STRIP OF HEAVEN
THE AMALFI COAST AND CAPRI ARE TWIN BYWORDS FOR IDYLLIC BEAUTY AND ELEGANT HOLIDAY LANGUOR. GIVEN THE CHOICE BETWEEN HERE AND HEAVEN, THE WELL-HEELED COULD BE FORGIVEN FOR WANTING TO STAY PUT.
The legendary 40km of Italian coast from Positano to Vietri sul Mare and the island of Capri are uniquely idyllic.
In the town of Amalfi there is a faded ceramic plaque in the piazza adjacent to the Porta della Marina. The tablet features a boastful inscription attributed to 19th-century Italian writer Renato Fucini that reads: “Judgment day, for the Amalfitani who go to heaven, will be a day just like any other.” If the Amalfi Coast, a 40km stretch of former fishing villages from Positano in the north to Vietri sul Mare in the south, is one vision of heaven, the island of Capri just across the Tyrrhenian Sea is another. According to Suetonius the Emperor Augustus, upon landing in Capri in about 14AD, witnessed a winter oak spring to life. The superstitious Augustus, by then a frail old man, took it as an omen that his reign could still flourish, and promptly acquired the island from Naples.
“I am fully convinced that there are places that call you,” Paolo Signorini says, sitting in the lobby of the Caesar Augustus, a grand five-hectare five-star hotel on a peak of Anacapri. A sprightly 70-something, Signorini is the third-generation owner of a hotel famous for its infinity-like views and statue of Augustus with patriarchal hand outstretched over Capri. “You don’t choose them. There are places that have a special soul and they know which people will make them famous.”
We travellers might not have the clout of Augustus, but Capri and the Amalfi Coast do call us. Like pilgrims to paradise we come here each year in droves — Australians, English, Americans, Germans, Russians and now Brazilians — to bask in a kind of maddening happiness. There are other idyllic paradises in the world, for sure, but this particular part of southern Italy, this sun-drenched Eden on the Mediterranean, has its own special alchemy. The journey begins in the mind months before we arrive, in daydreams of lazy, sunburnt afternoons perched on a cliff terrace or bustling piazza