Two Island Queens on Capri and Ischia

Reigning over Capri and Ischia in the Bay of Naples are two island queens, the Punta Tragara and San Montano Resort & Spa. Each hotel has its own special allure. The buona fortuna is that it’s not necessary to choose between them. Why not experience both?

Capri is Capri is Capri. Smaller than Ischia, it is the fabled destination of travelers for centuries, from emperors to artists. On Capri, one important aspect of any five-star luxury property is its ability to shut out the rest of the world. The day-trippers, tour guides and cruisers must simply fade into a silent background when a guest enters the lobby of a place like Punta Tragara.

Punta Tragara’s 700-square-foot Art Suite has a living room with bathtub.

The raucous saturation of color inside the lobby matches the intensity of the views outside, but there is a swell of silence that envelops us. The guestrooms and suites are filled with the bright and the avant garde (i.e., serpentine metal screen in No. 61), but honestly, it’s all about the views. They are cliches of the poetic and it’s impossible to get enough of the ever-changing combination of azure, terra-cotta, green and white. This is why we’re here.

Well, that and the food: The Michelin star, locally caught seafood and an impressive cellar make for some very satisfying choices. This hotel could become addictive.

General manager Pietro Paolo Federico ([email protected]) ensured that our visit included lunch at chef Luigi Lionetti’s Le Monzu’, which received its first star on the 2020 list. (The Manfredi group also has another Michelin-starred ristorante on Capri, Mammà, as well as the Michelin-starred ristorante Aroma in Rome.) We were expecting high standards because we’ve visited the Tragara’s sister hotel in Rome, the Manfredi.

Punta Tragara’s Art Suite also comes with a terrace, which overlooks the Faraglioni Rocks.

Punta Tragara is a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World. Even Eisenhower and Churchill stayed here when the property was American headquarters during World War II. Mariana Arpaia ([email protected]) is director of sales and marketing.

Built in 1920 as an enormous private villa designed by Le Corbusier, the Punta Tragara’s 44 rooms and suites were redone within the last two years. It’s hard to compete with the panorama from one of Capri’s highest points, but the contemporary art and furniture bring the Mediterranean light inside. One of six named suites, the 950-square-foot Penthouse Suite (No. 61) on the fifth floor has Capri’s quintessential view, the Faraglioni Rocks, from both the windows and terrace. There is a big, round bed and a small private sauna in the suite.

The Certosa Suite (No. 51) overlooks equally incredible views from its 700 square feet living space. There are 14 Junior Suites, some of them duplex, and 24 rooms, many with sea views. Honestly, the Punta Tragara has so many jaw-dropping vistas from its terra-cotta terraces that it raises the question of why a guest would ever leave their room.

The Monzù Gin Club and American Bar might be one reason, given that it has dozens of gins on the menu, along with a full array of wines and spirits. The Tragara also has a new spa and two pools, one heated. Away from the property, there is nothing to match a private boat trip around the island, with the opportunity to see the hotel perched on a cliff far above the water. Up in the town of Anacapri is another unique villa, the Villa San Michele (c. 1885), which is now a museum dedicated to the owner, Swedish royal doctor Axel Munthe, and his collection of artifacts found on the island. There’s an intimate café on the grounds, which is the perfect place to unwind before heading back down the mountain. Look out for Capri’s indigenous blue lizards — either live or ceramic.

In the afternoon, shop for lemony things (limoncello, soap, linens, scents, candy), custom sandals, Caprese beachwear and designer clothes and accessories from boutiques that line the narrow streets. 

Note: Guests should know that getting to Punta Tragara involves a 15-minute walk from the port, which allows time to absorb the ambiance of Capri. Luggage comes on a cart and transport can be arranged in advance for those who need assistance. The hotel is closed from November until just before the Easter / Passover holidays.

Punta Tragara has 14 Junior Suites, some of which are on two levels.

A ferry ride from Capri or Naples, Ischia is the island of spas: Volcanic steam, volcanic mud, natural thermal and man-made pools, beaches, medical and beauty treatment centers sprinkled across the island. Five-star San Montano Resort & Spa towers 1,000 feet up a mountain, perched above the fishing village of Lacco Ameno.   

Note: The resort is a favorite of German spa-devotees, who prefer the month of May for their treatment vacations; guests from the U.S. should book both their rooms and spa appointments early for spring vacations. Since there are also expansive outdoor thermal spas on Ischia, such as Negombo and Poseidon, June through September are also good times to visit, when the Mediterranean water is warm enough for swimming. The hotel has its own small private beach, as well as eight pools and tubs.

We first visited San Montano a decade ago and were impressed with the gardens and panorama, but less so with the décor. Completely renovated and now a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, the property is vastly better. Hermès fabrics and hand-painted tiles add to the luxe feel. For special requests, contact general manager Maurizio Orlacchio ([email protected]) or spa manager Catrin Sirabella ([email protected]). 

San Montano Resort & Spa’s infinity pool contains heated thermal water and has great views over San Montano Bay. 

Some of the 76 rooms and suites have both sea and garden views; some suites are duplexes. Sunsets are memorable, with umbrella pines framing the orange sky. The Infinity Pool Suites line a long pool with sight lines down the mountain to the Mediterranean. The Amalfi Suite Sunrise (850 square feet) comes with its own small infinity pool and private terrace. Junior Prestige Suite No. 322 is about 550 square feet and has two balconies, two full baths and a separate living room with sofa bed.

The Elite Sea View suites could be considered for a destination wedding party or family vacation, as they are separated from the main hotel. The two Olea Suites in this section (each about 500 square feet) can be joined to create a four-bedroom / two-bath grand suite with two Jacuzzis. Recently, a group of 50 New Yorkers took a number of Elite Sea View suites for a wedding.

Guests at San Montano come primarily for thermal baths and spa treatments at the Ocean Blue Spa. The black volcanic mud treatments have been a favorite of visitors to Ischia since Roman times and the slightly radioactive mud is supposed to improve both health and appearance. We found that the volcanic mud facials really do smooth the skin. The Gambe Chic (Golden Leg) treatments promise results after five days, which may be why many European guests come for a full week.

The Ischia Suite Sunset has a large terrace and an exclusive Jacuzzi for two people. 

In addition to its own restaurants, overseen by executive chef Nandi Porcaro and including La Veranda and Franco’s, San Montano has several bars and cafés for light informal lunches, all with terraces overlooking the village and sea. Its sister hotel in Lacco Ameno, Hotel Reginella, has an excellent seafood restaurant, O’ Pignattello.

Away from the hotel there is the opportunity to rent two luxury boats to explore the island and even sleep onboard. It’s fun to swim to a secluded beach or café / bar accessible only by boat. Nearby shopping includes well-known Italian designers, as well as shops for ceramics (we like Ischia’s red designs). The hotel also offers on-call shuttle service, which allows guests to stroll the Lacco Ameno seafront, stop for an aperitivo and have dinner at O’ Pignattello before returning to the mountaintop for a nightcap. Transportation can be arranged to visit other towns and historic sites on the island.  

The San Montano Resort & Spa is closed November through mid-April. 

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