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La dolce vita with Tito

La dolce vita with Tito
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First Published: Sat, Jun 28 2008. 01 12 AM IST

Tito’s daughter Lauren takes in the sun as their rented boat returns to Capri. ( Zackary Canepari)
Tito’s daughter Lauren takes in the sun as their rented boat returns to Capri. ( Zackary Canepari)
Updated: Sat, Jun 28 2008. 02 17 PM IST
Some people could mistake the Mediterranean island of Capri as an overrun cruise ship stop, brimming with camera-happy tourists elbowing each other for the perfect Blue Grotto shot. Others may see it as little more than a shopping mall for spoiled 20-year-old blondes spending their much-older husbands’ money. But those people have never travelled to Capri with Tito Perrotti, the larger-than-life father of a close friend.
Tito’s daughter Lauren takes in the sun as their rented boat returns to Capri. ( Zackary Canepari)
The tanned 56-year-old Italian-American has been going to Capri for 23 years and, to all intents and purposes, the island is now his personal playground. In Tito’s Capri, short-skirted blondes and sunburnt tourists are the supporting cast; it is the island’s bacchanalia of food, wine and turquoise sea that plays the starring role.
To travel with Tito means you have to learn to follow. He looks you square in the eye, and says with supreme confidence: “You should try the ravioli. Wait until you try the ravioli. Best ravioli in town.” Whether he’s recommending the ravioli, the postprandial limoncello, or a hike down 282 steps to a beach club, he’s always just making a suggestion. But you quickly learn to listen to Tito. He’s usually right.
The island has two main towns: Capri and Anacapri. Anacapri, where most of the employees of the tourist businesses reside, is the more bustling city. It’s also far less expensive—despite being the base for visits to the Blue Grotto—and comes with its own version of an adventure ride from the marina, along a narrow road clinging to the cliff.
Cars, on the other hand, are banned on the cobblestoned streets of Capri, and the isle is reached by a charming funicular, offering stunning ocean views from the tiny cars. The village is a maze of picturesque street cafes, luxury retailers and elaborate villas, surrounded by 360-degree vistas. Tito, of course, prefers Capri.
Nor is he the first. A resort since the Roman Empire, Capri is known to have inspired, among others, W. Somerset Maugham and John Sargent. It has been a Roman capital, a bolt-hole for Queen Victoria, and now finds itself in every holidaymaker’s wardrobe by virtue of the calf-length pants it lent its name to.
Life moves at a slower pace in Capri, but there never seems to be a dearth of things to do. Afternoons are best dedicated to downing espressos or aperitifs at street-front cafés while watching outrageously dressed blondes lead dapper old men past the Prada, Armani and Gucci storefronts.
That, though, is our only downtime. No sooner does early room service bring the cappuccinos to the poolside balcony, where we can watch the sun rise slowly behind the mountains, than Tito is raring to go for his morning walk. Small roads wind up hills around Capri, lined with elaborate villas and pristine gardens.
Then, after an encounter with the town barber’s open blade, Tito meets us for breakfast. Each morning, we try to eat less, knowing huge lunches and dinners await. Each morning, we stuff our faces while Tito chalks out our day. Beach or boat? History-hike or poolside tan?
The blue-and-white umbrellas provide some shade at Tito’s favourite beach club, La Fontelina. (Zackary Canepari)
The dramatic cliffs of Capri make for incredible views, but terrible beaches. So, private beach clubs have chiselled out stretches of prime sunbathing space along the rocks by paving the ground with concrete, and setting up plush beach chairs topped by enormous mattresses.
Since Capri sits about 300m above sea level, we have to walk 282 steps down a pine-shaded lane along the cliff to reach Tito’s favourite club, La Fontelina. The smiling staff treats him like a king, but Tito insists he goes there because the restaurant is “the best for sampling fresh seafood”. How fresh is fresh? Well, how about fishermen who bring their catch straight to the kitchen?
Just off the shore of the club, where members and their guests can swim in a roped-in area of the sea, is Faraglione, a giant rock arch made famous by a recent Dolce and Gabbana ad campaign. Tito was there when the photographers and models were at work. “It was the day they shot the men,” he complains.
The bright green-blue waters are rocky and deep around the club, but the children can still swim near the dock. After a few hours, we hike to an old army bunker, a World War II remnant. Rather than trekking back, we jump from a 10ft cliff into the crisp turquoise water and swim around a promontory.
By noon, though, Tito is counting the minutes to lunch. By 1pm, the family is seated in the open-air restaurant at La Fontelina, listening to the recital of the day’s specials by Amadeau who, like any good Don Giovanni, pays far more attention to Tito’s eldest daughter than Tito likes.
But the crisp white wine distracts Tito, and perfectly complements the small fried calamari and pesto shrimp spaghetti. After the pasta round, we split a large sea bass, caught fresh that morning. We follow Tito’s lead, and we know we should never let Tito’s glass run dry. After a few more hours in the sun, we hike back up the cliff to work off lunch.
Another day, Tito decides to gift himself a luxury cruise boat, the Perseverance II. He rents the 37.5m, four-storey ship for $10,000 (Rs4.3 lakh) a day. Capri sits about an hour’s boat ride from some of the most beautiful towns in Italy, so the boat is a fantastic way to explore the Amalfi coast.
After our exhausting days, we grab a few tables in the main square to sip an aperitif. Even with endless visitors, the town remains an Italian village. At one point, a wedding party bursts out of the church at the north end of the square, with loud revellers trailing the newly-weds. A few minutes later, a sombre bell tolls and a funeral marches slowly through, elderly Italian women dressed in black, weeping behind a coffin.
Each night, Tito leads the party to a restaurant of his choice. La Capannina “has the best pasta you’ll ever taste”. Da Giorgio “has the most incredible lobster spaghetti”. More modern restaurants have sprung up in Capri, but the chaotic charm of the originals can’t be beaten.
The narrow lanes of Capri offer plenty of reasons to wander. (Zackary Canepari)
After dinner, we stroll along the cobblestoned streets, grab gelato at one of the stands, and mingle with the crowd. One night, we grab a table on the cliff. The sea breeze smells salty as we linger late over a bottle of Chianti.
Life in Capri is almost too deliciously indulgent. After four days, I have to leave, or I won’t fit into my jeans anymore. But I’ve already begged Tito to let me come for the next trip.
Trip Planner:
How to go:
For visas, apply at the VFS Global Services Pvt. Ltd (Eros Corporate Towers, Nehru Place, New Delhi; 011 42340000; Stadium House, Block III, Veer Nariman Road, Churchgate, Mumbai; 022 66644314; The Presidency Building, No.82, St. Marks Road, Bangalore).
Flights to Naples require a stopover in Milan or London. Lufthansa has flights from New Delhi, and British Airways flies from Mumbai. Return economy fares start from around Rs41,000. You have to take a 40-minute hydrofoil ride from Naples Harbour to reach Capri. The cost of a one-way ticket is around Rs1,000.
Where to stay:
The Grand Hotel Quisisana (‘www.quisisana.com’, +39 081 8370788), where we stayed, offers the most convenient location, just off the main square. The children loved the two pools; the adults relished the decadent breakfast brunch, included in the price of the room. Rooms start at around Rs23,400 a night. There’s also the Punta Tragara (‘www.hoteltragara.com’, Tel: +39 0818370844), a beautiful hotel where Winston Churchill used to stay, about 15 minutes away from the square. Rooms start at around Rs35,000 a night. The sleek boutique hotel JK Capri (‘www.jkcapri.com’, Tel: +39-081-8384001) offers breathtaking views and modern interiors, and is also a 5-minute walk from the hustle and bustle of town. Rooms start at around Rs33,000.
Where to eat:
La Capannina and Da Giorgio are two of the oldest restaurants on the island. The pastas, cooked with local seafood and fresh tomatoes, are to die for.
Cafes line the streets and serve up a delicious mix of snacks and aperitifs for the early evening cocktail hour. Plus, they’re prime seating to watch the brightly-dressed crowds stroll through the streets. And don’t miss the gelato at the main square’s Gelateria, despite the massive lines waiting for the sweet dessert.
What to do:
Hire a boat for the day to tour the Amalfi coast, about an hour’s boat ride away. Or drop anchor at the island of Ischia, near Capri, where European royals dock their boats for a day of snorkelling. For the can’t-miss tourist site, visit the famed Blue Grotto, an eerie cave accessible only by rowboat.
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First Published: Sat, Jun 28 2008. 01 12 AM IST