THE tour boat rounded a bend. “Look up there,” the driver told us. “That’s the Punta Tragara, the fanciest and best hotel on the island.” Everyone looked up at the grand orange palace, all jutting balconies and terraces, perched on the top of one of Capri’s highest spots.
My friend and I chuckled and kept mum: we were actually staying there.
Indeed, the Punta Tragara is magnificent. It’s a Capri classic, built in 1920 as a private villa on the suggestion of Le Corbusier. During WWII it was used as a headquarters for the American command and in 1968, it was bought by one Count Manfredi and turned into the hotel it is today, bar a few changes, such as updated rooms and a spa.
If you’re after a minimalist bastion of Milanese chic, look elsewhere. Capri’s sparkling, pedestrianised centre is crammed with every designer shop under the sun and hordes of tanned Europeans in tight white trousers. The Punta Tragara feels very remote from all this. In its checked marble-floored foyer, full of antiques and paintings, a refined clientele fits in. By the pool, tranquil couples and American families peer out at the staggering view of the bay, sunning themselves and nibbling fruit plates.
Does it feel outdated? Only the food, which is of that extremely expensive but oddly un-delicious variety one associates with a 1960s idea of good, meaning overpriced, fussy and out of season. Breakfast, though, was a lovely selection of local meats, cheese and cake: dine out on this and have dinner in town.
Modish design details and fashionable cuisine, though, are concerns that pale next to the hotel’s main attraction: its height. Capri is famous for its steep ups and downs, meaning fabulous views if you know where to go. Rather wonderfully for a hotel (rather than a restaurant or picnic spot), Punta Tragara is itself one of the island’s best lookouts and makes the most of it.
That the hotel was built into an uneven rock face feels very real as you follow the warren-like hallways to your room, constantly nipping up and down triplets of stairs. But when you emerge at the right spot and open your room door, dark is replaced by floods of light.
Each room has a view and a balcony and boy, are they spectacular. The room itself was nothing next to its outdoor space. To the left were the famous Faraglioni rocks, rearing out of the electric blue sea. To the right was the yacht-studded bay and the town, which turned pearly pink, then gold-coloured as we partook of a daily round of Franciacorta sundowners.
If you tire of the hotel’s pool-with-a-view, borrow a towel and descend the pathway down to the water. It starts with steps immediately below the hotel, and becomes a long, winding walk down (it’s exhausting on the way up). The destination is two lovely “beaches” – aquamarine bays accessible by a higgledy piggledy arrangement of deck chairs and rocks (there is little sand in Capri). You have to pay about €15-€30 to gain entrance to the rocks, but the sparkling, turquoise water makes it worth it. As you swim, looking up at the towering sandstone cliffs over which the Romans romped, you know you’re in one of the most beautiful sunspots in the world.
Double prestige rooms from £351 per night in low season, including breakfast. www.hoteltragara.com; +39 081 837084406. BA flies to Naples from £97.50 return/ba.com.