HOTEL CAESAR AUGUSTUS
When civilised travellers – like you, dear reader – go to Capri, they ponder where to find the most deliciously seIf-indulgent place for a little light sustenance. Well, ponder no longer, for I have found it. It is on the terrace of the wonderful Hotel Caesar Augustus. Here, in the early evening, with the finest views on this island of fine views 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 Bay of Naples, you will know that life is good. You will also have the comfort of knowing that you have followed the hotel’s motto: Never settle for less than your dreams.
Many of the world’s most sophisticated persons dream this particular 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 Chef Eduardo Vuolo, 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, 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, number 204, was one of the delightful Junior Suites with a Sea View (1,000€-1,350€ 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. Only the sofa-bed, which had a tendency to move open when I sat upon it, let the side down slightly. (But I mentioned this to Mr Signori, so I expect it will already have been made good or replaced.) 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 the view which is the chief blessing of the hotel’s privileged position.
King Ferouk loved the 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 members of his 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), 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. And I must urge you to try a pot of the infusion made from mint grown in the hotel garden. It is superb.
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, Zafferano glassware and a single silver candlestick on my table, I tucked into the excellent food which came from Chef Vuolo’s kitchen. His cuisine is based on the freshest ingredients, many grown at the hotel, which are combined with intelligence and cooked with considerable skill. Scallops were roasted precisely and served with broad beans, spring onions, bacon and a sauce of Parmesan cheese. This dish sounds delicious, and it was. Next came a brilliant piece of Irish beef. I say, ‘piece’, but that word does no justice to the gigantic ‘tomahawk’ of finest rib-eye. Mr de Maio carved this expertly by the table. How I love eating really good beef! I finished with a good version of the classic tarte tatin, with cinnamon ice cream. (These three courses were 99€.)
The 249 offerings on the wine list are all Italian, apart from the champagnes. Prices start at 40€ for a 2016 Sicilian chardonnay 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 2013 Masseto (1,100€) and 2009 Tignanello (390€, magnum). And a pleasant horizontal tasting of the 2000 vintage is possible, with Sassicaia (450€), Solaia (490€) and Ornellaia (380€). The ever-reliable Cervaro della Sala from Antinori is 90€ (2015). 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.
Civilised travellers love the Hotel Caesar Augustus. Kings, like Ferouk, and commoners, like your correspondent – we all adore its remarkable location, its elegant style and its welcoming hospitality. Its motto is entirely right. 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 380-478 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