The islands of Ischia and Capri positioned north and south respectively off the horns of the Bay of Naples are sophisticated, cosmopolitan and with anchorages, beaches, gourmet restaurants and shopping in abundance.
Ischia is arguably the more beautiful – the best anchorage is at Ischia Ponte under the shadow of a superb Aragonese fortress – head up above the encircling belt of expensive villas and into the island’s volcanic centre where the views are magnificent. Capri is much smaller than Ischia, but is has been dosed with steroids – and money.
Take the funicular railway from the port up to Capri town’s Plaza Umberto – a magical place to sit with a coffee and watch the wealthy world go buy. The town’s twisting main street boasts more top-name stores than London’s Bond Street – a measure of the clientele attracted to the island. Inland there is much to look out upon but don’t miss the wonderful view from Villas Jovis, the palace of Emperor Augustus and, on the coast, the iridescent light of the Blue Grotto and the jagged, wave pierced Faraglioni Islands are impressive to say the least.
Itinerary – Capri & Amalfi Coast
Day 1 – Salerno
Salerno may initially seem like a bland big city, but the place has a charming, if gritty, individuality, especially around its ostensibly tatty historic centre, where medieval churches and neighbourhood trattorias echo with the addictive bustle of southern Italy. The city has invested in various urban-regeneration programs centred on this historic neighbourhood, which features a tree-lined seafront promenade widely considered to be one of the cheeriest and most attractive in Italy.
Day 2 – Sorrento
A small resort with a big reputation, Sorrento is a town of lemons, high-pedigree hotels and plunging cliffs that cut through the heart of the historical core. The town’s longstanding popularity stems from its location at the western gateway to the Amalfi coast. Tourism has a long history here. It was a compulsory stop on the 19th century ‘Grand Tour’ and interest in the town was first sparked by the poet Byron, who inspired a long line of holidaying literary geniuses – including Goethe, Dickens and Tolstoy – to sample the Sorrentine air. The romance persists. Wander through Piazza Tasso on any given Sunday and you will be exposed to one of Italy’s finer strolls, snaking past palatial hotels, magnificent marquetry shops and simple Campanian restaurants serving gnocchi alla sorrentina finished off with a shot of ice-cold limoncello.
Day 3 – Procida
The Bay of Naples’ smallest island is also its best-kept secret. Off the mass-tourist radar, Procida is like the Portofino prototype and is refreshingly real. August aside – when beach-bound mainlanders flock to its shores – its narrow, sun-bleached streets are the domain of the locals: kids clutch fishing rods, parents push prams and old seafolk swap yarns. Here, the hotels are smaller, fewer waiters speak broken German and the island’s welcome has not been changed by a tidal wave of visitors.
Day 4 – Ischia
The volcanic outcrop of Ischia is the most developed and largest of the islands in the Bay of Naples. An early colony of Magna Graecia, first settled in the 8th century BC, Ischia today is famed for its thermal spas, manicured gardens, striking Aragonese castle and unshowy, straightforward Italian airs – a feature also reflected in its food. Ischia is a refreshing antidote to glitzy Capri.
Day 5 – Capri
Capri is beautiful – seriously beautiful. There is barely a grubby building or untended garden to blemish the splendour. Steep cliffs rise majestically from an impossibly blue sea; elegant villas drip with wisteria and bougainvillea; even the trees seem to be carefully manicured. Long a preserve of celebrities and the super-rich, this small, precipitous island off the west end of the Sorrento Peninsula has a tangible deluxe feel. Your credit card can get a lot of exercise in its expensive restaurants and museum-quality jewelry shops – a cappuccino alone can cost €7. But, regardless of this, Capri is worth visiting, whatever your budget. Glide silently up craggy Monte Solaro on a chairlift. Relive erstwhile poetic glories in Villa Lysis. Find a quiet space in the sinuous lanes of Anacapri. In the process, you will enjoy some sublime moments.
Day 6 – Amalfi Coast
Deemed an outstanding example of a Mediterranean landscape by Unesco, the Amalfi Coast is one of Italy's most memorable destinations. Here, mountains plunge into the sea in a nail-biting vertical scene of precipitous crags, cliff-clinging abodes and verdant woodland. Its string of fabled towns read like a Hollywood cast list. There is jet-set favourite Positano, a pastel-coloured cascade of chic boutiques, spritz-sipping pin-ups and sun-kissed sunbathers. Further east, ancient Amalfi lures with its Arabic-Norman cathedral, while mountaintop Ravello stirs hearts with its cultured villas and Wagnerian connection.