‘Never settle for less than your dreams.’ Few hotels in the world can live up to such a motto, for it raises expectations which are sky-high. But one hotel which does – in both senses – is the wonderful Caesar Augustus on the island of Capri. First, it is literally sky-high, clinging to the top of the cliffs and enjoying the very finest view Capri has to offer. And second, it is run in such a pleasing and civilised manner by Paolo and Francesco Signorini (father and son) that many dreams must surely be realised by their fortunate guests. The picture shows our correspondent sitting between these two fine gentlemen, with Paolo on the left and Francesco on the right.
We are on a sofa at one end of the large and comfortable sitting room. Just outside is one of the most deliciously seIf-indulgent places you will ever find for a little light sustenance – the terrace of the Caesar Augustus. Here, in the early evening, with the Bay of Naples spread out before you, the Oyster and Caviar Bar will offer you its delights. I would recommend 50 grammes of Beluga caviar, a dozen French oysters and a bottle of Krug. This will cost you 860€, but as you sip the champagne and gaze at the setting of the sun over the magical panorama, you will know that life is good.
Many of the world’s most sophisticated persons come here, and they consistently mention the Caesar Augustus when 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 is rightly proud of these accolades.
Given the magnificent location of the Caesar Augustus, it comes as no surprise to learn that, in the 1950s, a king came here to cheer himself up. This 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 you can stay in it for around 2,000€ a night.
My own room – to which I was shown by Giuseppe, one of the impressive members of staff who man the Reception desk – was number 204, a delightful Junior Suite with Sea View (1,100€-1,450€ a night, bed and breakfast for two, according to season). One of the things I like about the Caesar Augustus is that everything is not only pristine, but also of the highest quality. And so it was in my billet. The colour scheme of white and pale grey, with terra cotta tiles on the floor, was ideal for the warm summer months – as was the effective, controllable air conditioning. The bed-sitting room was of a good size and, being at the corner of the building, possessed not one, but two balconies with chairs and tables. The slope-fronted bureau was in the antique style, the bed was very comfortable, the wall lights and gilt-wood table lamps were pretty and the walk-in wardrobe provided sufficient hanging space, even for me. In the bathroom, the toiletries were by Erbario of Tuscany. I found that they, too, were tip-top, and made my use of the large corner bath and the two wash basins particularly pleasurable. Through the window was, once more, the view which is the chief blessing of the hotel’s privileged position.
King Ferouk loved this location. And so do I. But others adored it long before we were thought of. 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 fondness for Capri shown by the rulers of the Roman Empire. Then, 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 special. In the 1930s the villa was purchased by the current owners, the Signorini family from Naples.
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 public areas and the gorgeous terraced gardens (lit with hundreds of candles when darkness falls) ooze sophistication and charm. 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 being 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 room, 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 Maitre d’ Gaetano de Maio and by Stefano – as well as by members of their staff in pirate uniforms. Indeed, I breakfasted at the Caesar Augustus in a manner both comfortable and leisurely. 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), crusty bread, marmalade (made from local oranges), prosciutto, melon, pineapple, strawberries, bacon, scrambled egg, fruit salad and slices of the most delicious Tart Caprese. I did not go hungry. There was also a special treat: a refreshing infusion made from mint. And it was not just any mint, for the leaves were cut specially for me from the plant which was growing in a pot brought to the side of my table. Is that not proper service?
In the evenings, when the weather is kind, meals are served in the rustic, semi-outdoors restaurant. But, being a delicate flower, I decided to return to the main dining room for dinner. Here, with beige napery, glassware by Bormioli and by Zafferano and a single silver candlestick on my table, I tucked into the excellent food which came from the kitchen of Chef Eduardo Vuolo. (The picture shows me with the Chef and with the Food & Beverage Manager and Maitre d’ Gaetano de Maio.) The cuisine is based on the freshest ingredients, many grown at the hotel, which are combined with intelligence and cooked with considerable skill.
I began with lovely, soft pasta – tagliolini – with truffle. Then came a gorgeous piece of the finest beef fillet – chateaubriand – carved by the table. Its pink, tender lusciousness was set off wonderfully by béarnaise sauce and by good garden peas. I had intended to finish with a rum baba, of which I am inordinately fond, but the quantity of the beef – whose quality obliged me to consume every morsel – meant I had to fall back on the ice cream. But this was no penance for it was lovely, particularly in its hazelnut version. (Allow around 110€ for three such courses.)
The 261 offerings on the wine list are all Italian, apart from the champagnes. Prices start at 40€ for a 2015 Sicilian insolaia and go to 1,800€ for the 2006 vintage of Mr Gaja’s ‘Costa Russi’ nebbiolo. Those who like super-Tuscans are well served, with 2011 Masseto (1,500€), 13 vintages of Tignanello, 2000 Solaia (600€), 2006 Sassicaia (480€) and 2000 Ornellaia (480€). The ever-reliable Cervaro della Sala from Antinori is 90€ (2017) and Krug Grande Cuvée is 410€. After a decent meal and a glass (or two) of such wines, it was a joy to be able to go off to one of the balconies of my room, to sit in the coolness of the evening and gaze across to the faint lights of far-off Naples.
Kings, like Ferouk, and commoners, like your correspondent, adore this hotel. Its remarkable location, its elegant style and its welcoming hospitality mean that it really does live up to its motto: Never settle for less than your dreams.
Via Orlandi 4, Anacapri, 80071 Capri, Italy.
Telephone +39 081 837 3395
Fax +39 081 837 1444
Double rooms from 390-490 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