When Holly Star visited the isle of Capri for the first time in May 2013 it was supposed to be a fleeting visit to a place she now admits she knew very little about.
“I remember thinking ‘where am I?’” Holly says. “Everyone was drinking aperitivo in designer outfits. It was so glamorous. I walked through town wearing a tracksuit, I definitely wasn't prepared!”
The 36-year-old Australian lawyer had taken a break from her demanding business in Melbourne and was travelling through Italy alone when Gianluca D'Esposito waited on her at his restaurant Michel’angelo.
“I kept asking for the bill and he kept saying ‘just a moment’ while he served me more wine and limoncello!” she says.
Holly never expected she would fall in love while dining alone on the stunning tourist island in the Bay of Naples that is well-known for luring the world’s rich and famous.
Photo: Holly Star
Like a scene out of the popular book, ‘Eat, Pray, Love’, Holly met restaurauteur D’Esposito, who was born and raised in Capri, while he was serving her dinner.
“When I met Gianluca I never imagined living anywhere else. I packed up my house, I changed my whole life,” Holly says.
A year later Holly followed her heart and the couple married.
“When she entered the restaurant, I was immediately struck by her smile and she was very relaxed,” recalls Gianluca. “I had never fallen for someone like that before. It was love at first sight.”
Together the couple now run the family restaurant, Michel'angelo, which is a short stroll from the island’s chic piazza that is the place to be seen for Hollywood stars and VIPs including Rihanna, Beyonce, Reese Witherspoon and Leonardo Di Caprio.
Nearby streets are filled with shoppers clamoring for big name designer labels like Giorgio Armani and Dolce & Gabbana who have also been seen partying on the island.
Holly has barely had time to learn Italian and Gianluca speaks a smattering of English but their romance is flourishing and their business is thriving. The couple also have a toddler, Valentino, and another baby due in July.
“We lived in two different countries, but if there’s love you can overcome everything,” says Gianluca.
The family restaurant has a diverse menu featuring home-made pasta and fresh local seafood. Since Holly arrived the couple have also added cooking classes and have recently begun offering tourists upscale picnic hampers that can be ordered online.
Photo: Holly Star
Those hampers come with maps, showing visitors the best walking trails and where to stop for a picnic while marveling at Capri's stunning views. All the while escaping the hustle and bustle.
“Capri is filled with the most unique natural beauty,” says Holly.
“Some people want to relax, some come here for exclusivity. The piazza is spectacular. You can come here for history, art, fashion or the rich and famous. You have many different worlds in a small place so you don’t get bored.”
But having moved from a city on the other side of the world to a small island, what are the challenges?
“No cars…although that for me is a good thing, there are times when you need a car,” Holly says.
“The pace of life is very different; it's very seasonal, and the way people work is very different. Business is conducted very informally, over coffee or a quick chat in the piazza. It is not like Australia where I had one appointment after the other.”
And then there's the language barrier.
“The thing that holds me back is that I don’t speak much Italian. So many things have happened so quickly I haven't had much time to focus on it. If someone talks to me I have to say ‘piano, piano’.
“That’s been a barrier to getting to the next level of friendship. But smiling is an international language.”
Holly has also discovered a group of foreign women – Canadian, American, Dutch, German – who have also come under the island’s romantic spell, fallen for local men and moved to Capri.
With a son, who his looked after by his grandmother while the couple work, and another child on the way, Holly says the island is “the perfect place to raise children”.
“It's safe, healthy…Valentino has so many beautiful cousins. There's lots of family around, so there's always someone looking out.”
Holly has kept her Australian law business going while living in Capri, and returns home once a year.
“I like to keep connected with Australia…I have my foot in both camps.”
The couple is open to the prospect of living in Australia one day, while Gianluca dreams of bringing his Caprese cuisine there too.
But for now, Capri, with all its beauty and romance, is well and truly home.
By Josephine McKenna and Angela Giuffrida
For more information about all the Michel'angelo has to offer, click here.
Getting to Capri: Head to Naples, and take a ferry from either Calata Porta di Massa or Mollo Beverello ports. For more information, click here.
Where to stay: We stayed in Hotel Canasta, which is set within an elegant villa, has a swimming pool, and is a short walk from both the Michel'angelo and main square. A restaurant, using produce grown in the adjacent allotment, is due to open in April.