The islands off Naples are so different from each other that you wonder how they can possibly be in the same bay—indeed, some would say that Capri, Ischia, and Procida are not true water mates, as they lie just beyond the bay's outer fringes. More tellingly, their contrasts go beyond mere geology and vegetation. They all occupy different niches in the traveler's mind.
Capri panders to the whims of the international great-and-good. Ischia serves the needs of a predominantly German and Italian clientele. Procida—the closest to the mainland—is more dependent on the weekend and summer influx of Neapolitans. But together, the islands of Capri, Ischia, and Procida—chosen by the Greeks, the supreme connoisseurs and aesthetes of antiquity, as their first base in Italy—combine a broad and delightful gamut of experiences.
Islandophiles, of course, have always had a special love for Capri (the first syllable is accented—"Ca-pri"). Italy's most glamorous seaside getaway, this craggy, whale-shape island has an epic beauty: cliffs that are the very embodiment of time, bougainvillea-shaded pathways overlooking the sea, trees seemingly hewn out of rock. Capri has always been a stage shared with the Beautiful People, often an eclectic potpourri of duchesses who have left their dukes at home, fading French film actresses, pretenders to obscure thrones, waspish couturiers, and sleek supermodels.
Today Capri continues to attract thousands of visitors. On summer days the port and piazzetta are often crammed, so if you can visit in spring or fall, do so. Yet even the crowds are not enough to destroy Capri's charm. The town itself is a Moorish stage of sparkling white houses, tiny squares, and narrow medieval alleyways hung with flowers, while its hillsides are spectacular settings for luxurious seaside villas. The mood is modish but somehow unspoiled. Retreat when the day-trippers take over by offering yourself to the sun at your hotel pool or exploring the hidden corners of the island. Even in the height of summer, you can enjoy a degree of privacy on one of the many paved paths that have been mapped out through species-rich Mediterranean maquis, winding around the island hundreds of feet above the sea.
Recent years have seen a diversification of the experiences offered on the three islands. Once entirely dependent on its thermal springs, Ischia is now the archaeological front-runner in the bay, thanks to its noted museum in Lacco Ameno. Procida has opened up to tourism, with some newer, smaller hotels remaining open throughout the year. All the islands are well served by road networks, with buses plying the main roads and a funicular on Capri reaching the main town from the Marina Grande, as well as a chairlift ascending to the top of Monte Solaro (1,932 feet) from Anacapri.