The best hotels in Capri - Citimarks

Scandalous Glamour

Capri Hotel, 1989 @Slim Aarons/Getty Images.

From elegant rooftops in Florence and flowery villas at Lake Como to pristine pools in Palm Springs and balconies overlooking the Faraglioni rocks in Capri, Slim Aarons’s ingenious eye mastered the art of capturing the glamorous “dolce vita” at its finest. Capri Hotel, 1989 © Slim Aarons/Getty Images.


"Capri is depicted as a haven for the morally corrupt [...]. Bizarre scenes unfold daily: a girl strolls with her baby jaguar on a leash, a gigolo flaunts a sequined shirt, and couples engage in overly passionate displays of affection on café terraces, reminiscent of scenes from American films. Amidst this spectacle, the bustling crowd adds to the chaos."
Antonella Boralevi, Capri, histoire d’un mythe, Arléa, 2004.
chapter 1

Piazzetta, tiny center of a world stage

The Piazzetta isn’t just a place with a view; it is the view itself […]. Its allure lies not in any specific sight or landmark but in the bustling activity that unfolds within its confines. Customers seated on the terrace, passers-by, and groups engaged in animated conversation all contribute to the vibrant spectacle of life in the square.

Much like a theater, the Piazzetta boasts its own cast of characters, with cafe tables and church steps serving as makeshift seats. The surrounding alleys act as backstage entrances, constantly introducing new players into the scene.

In Capri, events carry weight only if they unfold in the Piazzetta […]. It serves as the epicenter of the island’s social fabric, akin to a television studio generating content for a hungry audience. The island’s inherent magnetism draws journalists and onlookers alike, perpetuating a cycle of continuous excitement and media coverage […] .

According to the newspapers of the era, Capri is depicted as a haven for the morally corrupt, where exhibitionists and cocaine users abound. Starlets seek out wealthy benefactors, while individuals from the demi-monde mingle with affluent Americans willing to pay exorbitant prices for sexual performances. Bizarre scenes unfold daily: a girl strolls with her baby jaguar on a leash, a gigolo flaunts a sequined shirt, and couples engage in overly passionate displays of affection on café terraces, reminiscent of scenes from American films. Amidst this spectacle, the bustling crowd adds to the chaos.

However, in the eyes of conservative and morally upright Italy, Capri remains a cherished dream veiled in secrecy, overshadowed by scandalous rumors. The press […] eagerly feeds the public’s curiosity with sensationalized reports and accompanying photographs […].

During the period from January to October 1951, the island welcomed approximately one hundred and fifty thousand visitors. In a posthumously published book titled “Footnote of Capri,” […] Norman expressed concern that Capri was at risk of becoming a second Hollywood, lamenting that the island’s charm was being overshadowed by its newfound reputation for excess and scandal. It seemed that even those with a genuine connection to Capri’s history and culture were at risk of being marginalized due to their association with the island.

Capri, having commodified its own myth for profit, has established a rigid caste system that brooks no mixing, not even in the ostensible promiscuity of the Piazzetta. This stratification has become the island’s fortune, a veritable goldmine bestowed by history itself. In an Italy devoid of kings to confer titles and baronies, the status of a Capriote immediately evokes privilege and wealth. Merely by arriving on the island and adopting the rituals of its theatrical society, one can lay claim to this esteemed title.

The first ritual one must adhere to is the aperitif on the Piazzetta. However, one must be cautious about where they sit; each café has its own clientele, and selecting the wrong terrace can be disastrous. Sartre frequents the Piccolo Bar, while actors prefer the Gran Caffèe. The stars opt for private dinners in secluded villas or trattorias before they’re overrun by imitators; others gather on the terrace of the Quisisana. Later, the crowd moves to Number Two for dancing, accompanied by American tunes and tasteful striptease performances executed with finesse by well-intentioned young ladies.

Indeed, to truly embody the essence of a Capriote or to successfully project that image, one must adhere to certain accessories and attitudes: wearing sandals or flip-flops, snug corsair pants, confidently ordering a third glass of whiskey in a specific manner, dancing in an evening dress but barefoot, or simply exuding a whimsical demeanor.

In a notable incident from the summer of 1949, Princess Margaret of England was observed wearing a scarf tied behind her neck. Instantly, all the women on the island began imitating her, regardless of the scorching heat. This world appears enchanting and exclusive, its whimsicalities serving as mere adornments for outsiders striving to emulate it with their limited means.

Antonella Boralevi,
Capri histoire d’un mythe, Arléa, 2004

Jackie Onassis unwinding on the terrace of the iconic “Bar Tiberio” at the Piazzetta. © Settimio Garritano/Tod’s

Anything is possible at the Piazzetta, even luggage vehicles transporting exhausted ladies around the island.

Marisa Berenson enjoying lunch on a lazy afternoon in Capri. © Slim Aarons/Getty Images.

Capri’s Piazzetta, the epicenter of Capri’s life and a stage for the world, despite its petite size.

chapter 2

The Naked Visitor

Times are changing rapidly. In the past, the foreigners who visited Capri were undoubtedly curious characters, but they were fundamentally decent individuals, raised with a sense of reverence for God. Many were philanthropists, like Doctor Clark or Wreford, while others were painters, albeit mostly reasonable individuals whose boldest act of audacity might have been donning a Roman toga and a laurel crown – yet, come five o’clock, everyone would gather for a civilized cup of tea.

During one of these seemingly tranquil afternoons, an event occurred that would herald the dawn of a new era for Capri. It unfolded at the villa of Sophie and Walter Anderson, an English couple who had settled on the island in 1871. Madame Sophie, a matron whose hair was always bound in a white netting, earning her the nickname “Madame Chou-Fleur” (Madame Cauliflower), had invited the island’s intellectuals to her customary afternoon tea. While she was anything but a puritan – having recently introduced nudes into her collection of paintings, scandalizing Victorian England – she was certainly not prepared for what lay in store.

In the garden of Villa Castello, amidst olive trees and lentisks, the guests were already indulging in strawberries with cream when the sound of the entrance bell interrupted the tranquility.

A certain Lord Grantley was announced, yet upon the servants opening the door, they were confronted not with Lord Grantley, but with a man named George Burgon, stark naked save for a monocle and a top hat. Clearly irked at not having received an invitation, he strode across the garden and burst onto the terrace, shocking the ladies present (many of whom promptly fainted) before being promptly ejected.

In the aftermath of this scandal, four sizable peepholes were drilled into the thick portal of Villa Castello to deter any future untoward intrusions.

Antonella Boralevi,
Capri histoire d’un mythe, Arléa, 2004
chapter 3

Rita Hayworth, a Goddess ashore

It was a time when American directors flocked to Cinecittà to film movies at a lower cost. Mervyn LeRoy was shooting “Quo Vadis” with Deborah Kerr and Robert Taylor; Ava Gardner starred in “The Barefoot Contessa,” and Henry King directed Tyrone Power. They rented villas on Via Appia Antica or stayed at the Excelsior on Via Veneto (note: in Rome), but they still hadn’t decided where to spend their holidays.

Rita Hayworth found the perfect retreat. Already renowned as the sublime Gilda and married to Ali Khan, the heir of Aga Khan, prince of the Ismailis -the co-called ‘God on Earth’- she was considered the epitome of glamour. On the nose of the experimental bomb dropped at Bikini Atoll, the Americans painted a picture of Hayworth in a bathing suit, thus earning her the nickname “Atomic Goddess.” During the summer of 1950, she sailed across the Mediterranean aboard the “Zaca,” Errol Flynn’s yacht loaned to her husband, complete with a crew of black sailors dressed in black with daggers at their belts. Rumors immediately circulated that they would make a stopover on Capri, and paparazzi had already rented boats to scan the sea with binoculars.

The arrival of the Goddess was a spectacle. As Rita Hayworth and her husband disembarked from the Zaca, a massive limousine awaited them, ready to whisk them off to the Piazzetta.

She wore a blue dress with polka dots, and he sported a small German sailor’s hat. They knew how to play up to the legend. In Capri, they adhered to every rule: they bought sandals and cotton suits, visited the barber, and sipped coffee at the Caso bar – wherever they went, people praised Allah.

The magical convergence of the Gilda myth and the allure of Capri created an explosive effect, almost as if the island levitated with excitement. While Capri had long been a symbol of the dolce vita and its freedoms, it was now poised to become a celluloid paradise, irresistibly modern and captivating. Soon, a stream of stars followed suit: Ingrid Bergman and Rossellini, Audrey Hepburn, Sophia Loren, Jane Russell, and eventually, the iconic Burton-Taylor duo.

Antonella Boralevi,
Capri histoire d’un mythe, Arléa, 2004
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chapter 4

Let's rejoice while we are young

The boat made its way toward the Marina Grande mole, where the white houses nestled on the hillside between two mountains, resembling a small Greek island city […]. As we approached, I couldn’t help but imagine young men and women adorned with flowers, awaiting our arrival on the shore, reminiscent of scenes from Tahiti welcoming sailors from Bougainville. However, all I found was a long line of hotel agents.

Despite not having secured rooms in advance, each of us had at least remembered the name of a hotel: “Gaudéamus.” The name held significant symbolism. “Gaudeamus igitur” translates to “let us rejoice while we are young” in Latin, a sentiment that perfectly encapsulated the spirit of rejoicing in Capri.

[…] The funicular whisked us up to the city, and as we stepped onto a small terrace, we were greeted by a tiny square adorned with three cafes, a church, and a tower. From there, we navigated through a winding alley until we reached our hotel. Despite its grand name, it turned out to be just like any other hotel.. […] Exploring the city, we found the streets to be scarcely wider than the corridors of the “Gaudéamus,” intertwining in a manner claimed to be inspired by strategic considerations. Legend had it that the maze-like layout was a defense mechanism against pirate raids since Capri lacked the protection of surrounding walls..

During our stroll, we couldn’t help but notice the locals’ attitude toward tourists. They seemed to overlook the foreigners who had come to observe them. Unlike the rest of Italy, where the youth were typically lively and engaged, here they walked with lowered eyes, seemingly indifferent to the visitors in their midst.

As we awaited lunchtime, we settled onto the terrace of a café, quickly realizing it was the bustling heart of Capri. The atmosphere was charged with flair and a penchant for extravagance. A man, seemingly straight out of a tourism brochure, paraded between tables in a bolero jacket, fisherman’s pants, adorned with a red tasseled skullcap, carrying an embroidered bag and puffing on a German pipe. Nearby, a woman sporting a monocle and a masculine black velvet suit commanded attention as she held a large white greyhound on a leash.

Another character, with a stern countenance, donned brick-colored pajamas, while Nordics in skin shorts and green shirts lounged close by. Though the display of elegance and eccentricity may not have rivaled that of the Lido, it was distinctly Capri – a tiny square where even the slightest misstep was magnified beneath the shade of a hundred-year-old oak tree.

Behind us, two elderly Americans engaged in a discussion about the attire of the Nordics. “I,” remarked one, “adore yellow shorts paired with a gray suede belt.” “I,” chimed in the second, “prefer red shorts complemented by a white belt.” Suddenly, the conversation shifted as one of them pointed out a passer-by. “Look,” he exclaimed, “there’s X… returning again; this suggests that a squadron isn’t far behind. But I thought he was banned.” “Oh, don’t you worry,” reassured the other, “no expulsion can keep him away. Besides, Capri would feel his absence, given that he fancies himself as Tiberius.” Such remarks hardly raised an eyebrow; after all, isn’t the allure of Capri precisely about indulging in such flattering delusions? Politicians, writers, comedians, and exiled monarchs alike find solace in the enchantment of Capri.

During lunch at the “Gaudéamus,” we were presented with the “wine of Tiberius.” The pervasive presence of Tiberius was evident beyond just the wine; we had already observed a “Tiberius street,” a “Tiberius hotel,” “Tiberius baths,” and, naturally, the villa of Tiberius. It seemed as though Capri’s identity was inexorably intertwined with that of Tiberius. We grew increasingly curious about the extent of this reference, reminiscent of the prominence of Nero in the Phlegrean zone.

Roger Peyrefitte,
Du Vésuve à l’Etna, Flammarion, 1952

In 2022, the Pucci fashion house launched its summer collection in Capri, drawing inspiration from the effortless elegance of the island’s “dolce far niente” lifestyle. The photo also features Camille Miceli, artistic director of the house during the launching party at the beach club “Bagni di Tiberio”.

In the summer of 2023, Jennifer Lopez spent a few days on the island, delivering a highly exclusive, impromptu live performance at the renowned Capri nightclub “Anema e Core”. © GrosbyGroup

Italian artist and actress Domiziana Giordano, Italian author Francesca Sanvitale, Dino Trappetti and Umberto Terrelli dining al fresco on a terrace overlooking the Faraglioni rocks, August 1980. © Slim Aarons/Getty Images

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