Capri, a Getaway for the Rich and Famous, Misses Its Americans

Visitors from the United States make up the largest share of foreign tourists on the Italian island, and this year their absence is denting local businesses.


By Valeriya Safronova

CAPRI, Italy — On a sweltering Monday morning in August, half an hour before a ferry to Capri was scheduled to depart from a harbor in Naples, dozens of sweating people crowded on the dock, their face masks in various states of ineffectiveness.

The ferry ride to Capri, an island off the coast of southern Italy, lasts about an hour. Once on the island, many of those on board spent the rest of the day lining up for the funicular, for buses, for taxis and for boats.

After a strict lockdown this spring, during which most people were barred from entering the island, Capri reopened to tourists in June, a few months later than usual. Like other parts of Italy, the region that Capri is in, Campania, has seen a large drop in international tourists this summer — 85 to 90 percent less than last year, according to Gianni Terminiello, who is in charge of statistics at Campania’s tourism agency.

Capri made up some of the difference last month with Italian tourists; the mayor of Capri estimated that thousands of people were arriving daily in August.

The visitors carry a health risk, but Capri’s 14,000 or so residents rely on tourism, so the stores, hotels and beach clubs have reopened, with some operating at full or near-full capacity. On a recent weekday, beach coves were dotted with towels and bright, colored umbrellas, restaurants like the popular Da Paolino were booked solid (weeks in advance), and the cafes in the “piazzetta” — the square at the center of Capri — were filled from morning to night.

According to health authorities in Campania, the island had zero cases of Covid-19 in June and July. Sixteen were recorded in the second half of August.

The dreaminess of Capri’s rugged landscape and jewel-toned sea has long attracted the wealthy, famous and powerful, beginning about 2,000 years ago with the Roman emperor Tiberius, who built 12 villas on the island and is said to have thrown people who displeased him off Capri’s cliffs.

Toward the end of the 19th century, Axel Munthe, the physician and companion of Queen Victoria of Sweden, built a holiday getaway in Capri, and several decades later, in the early 1900s, the writer Maxim Gorky hosted his friend Vladimir Lenin at his Capri home. Gorky was one of the island’s famous exiles; another was the poet Pablo Neruda.)

“People come for three things: the sun and the sea, the food and the shopping,” said Federico Alvarez de Toledo, 56, who has lived on Capri for nine years and whose family has owned a house in the town center since 1860.

Giovanna Gentile Ferragamo, who serves on the board of directors at Salvatore Ferragamo S.p.A., the luxury goods company, grew up visiting Capri with her parents. She recalls riding donkeys around the island as a child.

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