Il dolce far niente, the Italian phrase meaning “the sweetness of doing nothing”, was seemingly invented for Capri, the Bay of Naples enclave that has proved a luxurious, relaxing getaway since Roman times. The emperors Augustus and Tiberius had villas there, but the island truly established itself as a retreat for the rich and famous at the turn of the century, welcoming actors, revolutionaries, authors and intellectuals. The likes of Oscar Wilde, Vladimir Lenin, Graham Greene, Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, Clark Gable and, more recently, Beyoncé and Leonardo DiCaprio have all holidayed there.
Today, you’ll find Capri busy with tourists, particularly in the summer months: it’s no longer the exclusive resort it once was – although there is luxury if you want it – but its beauty remains unabated.
From a cruise perspective, there are two ways to get there. Larger ships call at Naples (where transfers are available), whereas the likes of Oceania Cruises, Crystal and Star Clippers call at Sorrento, a pretty but small resort town. Sorrento’s bars, restaurants and shops (which sell ceramics, lace-work and intarsio) sit against the striking backdrop of its imposing sea cliffs. The town is best known for the digestif limoncello (made from lemon rinds, water and sugar), which is produced there. The factories where the drink is made are open to the public and worth a visit. Sorrento is also the gateway to some of Italy’s finest sights: to the south is beautiful countryside, to the north is Pompeii and other ancient ruins, while to the east is the Amalfi Coast, on a walkway DH Lawrence called the “path of the gods”.
If your guests want to walk there are plenty of routes available, suiting all ages and mobilities, many of which follow ancient trade routes. Cruise lines and local guides run tours, but with a map and a bit of preparation, they’re also easy to do alone. If there’s time, there’s no better way to explore this remarkable region.
Similarly, making your own way from Sorrento to Capri is easy enough. From the marina there are regular boats to the island that take 30 minutes and cost around €16; in Capri, there’s a regular funicular railway which will take you to Capri Town for a few euros. Some cruise lines will charge guests to rent an audio guide, but not include these two expenses.
Capri Town is, unsurprisingly, pricey: full of boutiques, gift shops and tourist-heavy cafés, but outside the town you’ll find luxurious villas, some dating back to Roman times, with neat, intricate gardens where olives, lemons and basil plants grow; as well as winding cobblestone paths and beautiful views across the region.
There are also some incredible restaurants, serving cuisine from the island, the wider region and the rest of Italy. The most famous dish found here is ravioli caprese, made with parmigiano, aged caciotta cheese and marjoram in a fresh tomato-and-basil sauce. It’s simple Italian cooking at its best.
The island is only four miles long with any number of signposted walking routes or winding pathways to wander down. It’s away from the main drag you will find the real Capri.
The island’s most famous attraction is the Grotta Azzurra,(pictured above) a mesmerising sea cave illuminated by an ethereal blue light. Two Germans – the writer Augustus Kopisch and painter Ernst Fries – claimed to have discovered the cave in 1826. In reality they weren’t the first: it was already used (and kept secret) by the locals, and Tiberius built a quay in the cave in about AD30, complete with
a shrine to Triton, the messenger of the sea in Greek mythology. Excursions run from the marina
and take an hour or so.
To see further evidence of Roman settlement, there’s also the Villa Jovis, found at the summit of Mount Tiberio, which boasts incredible views. It was built in the first century AD for Tiberius, the most splendid of 12 imperial hideaways that he commissioned on the island. Only ruins remain: eight levels of walls and staircases that hint at the grandeur of the original building, a spectacular example of early Roman architecture.
And of course, there’s also a beach: the Marina Grande Beach, which is two minutes’ walk from Capri’s bustling, pretty port.