BBC.