HOTEL CAESAR AUGUSTUS
I think I have discovered my favourite hotel accommodation on Capri. Kings often agree with me, of course, so it is no surprise that the suite in question brought solace to one of them – but more of that in a moment. Let me first commend to you some sound advice for every traveller: Never settle for less than your dreams. This vigorous injunction is the motto of the Hotel Caesar Augustus. The suggestion is that one of your dreams might be to stay at the hotel on Capri which enjoys the island’s most ravishing views. And that hotel, without doubt, is the wonderful Caesar Augustus. Certainly, many of the world’s most sophisticated travellers dream this dream, for they consistently mention the Caesar Augustus when they are asked by the travel magazines which hotels they find most pleasing. Not long ago, the readers of Condé Nast Traveller voted the Caesar Augustus the top resort hotel in Europe, and the 14th best hotel in the world. The Signorini Family, which owns the hotel, is rightly proud of these accolades. I present to you a picture of Francesco Signorini, the General Manager, and his father, Paolo, with your correspondent. I think you can see that pride radiates from them.
Given the magnificent location of the Caesar Augustus, it comes as no surprise to learn that, in the 1950s, the king to whom I have referred came here to cheer himself up. It was King Farouk of Egypt. I know nothing of Egyptian politics, but I do know that Mr Nasser obliged the great King to leave his kingdom – and, like any sensible king in such circumstances, he headed for Capri. His apartment is now called The Farouk Suite, and in it I stayed – and you can, too, for 1,600€-1,890€ a night, bed and breakfast for two, according to season.
On the second floor, the suite has a spacious hallway, with a handsome gilt mirror, fitted wardrobes and a private safe. This leads into a demi-lune bed-sitting room, with a French window opening onto the terrace, which is also semi-circular. From here wonderful views are offered out to sea and down to the port, hundreds of feet below. This was very much my sort of apartment, for it was so full of comfort and light. A large sofa and two easy chairs provided me with seating and, when the Muse came upon me, there was a bureau as well as a writing desk – both in the antique style – for my writing. Nor were facilities for my ablutions neglected. At one end of the suite was the bathroom, with a huge tub and two wash basins; and, at the other end, was a separate shower room, with a loo and a bidet. Both were lined with spotless white tiles, and the former boasted windows to the sky.
In this most civilised of places, an ipod player (if I have identified the technology correctly) enabled me to play the most civilised of sounds – the organ music of Bach, performed by the great Karl Richter.
But there was something else which marked out this accommodation as special. Apart from the 18th Century engravings of French notables, there was another frame on the wall. And within it was a selection of photographs of the King himself. They reminded me that His Majesty was not a man for dressing down. The King and I would have agreed on that, I think – just as we would have been at one in our high opinion of the Hotel Caesar Augustus.
But the King and I were certainly not the first ones to love the location. On this particular cliff-top have been found traces of buildings dating back to the 9th century, and there is no doubt that it was regarded as a special plot even before then – given the love of Capri shown by the rulers of the Roman Empire. The panorama is wonderful. In the 1850s a wealthy German built the Villa Bitter here. This was purchased in the 1900s by Prince Emmanuel Bullak of Russia. He it was who installed the life-size statue of Caesar Augustus, which still points out to the sea. To stand next to this monument and look down to the Marina Grande, a thousand feet below, makes you feel very privileged. In the 1930s the villa was purchased by the Signorini family from Naples, and it became an hotel.
Without question, the Caesar Augustus is now regarded as one of the most stylish and comfortable of Italy’s small hotels (it has just 55 rooms). The pristine public areas and the gorgeous terraced gardens (lit with hundreds of candles when darkness falls) ooze sophistication and elegance. And there is humour, too. For the first half of the day some members of the waiting staff dress in striped blouses and red bandanas, an outfit which I found reminiscent of those productions of The Pirates of Penzance to which Auntie Maud took me as a boy. And nothing pleases me more than to be reminded of Gilbert and Sullivan.
When guests arrive on the island at the Marina Grande, they are met by the hotel’s smart people-carrier. This whisks them up, past Capri town. Then, just at the approach to Anacapri, the driver turns right, into the grounds of the Caesar Augustus. Moments later they are inside, sipping a glass of lemonade, for the hotel has its own lemon trees. On my own arrival, before going to my suite, I could not resist walking through to the huge terrace at the back of the hotel. I knew, of course, (from previous visits) that the panorama would be wonderful, but I was still obliged to catch my breath. The island of Ischia, the distant mainland, the absurdly blue water, the clarity of vision so charmingly distorted by the heat… Before me was the beauty of serenity and harmony.
Each morning, to break my fast, I went to the dining room, and sat opposite an open French window, so that I could enjoy the cooling sea breeze. Here I was looked after very well by the Assistant Maitre d’ Daniele and by members of staff in their pirate uniforms. Indeed, I breakfasted at the Caesar Augustus in a manner both comfortable and leisurely. Silver pots of coffee, buckets of ice cubes and my invariable, concluding cappuccino were brought to me, and I secured the other comestibles from the buffet. These included sfogliatella (a Neapolitan speciality, consisting of a crisp pastry case filled with sweet ricotta cheese), proper Corn Flakes, crusty bread, marmalade (made from local oranges), prosciutto, melon, pineapple, strawberries, bacon, scrambled egg, fruit salad and slices of a most delicious fruit tart. I did not go hungry. On one morning Daniele persuaded me to try a pot of the infusion made from mint grown in the hotel garden, and I must say that it was superb. Do try it, when it is available.
In the evenings, the weather being kind, dinner was served in the rustic, semi-outdoors restaurant. My wicker table was adorned with a single, fat candle. As the sun retired, the outline of Ischia slowly merged with the darkening sea, until both became one equal night. The service was courteous and efficient. Chef Eduardo Vuolo takes ingredients of high quality and produces enjoyable, tasty dishes. The highlights of my meals included a simple rocket salad with sun-dried tomatoes, Parmesan cheese and balsamic vinegar, the classic ravioli Caprese (made to a secret family recipe) and wonderful lamb from the Monti Lattari, roasted and served (at my request) with boiled peas. (Regular readers will know of my addiction to peas.) You should allow around 115€ for four courses.
The 182 offerings on the wine list are all Italian, apart from the champagnes, and include 9 magnums. Prices start at 30€ for a 2015 white falanghina and go to 1,800€ for the 2004 vintage of Mr Gaja’s ‘Costa Russi’ nebbiolo. Those who like super-Tuscans are well served, with six vintages of Tignanello (2006 is 270€), five of Solaia (2000 is 390€), six of Ornellaia (1999 is 380€) and nine of Sassicaia (2006 is 480€). Those with sharp eyes will notice that the 2011 Tignanello is 220€ for a bottle and 300€ for a magnum, making the latter rather a snip. The ever-reliable Cervaro della Sala from Antinori is 75€ (2014). After a decent meal and a glass (or two) of such wines, it was a joy to be able to go off to the terrace of my suite, to sit in the coolness of the evening and to gaze across to the faint lights of far-off Naples.
Of course, you do not have to stay in the King Farouk Suite to enjoy the Caesar Augustus – even though it is now my favourite accommodation on Capri. By virtue of its remarkable location, its elegant style and its welcoming hospitality, the Hotel Caesar Augustus will charm you just as it does all its guests. And, by the end of your visit, I suspect you will understand why the hotel motto is entirely appropriate: Never settle for less than your dreams.
HOTEL CAESAR AUGUSTUS
Via Orlandi 4, Anacapri, 80071 Capri, Italy.
Telephone +39 081 837 3395
Fax +39 081 837 1444
Double rooms from 360-460 euros, including breakfast, according to season
See the hotel website for the rates for specific dates and for special offers
Open from April to October