A view of the southern coast of Capri shows the island’s famed sea stacks, Faraglioni, on the horizon
Experience Italy’s most glamorous island during the off-season, when the crowds have long gone
une, July, August? No,” says the concierge. “You go in May, September, October. You come now? Perfetto.” We’re sitting on a cushioned chaise longue at J.K. Place Capri, a boutique hotel on the island of Capri that overlooks the Tyrrhenian Sea. It’s a perfect sunny day, with a few clouds drifting over the summit of Mount Vesuvius, and I am receiving a crash course in Capri sightseeing from a gentleman who has worked in hotels all around the world, from Sorrento, Italy, to Sydney to San Francisco.
And he’s right, of course, about June, July and August. The weather is gorgeous, yes, but the crowds! Huge flocks of people from all over the world descend on this Italian island, their cameras at the ready. Their tourism dollars keep the economy thriving, but the tourists also make it difficult to really see a place if, like me, one prefers peace, quiet and short queues. So I flew to Italy from New York in mid-October 2013, after many of the restaurants and hotels had already closed for the season and the temperature had dipped to a balmy 75 degrees Fahrenheit. I booked a guest room with a view of the Tyrrhenian at J.K. Place Capri and got busy doing nothing. My travel companions and I were not alone, though. The island is never really empty, and all manner of travelers still dotted the streets. But the vibe was that of a beach town in late fall: calm, relaxed, luxuriously under the radar and definitely worth skipping a few days of school or work to experience.
Via Krupp’s legendary hairpin turns, designed by German industrialist Friedrich Alfred Krupp, are a must-see when visiting Capri
Traveling to Italy in the off-season is a funny thing. One can go for days on end without speaking to a soul (beyond the usual “Grazie mille”) and then, out of the blue, make new friends and find oneself awake and full of wine late at night, playing charades by the light of a full moon. J.K. Place Capri’s homey design inspired a feeling of comfort and conviviality; at every turn, a new book or flower or piece of art surprised me. Stacks of monographs, autobiographies, tarot guides and travelogues invited me to stop in my tracks, sink into an overstuffed sofa and let my mind wander. A balmy breeze blew in through French doors that never closed, beckoning me to go outside.
hat mix of serenity and effortless adventure is the whole point of Capri. Each morning, my companions and I took our cappuccinos and croissants outdoors. We sat by the pool in the private courtyard and watched sunbathers lie on the public beach below, their towels spread out on the sand. Each afternoon at four o’clock, we gathered again on the wraparound deck to retell the day’s stories and drink fresh, crisp wine. In the hours between, there was an entire island to explore by foot, boat and convertible taxi.
Though the concierge insisted it could not be done in a day, I ran from one end of Capri to the other—up a rambling wooded path to a 1st-century Roman villa, through the maze of streets in town and up, up, up all 800 Scala Fenicia (“Phoenician steps” in English), a stone staircase that once served as the only link between Capri and its rustic neighbor, Anacapri. My companions and I rode a rickety chairlift to the top of Anacapri’s Mount Solaro and looked out to sea as far as we could—to Tunisia, perhaps, or somewhere even farther off. As we hiked back down the hillside, we followed no road and let ourselves get lost on footpaths barely visible through tangles of grass. We paused atop a deserted bluff and listened, but there were no voices, no traffic for miles, just us and the bees and the golden light of an autumn afternoon.
One can’t do that during the high season. There aren’t many places to disappear to for an hour, where one can wander back to a familiar road—familiar after just one day—and find one’s way back to town. Eventually, we, too, found our way, which we always did, just in time for cocktail hour. And thus our days in Capri passed.
Where to StayJ.K. Place Capri is one of the island’s best hotels. Its expansive rooms, mix of Art Deco and island-casual furniture, contemporary art and stacks of books give it a homey feel. From the pool and the guest-room balconies, the Bay of Naples and the mainland beyond spread out on the horizon. With one of Capri’s few public beaches also located near the property—and the village just a short walk away—it is not only the most well appointed and elegant place to stay but also the most practical.Via Provinciale Marina Grande, 225+39 081 838 4001
Where to EatThough my travel companions and I took most of our meals at our hotel, Mammà, the site of our first lunch in town, set the bar very high for the entire vacation. Chef Gennaro Esposito, who worked in a Michelin-starred restaurant as well as other great eateries throughout Europe before coming to Capri, plied us with a six-course tasting menu. Scallops, spaghetti, clams and delicate whitefish were arranged artfully on tiny plates, offering a feast as much for the eyes as for the taste buds. A newly renovated open-air dining deck looked out over the town and the sea. We could have sat at that table all week and been totally satisfied.Via Madra Serafina, 6+39 081 837 7472
Gelateria Buonocore on Via Vittorio Emanuele serves a decadent gelato that puts American ice cream to shame. I made a habit of stopping by for a scoop every afternoon, nibbling slowly while I browsed the luxury shops around Piazzetta Umberto I.Via Vittorio Emanuele, 35+39 081 837 6151
Every meal in Capri deserves to be finished with delicious gelato, in flavors like pistachio, limoncello and Ferrero Rocher, which can be purchased at gelaterias that line the streets
What to DoTiny shops that sell custom-crafted wares are located in the most unexpected places: a trail on the side of Mount Solaro, in a churchyard, by the sea. Scoop up a pair of leather sandals—made to order while you wait—ocean blue glass, an airy linen tunic or locally made limoncello. Capri is famous for all of them.
Walk from town to Villa Jovis on Mount Tiberio. Rambling footpaths twist and turn and ultimately lead to Roman Emperor Tiberius’ magnificent island palace, which was built in the 1st century. I was able to gain access the day I visited, but be sure to check the villa’s hours; the archaeological site is closed from December through February. I wandered through the emperor’s ruined cisterns, guest rooms and temples under the watchful eye of a bronze Madonna. The statue was installed at the summit sometime after the Church of Santa Maria del Soccorso, which was added to Villa Jovis in the 17th century. Within the villa’s walls, one can experience a millennium’s worth of civilization, technology and religion.
The ruins of Roman Emperor Tiberius’ beloved Villa Jovis mark the highest point on Capri’s eastern side and provide an intellectual diversion that balances out all the beach and shopping excursions
Thanks in part to lower demand, the concierge at J.K. Place Capri was able to arrange a private boat tour around the island and escort me to said skiff within half an hour. One moment I was sipping a cappuccino by the pool, and the next I was nursing a can of Peroni while zipping past cliffs and pulling into empty grottoes. Having seen the famous Faraglioni—giant vertical columns of rock in the water that are formed by erosion—only on postcards, I was almost too awestruck to reach out and touch them as we coasted under the Faraglione di Mezzo’s arch. My captain circled the entire island in two hours and dropped me off at the port just in time for a sunset walk back to the hotel, the street empty and my heart full.
Cary Randolph Fuller is the senior editor of RL Magazine.