IL Dolce Far Niente: Kicking Back In Capri

Il Dolce Far Niente
It’s CAH-pree, not Ca-PREE,” my Italian tutor corrected me. So for weeks before my trip to this beautiful island in the Gulf of Naples, at dinner parties with friends in Los Angeles, I threw “I’m going to CAH-pree” into conversations. “CAH-pree” got raised eyebrows as if I’d said, “Pass the potAH-toes,” but I didn’t care. I prided myself on being a savvy traveler, educated and prepared for the authentic Italian experience.

But when I finally landed in the famous piazzetta, my status as a discerning traveler was immediately put to the test. Piazza Umberto I is a small, compact, closed-off square that resembles a courtyard. Tour books call this chic spot “The living room of Capri,” and recommend visitors to sit at one of the cafés to relax and watch the world go by. But which caffé?

I scoured my books for a recommendation, but found nothing. All four had the same rattan tables and chairs, same attentive waiters identically dressed in cream-colored jackets, same prices. Only the names were different. The skeptic in me took over: one of these must be where the locals go to chuckle at the visitors who have chosen poorly ― those who say “Ca-PREE.”

Il Gran Cafe
Visitors to Capri enjoy traditional treats like Limoncello at small cafés in Piazza Umberto I.

My traveling pal, Meredith, too thirsty to care, said: “Look, they’ve got different color tablecloths. Let’s pick our favorite color.” She sat herself at Il Piccolo Bar (with green tablecloths), and ordered a limoncello ― a lemon liquer made from lemon rinds, alcohol, water, and sugar, which is produced in Southern Italy.

But I, not about to be taken, headed down a maze of alleys. Eureka, locals! Two men in caps driving a rickety cart full of lemons would surely give me the scoop. With twinkling eyes they answered: “All the same. Different owner.” I got the exact same answer from the almond-eyed girl in the tabacchi (tobacco shop) and the gelato seller. Did the Tourist Board give them this script?

Finally I cornered a gold-toothed woman pushing a laundry cart. She gave me a deep warm stare, chuckled at my wrinkled brow and kindly slipped me her version of “the goods”: Il Piccolo Bar is the oldest, where the waiters from all the restaurants drink; Il Gran Caffé is for the rich; Il Tiberio for the young and Caffé Caso, “my nephew owns.” But the truth, she said, “All the same.” She squeezed my hand and turned me back to the piazzetta with, “Non preoccuparti [Don’t worry] Enjoy Capri.”

Back at Il Piccolo, Meredith was smiling and waving. Did we belong there with the waiters…or with the rich, the young, the nephew? It didn’t seem to matter as I dropped my shoulder bag full of books, sat down and took a cool sip of limoncello. I stared up at the big blue cloudless sky, inhaled the blossom-scented air, let the music of laughter and languages from all corners of the world wash over me and realized: There are some places where it actually is all good. A few more sips, and what the locals call: “Il dolce far niente” ― “the sweetness of doing nothing” took over. No rights or wrongs, no worries. The authentic Italian experience I had traveled thousand of miles for had begun, in a place where there is no place for skepticism.

Bar Tiberio
According to Capri locals, Bar Tiberio is “for the young.”

If You Go

Italian State Tourist Board

Capri Tourism

Capri Online