There are many hotels in the world called ‘palace’ and the word has a clichéd overtone to it, but there is nothing clichéd about the Capri Palace. It is quite possibly the best hotel in the world. The credit for this distinction belongs to its eccentric owner, Tonino Cacace.
Cacace is Capri born and bred. His mother had a shop in Anacapri, the village at the highest part of the island and his father built the hotel from scratch, both in terms of actual building and as an establishment to be reckoned with.
Young Cacace was sent to study law and was ill prepared for taking over when his father died suddenly. But what he lacked in experience, he made up with chutzpah.
One of his recurrent themes is the importance or rather, the secondary importance that location is. The hotel he inherited is not the most accessible nor does it have a beach or yacht access – the prerequisites for a best location. This did not deter him one bit and he set out to create what has become not only a very original hotel but an oasis of sublime taste.
He started by reducing the number of rooms and proceeded to turn each into a suite with a beautiful terrace. His private art collection is something to behold and extraordinarily, it is on permanent exhibition throughout the hotel. He is an eclectic collector, by all accounts, and photography, sculptures, paintings and installations vie for attention at every step and on every wall.
The art element is replicated in all things, even the flower arrangements. The 2 Michelin star restaurant is reminiscent of an opulent chalet’s drawing room, with its fire place and Loro Piana cashmere covered sofas.
I first met Cacace on the terrace of the lobby bar. A striking looking Italian, idiosyncratically and stylishly dressed, he is almost too good to be true. Champagne and canapés come and go, but his narrative, hopping from art to lighting to John Grisham and back to art, is too riveting to pay attention to the maitre d’ who described the elaborate bar snacks.
He talks about lighting (he’s introduced a dimmer system throughout so that the quality of light will be… you guessed it, just so), the specific turquoise blue he went to find in Mykonos so that he could paint the newly acquired Il Riccio (his club restaurant overlooking the bay and giving the Capri Palace strategic yacht access), his farm in Tuscany which supplies the hotel with the most drinkable olive oil I’ve ever tasted, his father, his Pomodoro installation – and about life.
He mentions Keynes. The bit about “as production increases, commodities’ prices fall which reduces the rate of profit”… Somehow, he’s rationalised his take on life neatly enough to fit in with Keynesian economics. He’s reached that point in his life when “increasing production” does not translate in additional “profit” – “profit” in this sense being satisfaction with life or plain old happiness.
So he plays with his “big toy”, the hotel; he perfects this or that; he enjoys his Tuscan estate and grounds; he adds to his book collection every now and then… He is not aiming for world domination in the hospitality industry. He is a man content.
His staff seem to adore him and he is very protective of them. He wants Capri Palace to give them a career, not just a job. I reflect on the fact that I’d return to Capri just to resume the philosophical exchange with Tonino Cacace – even if I weren’t enough smitten with the island’s breathtaking scenery.
2 Michelin star for food, 10 out of 10 for service and ambiance (Cacace’s big secret). Breakfast is buffet style and even the most indulgent food is healthy because of the quality. Dinner consists of tiny portions, but so many delicious starters and “afters”, you’d feel replete after just two courses.
A splendid club-like restaurant and private beach, perched on a cliff and overlooking the entire bay. Restored by Cacace in a distinctive “Mykonos blue”, it boasts a “temptation room” with the most amazing puddings and art sculptures.
A super cool and arty area, with its own Capri sandals maker, exclusive to the shop designer range of clothes, a Harrods like array of concessions of most major clothing brands and artefacts from Cacace’s childhood.
The domain of Professore Canonaco, this is a medical spa of some repute. I tried the medicated leg treatment which consists of a mud wrap and then treading alternatively ice cold and hot water to boost the circulation. The Professor himself is an utterly charming man, often seen on the grounds of the hotel in the company of glamorous women partaking of the full treatment.
Magritte, Warhol, Kandinsky, Paltrow… The Capri Palace hotel suites are not just named and themed – they have artist-inspired painted pools and art works.Like everything else in this hotel, the interiors are a mixture of comfort and ultimate cool. Cacace’s input is palpable there.