If you’ve ever seen It Started in Naples, you’ll remember the Isle of Capri as an exotic lair where Sophia Loren lookalikes rollick. Fifty years later, beautiful revelers still steam up the Italian island’s fashionable hotels and bars, and perhaps nowhere more than in Hotel La Palma, the chicest haunt on Vittorio Emanuele II drag.
Capri offers a potpourri of glitz, culture and nature, and at the close of a rigorous day shopping, eating pizza or trekking the bluffs, a glamorous spot to sip grappa and swap boasts may be just what you’re up for. Or a sauna and massage. La Palma runs the gamut.
Despite its central location a Manolo Blahnik hop from the main Piazetta, Capri’s oldest hotel keeps its 74 rooms (66 double and 8 single) intimate and cozy. The frescoed walls take their cue from the airy “voyage-in-Italy” brushstrokes of 19th-century guests who painted in exchange for their lodging at the site’s original “Casa Pagano” inn.
Lively Caprese scenes in equally lively Caprese greens, blues and yellows brightened the interior of my Junior Suite, where you’d half-expect a musical to break out under the faux dome ceiling and arched doorway. The striped closet curtain and majolica floor tooted the same cheery colors, as did the bathroom ceiling and wall frescos. Nearly all of the rooms have a private terrace.
As a reminder that you’re at a four-star establishment, you’ll find superb chocolates on your turned-down sheets when you retire for the evening. If you still have a sweet tooth when you wake up, you're in luck. La Palma’s Ristorante Relais puts over an extravagant spread of cakes and pastries alongside fresh and stewed fruits and carafes of juices freshly squeezed from the local groves. Cheese, yogurt, ham and bread add a savory alternative. Curiously, though, Relais snubs all but hard boiled eggs, and charges extra to fix sunny side up or scrambled.
Abutting the stuccoed dining space on one side is a terrace whose huge palm tree explains the hotel’s name and logo. The piano lounge on the other side attracts evening scenesters, and not least for its complimentary aperitif bar with more makes of grappa than you knew existed. Other sites of ongoing parties are the Portico and the Gazebo; the Roof Garden can also be outfitted to host a do, for up to 360 guests. A recent bash for family and friends of Kerry Kennedy typifies La Palma’s use as grand villa and producer of exclusive entertainment.
The lobby bears the hallmarks of owner Grazia Bottiglieri Rizzo, who also designed the hotel. White couches offset by red and black give a classy mod note to the antique Caprese style and make you want to grab one of La Palma’s many alluring guests for a chat. And that’s just what Ms. Rizzo was going for -- an “Italian embassy for hospitality” where the global clientele can come together in an exchange of ideas.
Back in 2005 the family company, Rizzo Bottiglieri De Carlini Shipping Co., was seeking to diversify its holdings with luxury cultural properties, and La Palma fit the bill. The century-and-a-half-old shipping outfit, where Ms. Rizzo is president, also acquired Fiuggi water as part of its strategy. The Vatican’s water of choice allegedly cured Michelangelo of painful calcifications back in the 16th century, and under Rizzo Bottiglieri De Carlini, its legacy of cultural patronage lives on.
During my stay La Palma and Fiuggi sponsored the Capri Hollywood Film Festival, playing host to cinema’s royalty at soirees and press conferences. The latter took place in one of the hotel’s three business facilities, whose black and white heart- and spade-shaped chairs might suggest the casino habits of Capri’s Rat Pack habitués. Yet, according to Ms. Rizzo, the motif has nobler inspirations. “Business with heart” is the message she hopes to send.
“Had there been a feminine strategy of combining business with heart, the global financial problems we’re having wouldn’t have happened,” she argued. Armed with this enlightened philosophy of commerce, she and Rizzo Bottiglieri De Carlini are prospecting for new properties, including in Venice – no stranger to culture, water and love.