The eye of the needle from the sewing kit which arrived on a tray together with a shoehorn, laundry bag and list, shoe cleaning pad and a quotation from Virgil was too small: there was no hope of my repairing the swimming trunks with tropical fish motif. No matter: this was literally the only fault I could find in the Capri Palace Hotel & Spa, the property owned and run by Tonino Cacace in the village where Graham Greene wrote for several decades and the Swedish writer Axel Munthe built his temple to the wind and sunlight.
The Capri Palace in Anacapri was perfect in every detail, right down to the plump, pale-green olives served with drinks: the night lights massed by the fountain: the pots of speckled yellow canna lilies on the west-facing cocktail terrace: the basket of bread and fresh juices at breakfast: the curved hedge of cropped bougainvillaea by the entrance: the dish of grilled calamari and prawns that I chose five out of six times for lunch by the pool: and the tubs of thyme, rosemary and lemon verbena that heated up when the sun swung round and blew scents of the Mediterranean mountainside into the suite that we occupied for three out of our seven nights' stay.
Simply from professional pride I'd like to find more to criticise in the Capri Palace, but I can't, and this is principally because Cacace and his manager Ermanno Zanini (formerly of the Four Seasons Hotel Milano) have achieved a level of service that is the most intelligent and considerate I have experienced anywhere in the world. Good training and Zanini's watchfulness are behind it. When there's a small crisis, as there was at lunch one day. Zanini moves in and sorts out the problem without anyone noticing. As much as anything else, the spirit of the place is due to the self-respect that Cacace insists on in his staff, something the British generally find hard to recognise as being important to good service. It means a waiter at the Capri Palace
looks you in the eye as an equal human being who simply wants to do his job as well as he can. There is no sense of resentment seething below the surface; no hint of the curled lip once your back is turned and the tip trousered.
I had doubts about going to Capri because I imagined it would be crowded with shoppers and too small for my primary enjoyment of exploring. But there is a distinction to be made between the two villages, Capri and Anacapri. The latter is where Cacace's father built the hotel in the late 1950s. Capri village lies in the belly of the island and for eight hours of the day swarms with tourists from the mainland, buying or wishing they could buy from boutiques that stock Chanel, Valentino, Bulgari and Gucci. There are a lot of overpriced bars and restaurants and the sort of nightclub where you may bump into Nicolas Cage, as my neighbour at breakfast did. Anacapri sits majestically above all this activity, on Monte Cappello, some 500 metres above sea level.
When the Swedish writer, doctor and doglover Axel Munthe first came to the island in the 1870s as a young man, the only link between the two villages was the 800 or so steps carved into the rock by the ancient Greeks or Phoenicians nobody is sure which. Now there is a narrow road that clings to the cliff face and provides some of the most vertiginous bus rides outside Peru. A proportion of the trippers who land on the island in the morning make it up there to stand in lifeless groups being lectured by tour guides, who then lead them along an avenue of pines from the Capri Palace to Munthe's house or to a chairlift that takes them on a 12minute ride to Fortino di Bruto for one of the great views of southern Europe. But come 5pm they leave for the quays of the Marina Grande and board the jetfoils that chalk the sea to Positano. Amalfi. Sorrento and Naples. This is when to visit the beautiful house Munthe built on the edge of the cliff and perhaps to read the first chapters of his memoir, The Story of San Michele, in the shade of his exquisite garden. At this hour the warmth and companionable ease of Italian life suddenly resume in the village he loved so much, where Graham Greene could be seen making his way to the first sharpener of the day after completing his mandatory 500 words. In the late evening small concerts are sometimes held in the main square and there are public showings of movie classics. I watched one starring Massimo Troisi and was suddenly reminded of Cinema Paradiso, that hymn to Italian cinema and communality.
In the Capri Palace you remain largely unaware of the ebb and flow of the tourist tide. Indeed, once you enter the cool colonnade hung with billowing linen and climb a serpentine path to the entrance, you pretty much forget everything in the outside world. You come to a large white, stone cool hall and find Eduardo Esposito, the concierge who has been behind the desk since August 1960 when Tonino Cacace's father opened the hotel. Esposito is the sort of man who might he employed as St Peter's deputy. He is benevolent but misses nothing: he has imperishable standards yet is tolerant to a saintly degree. I watched him help a tattooed British tourist who had approached the reception desk hare chested. The encounter must have been much like a Roman poet meeting his first Visigoth. Although the man's appearance and attitude were presumably distasteful to Esposito, his expression did not alter as he dealt with the man's enquiry.

The hotel's 81 rooms and suites have all recently been redecorated. Four rooms and three suites have private pools and gardens: the largest of these is the enormous top-floor suite, which was occupied by singer songwriter Billy Joel while we were there.
Previous occupants include Whitney Houston. Julia Roberts and Harrison Ford. We took a perfectly comfortable smaller suite without a view for the first half of the holiday and were then upgraded to the Mondrian, one of three suites decorated on the theme of an artist's work (Miró and Kandinsky are the others) and which have glorious views over the Tyrrhenian Sea towards Ischia and eastwards to Naples and the hazy pimple of Vesuvius. Four more 'art suites' themed on famous performers (Callas, I Hepburn. Adjani and Monroe) have recently been added.
Below us was the hotel's Capri Beauty Farm, where my daughters and wife had facials and massages and where you can experience a comprehensive treatment under the supervision of Professor Francesco Canonaco, a medical doctor who specialises in food science, immunology and aesthetic medicine. There is a 'leg school' that battles sluggish blood circulation, varicose veins and fat with various unique treatments devised by the professor. I did not do any of this because I have a distaste for being mucked about with, but the girls seemed to enjoy their time.
All the activity at the spa dovetails with the hotel's Michelin-starred restaurant, L'Olivo, where you can choose to eat from one of three lighter menus starting from 800 calories. The 1,500calorie 'energising' menu even includes a glass of wine. The cooking is very good indeed, and although we tried three restaurants around Anacapri primarily because of their views I wished we had stayed at the hotel for chef Oliver Glowig's cooking and the impeccable service overseen by restaurant manager Francesco Mussinelli, who glided between the tables chivvying waiters and chatting to guests in any one of five European languages. (Alberto Colombo has now taken over this role.) On our last night I had amberjack carpaccio with watermelon and dried fruit, followed by veal braciola served with pine nuts and sultanas. It was easily the best dinner of the year. There is an intimidating list of 1,100 wines, and a cellar under the hotel where some 12,000 bottles are stored.
The Capri Palace does a big trade with honeymoon couples, who are offered a five-night package that includes a guided excursion to Tiberius's Villa Jovis, one spa treatment each, handmade sandals, a mountainside picnic and a night on the hotel's 20metre sailing sloop, South Wind. The activities are a rather good idea given the existential neurosis engendered by most honeymoons. Otherwise these wide-eyed couples would be left sitting by the pool studying more developed examples of married bliss: the austere and wordless French couples, the ¡Hola!-reading Spanish hippos, the pale, blobby English and the protein-addicted Americans. It is sometimes better to travel without knowing the destination.
I can stand about two hours per day of pool life, or pond life as I once heard someone call it. So I did a lot of walking around the coast: one trip to the palace from which Tiberius apparently ruled the entire Roman empire by means of signals from a lighthouse, another to the western shore and a third along the mountain range above Anacapri. It is worth doing these trips in the early morning or in the evening, although you will find Tiberius's palace incomprehensibly closed by 5.30pm. I had to scale a fence to do my tour. The other way of seeing the island, and this should not missed, is by boat preferably the South Wind, which costs €1,800 per day, or by hiring a vessel and skipper in the harbour at €300 per day. We tried both. The South Wind is a beautiful yacht. I was at the helm for an hour or so tacking across the Tyrrhenian in the light wind that blows after midday. The southern coastline is astonishingly beautiful. Rising 500 metres from the sea, it is unchanged since the time of Tiberius.
At the end of the day we dropped off at the Blue Grotto, one of those sights that lives up to its reputation, particularly if you swim in during the late afternoon when the tourist boats have gone. It's impossible not experience a surge of ancient panic as you are washed into the island's great blue womb, swim through the darkness, then stand on a ledge and gaze back at the unearthly blue glow.
I fell in love with Capri and found the Capri Palace to be the perfect place for five or six days' decompression and reading. The whole experience underlines the rule that a hotel owned by a man such as Cacace with his individual style and eye for detail is never going to be bettered by a place run as a part of a chain. There is nothing corporate about the Capri Palace, which accounts for the extraordinarily friendly and efficient service. The staff know they are working for Cacace, and his mission is an endless perfection of design, decoration, food and beauty care. Five stars well deserved.