Capri in detail

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Celebrity Island

A byword for Mediterranean chic, Capri has long enjoyed a reputation as a haunt for the famous and infamous. Dive into a local restaurant and, more often than not, you'll find a photo wall of spaghetti-eating and negroni-drinking celebrities.

The first big name to decamp here was Emperor Tiberius in AD 27. A man of sadistic sexual perversions, at least if the Roman author Suetonius is to be believed, he had 12 villas built on the island, including the vast Villa Jovis. He also left deep scars and, until modern times, his name was equated with evil by the islanders. When the Swedish doctor Axel Munthe first began picking about the Roman ruins on the island in the early 20th century and built his villa on the site of a Tiberian palace, locals would observe that it was all ‘roba di Tiberio’ – Tiberius’ stuff.

But more than Tiberius’ rumoured capers, it was the discovery of the Grotta Azzurra in 1826 that paved the way for Capri’s celebrity invasion. As news of the spectacular cave spread so artists such as John Singer Sargent, musicians including Debussy, intellectuals, industrialists and writers began to visit, attracted by the island’s isolated beauty and, in some cases, the availability of the local lads. An early habitué, Alfred Krupp, the German industrialist and arms manufacturer, was involved in a gay scandal, while author Norman Douglas and French count Jacques Fersen set all manner of tongues wagging.

The island also proved an escape for Russian revolutionaries. In 1905 the author Maxim Gorky moved to Capri after failing to topple the Russian tsar, and Vladimir Lenin visited the island in 1908 and 1910. In the course of the early 20th century Chilean poet Pablo Neruda and German author Thomas Mann visited regularly, British writers Compton Mackenzie and Graham Greene lived here for extended periods, and Britain’s wartime singer Gracie Fields retired here.

More recently, singer Mariah Carey was spotted shopping with (now ex) billionaire beau James Packer, while Beyoncé and Jay-Z were snapped eating dinner in Capri Town. Such celebrities help keep Capri’s reputation for star-spangled dolce vita alive – and its overworked paparazzi in business.