Capri, Italy's blue island, emerges from the pandemic blues


FILE PHOTO: A deserted bathhouse is seen in the island of Capri, a southern Italian island that relies heavily on foreign tourism, despite the loosening of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions in much of the country, in Capri, Italy, April 28, 2021. REUTERS/Antonio Denti

CAPRI, Italy (Reuters) - Capri's world has always been blue - the color of the water surrounding the Mediterranean island, many of its fishing boats and, most famously, the light in its Blue Grotto.

Now, the glamorous tourist destination with magnificent mansions, classy restaurants and world class shopping is hoping to shake off the pandemic blues after a year of on-and-off closures that have depressed the economy.

"I can sense a positive spirit, a spirit of recovery," said Paolo Federico, general manager of the five-star Punta Tragara hotel. "Maybe this anxiety will not be part of our baggage anymore."

Capri, like the rest of Italy, is slowly reopening. Outdoor dining became possible again on April 26 and indoor dining will be allowed at the start of June.

Tourism to the island, made famous in the last century by superstar habitués such as Audrey Hepburn and Sophia Loren and later by Tom Cruise and Jennifer Lopez, plunged by about 70 percent over the pre-pandemic period, when up to three million people visited yearly.

Optimism trickles down from luxury fashion shops and top-tier restaurants such as La Capannina, where a photo of Jackie Kennedy and Aristotle Onassis eating there 50 years ago hangs on the wall, to more modest haunts as well as to fishermen and boat operators.

Vincenzo Iaccarino, president of the island's Blue Grotto boat drivers, found it strange for Capresi - as the island's natives are known - to have the place mostly to themselves, almost as if a key ingredient was missing in a recipe.

"It's beautiful but it doesn't dance" without visitors, he said, using the popular Italian idiom "È bella ma non balla."

Iaccarino, 57, a boat owner authorised to take tourists inside Capri's famed Blue Grotto, has for 33 years shepherded them past the narrow, low opening, just as his father did.

Sunlight passing through an underwater cavity creates an illuminating reflection so magically blue that the Roman Emperor Tiberius, who had a villa on the island, is said to have used it as his private swimming hole 2,000 years ago.

Fourteen of Italy's 20 regions, including the Campania region where Capri is located off the coast of Naples, have been designated yellow zones with a relatively low COVID risk. Five are classified orange and one red.

"I'm optimistic and I hope we will work because (we won't be able to stand) another year like last year," said Iaccarino.

The European Union has said American visitors, a traditional mainstay for Capri's tourist season, can travel to member countries this summer if they have been vaccinated. Europe is racing to launch a digital health "Green Pass" scheme in June to save the holiday season.

Capri's mayor, Marino Lembo, is hopeful that the worst is over for the island's 14,000 residents.

"We are optimistic, the world has changed and many negative things have happened but, looking to the future, I believe we will come out of this situation slowly, respecting the rules," he said.

(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Richard Chang)

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