The Escape: Postcards From Capri

By Dame Betty Lee

Yes, in Capri, the water is that iridescent shade of turquoise and the blue does glisten magically from the bottom of the sea. This summer, as I boarded the ferry, I couldn’t help but notice the island’s awesome pine-strewn lime peaks and filigree ribbons of flowering wisteria that create a splendid blend of the richest sapphire seascapes I’ve ever seen. However, the best kept secret of Capri is probably its astonishingly mutant-size lemons. Seriously, they were almost as big as the hat on my head!


Another less mentioned fact is the racy taxi drivers. These hardcore sun worshippers do not possess a speck of SPF 50 on their permanently bronzed skin. Their tans are so deeply ingrained that I am almost certain the act of sunning commenced the moment they took their first step. Interestingly, these cheeky Latinos wear their colourful swimming trunks visibly just above their tight pants, and yet with no manhood in sight. Where do they hide them jewels? I can’t help but wonder … do they also make spontaneous dives into the sea in between rides? Who knows, really?


Direct sea access at the Conca del Sogno beach club


Each taxi is just a regular car with the roof taken off so it looks like an open chariot adorned with a canopy. Driving the chunky modifiers like priced sports convertibles, the drivers are skilfully proficient, deftly zipping through the sharp bends on a steep slope at a speed that made me weak in the knees.


The island has only one road (I prefer the term “lane”, actually) and it stops at La Piazzetta, and it’s from here that you watch the best sunsets. Tiny shops are built into the old Roman wall and cluttered with designer labels. Keep your purses tight as Capri only has a small window of retail opportunity—eight months at most—so they are pressured to sell as much as they can during that short period. In an attempt to boost sales, some boutique owners even hire models to gallantly parade around the square and restaurants in the evening; reminiscent of Yves Saint Laurent’s 1962 antics when he showcased his first collection on the streets of Paris.


Likewise, to lure customers inside their eateries, owners would emphatically swear on the day’s fresh produce: olive oil from their father’s orchards, wine from the cousin’s vineyard; ruccola, tomatoes, and lemons from mother’s veggie garden, and handmade pasta by the grandmother; all while singing Dean Martin’s “That’s Amore”. One can only assume Capri has to be the most incestuous trading village in the world.


A wide-brimmed sunhat is essential to shield you from the Capri sun and breeze


The most important undertaking, once you have chosen Capri as your holiday destination, is your wardrobe checklist, and it has to be the absolute motherlode of super fabulous attires. Seriously, Capri is the mafia conglomerate of diehard fashionistas. You look good or you go home!

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I made the biggest fashion faux pas when I showed up at Conca del Sogno at the Nerano bay wearing casual pants and a baggy old top over my swimwear. This simpleton didn’t realise it was an exclusive beach club favoured by the world’s rich and famous. Exclusivity meant privileged-members-only entry by prior reservation or invitation. I was fortunate to receive one. The invitation clearly stated a leisure boat ride to the island followed by a swim before lunch, which I assumed was a typical Aussie beach bum party.


Shen-Tel Lee recommends stopping by a random gelateria to savour a lick of lemon granita


The boat turned out to be a majestic yacht and lunch service was colligated to how suitably one was outfitted. Naturally, I was aghast to see all the guests arriving in their designer outfits, tittering on sky-high Louboutin heels. One would think Dolce & Gabbana had staged an impromptu showcase of his summer collection. Besides, who treads on pebbles and rocks with stilettos anyway? Because of my fashion gaffe, I had to endure the indignity of bugging the hostess so she could vouch to security and staff that I, the dress-code violator, was indeed an invited guest of her husband and not a party crasher.


A must-visit is Da Paolino restaurant; not necessarily for the service or food, but for the ambience of dining in a century-old lemon orchard. I was fortunate to attend a pre-wedding dinner at this lemon paradise. Nothing beats feasting under a vast canopy of matured trees bursting with thousands of overhanging fragrant lemons, surrounded by scatter baskets filled to the brim with more lemons. The yellow colour theme extends to the wall, as well as the lemon motifs on their tableware. It is outdoor dining, so bring a cardi and stow some mossie spray, if you can. If you are concerned about the weather, Da Paolino has an electric motorised roof that springs to action with the slightest detection of moisture.


Cool blues that reflect the colour of the sea at Da Paolino restaurant


Regrettably, I may never set foot in this establishment again as I am paranoid that the cameras on-site may have caught my larceny of quite a few of their naperies. It all happened quite innocently after I was told that the napkins were all custom-made by the groom to commemorate the special occasion, and I could have them as a souvenir. Spurred by such a generous offer, I deliberately stayed back and pillaged as many of the linens as possible. I was lucky that one of my friends, Austin, carried a backpack, and he kindly offered to store my loot for me. As I was about to leave the restaurant, I heard a commotion back at my seat. A swift rear glance showed an irate waiter shouting in Italian. By his gesticulation and my limited grasp of the language, he seemed to imply that guests must have been so famished that they had ravenously gobbled up all the napkins. At that instant, I realised the items I had misappropriated displayed the restaurant’s signature emblem of a twig of lemon. Besides, who would customise napery for a pre-wedding dinner? This kleptomaniac was the fastest thing out of that place.

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If you do decide to dine here, mention it’s your birthday (even if it’s not) and they may give you a birthday cake with sparklers, and perhaps even complimentary Limoncello shots at the end of the meal. Alberto, one of the owners, may even play his mandolin if you request nicely.


Ciao, pasta!


Capri is a haven for celebrity spotting. So much so that all the alfresco cafés have their table settings facing the street, giving the diners an illusion of people watching when in fact, it is staged for the patrons to be seen by the masses. I had my own brush with fame when I serendipitously dined at Aurora, and there he was, Valentino Garavani hosting his birthday dinner just steps from our table!


Troops of paparazzi were tussling for a vantage position outside the restaurant as we arrived. This Mediterranean demigod was seated at the first table right at the entrance with his back to the wall (safely cocooned by his entourage of 10), a position affording him a good view of each person that entered, as well as for mere mortals to readily spot this divine fashion deity.


When his birthday cake was brought out, the entire restaurant burst into joyous singing, with audacious me brazenly belting out the loudest. The greetings across the two-tier cake, depicted in red icing, read “Buon Compleanno Imperatore!”, which clearly referred to his 2008 bio-documentary, Valentino: The Last Emperor. His style highness graciously shared his cake with the entire eatery. Just when I bolstered the courage to approach him, a flurry of flashes by the shutterbugs out front denoted his imminent departure. Although it was fortuitously an accidental encounter, my curriculum vitae now shamelessly includes “dining with an Emperor”.


The private terrace of the Hotel Bellevue Suite provides unparalleled views of Capri


No visit to the island is complete unless one takes a cable car ride to Mount Solaro. Actually, it was more of a non-stop moving rickety chairlift on a wire pulley with no safety brake. Before I could get my bearings, the metal chair struck my posterior unexpectedly and scooped me into the air, knocking off my newly acquired sunhat. It was quite a jolt. I found myself basically sitting in a very old tiny chair, feet dangling with only a small bar across my lap, which didn’t really hold me in.


It was certainly not a ride for the faint-hearted. Only when I was en route did I realise that Mount Solaro is so very, very, very high up. The 15-minute ride seemed like an eternity, especially with the hot midday sun beating relentlessly down on me. Without my hat, my face had no protection and took the full brunt of the UV radiation. To avoid the rays, I had to contort my neck in a downward position, chin to chest. Despite the scorching heat on my crown, I was able to enjoy the amazing view of the land below—pockets of secret enchanted pine forest broken only by splashes of blossoming yellow lemon trees; large dogs roaming freely among the cacti and prickly pears; as well as bees buzzing around flowers, and I swore, at that instant, I caught a whiff of jasmine-perfumed air. There were terraced vineyards and orchards, scattered private homes, and delightful old farmhouses. Interestingly, I also spotted the occasional lost hats and sandals.

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Stay at Capri Tiberio Palace


What a relief it was when we finally arrived at the summit. When an attendant assisted me out of the chair, I was rewarded not only with breathtaking panoramic views but my precious hat. Apparently, it had been promptly caught by the attendant below and given to the rider directly behind me. From the highest peak of the island, I saw the Faraglioni emerging from the sea on the majestic rugged coastline. My joy was further heightened by having a lemon slush with prosecco, which helped to calm my nerves for the ride down.


The descent was even prettier, with the ever-changing view of the seashore dotted with boats from Capri across the Bay of Naples to Vesuvius. This time, with my hat on, I saw rugged mountainside, picturesque villas of Anacapri tucked amid the greenery and the sea below glowing that famous fluorescent blue. For a compulsive chatterbox, the single-occupant chair lift was a lonely solitary ride and it peeved me not to be able to share that unique experience with someone.


Testa di Moro ceramic vase


Despite the unsolicited bump earlier on, bruises that would last for days, and irreparable damage to my face, all was forgiven and forgotten because it is only by scaling to the highest peak, one can truly appreciate the timeless beauty of Capri.


As Capri is not the easiest place to get to, you must stay a few days to appreciate the changing landscape of the rugged cliff faces. The island sees two million visitors annually. During the day, it’s frantic like the Grand Central Terminal, with day-trippers jostling for prime viewing spots. It’s only after they leave, just prior to sunset, that the magic of this enchanted island comes alive. The temperature miraculously cools down considerably, like the revellers have carted the sultry heat with them as they depart. In its place, the flowers, as if on cue, release their aromatic scents and the setting sun casts a warm glowing tinge of mellow gold sheen on the façades of shop windows and houses, transforming a bustling town into a serene village.


Elizabeth Lee and Benjamin Yong on a stroll to Capri town


My final recommendation is the island’s signature dish, insalata caprese, made with fresh buffalo mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil. Due to its abundance, the burrata in some eateries is the size of a generous rock melon. But the lightness, creaminess, and deliciousness of this cheese make this an easy winner for our palates. After all, it is a crime to be on a diet when you are on vacation, especially when it’s an Italian one.