The following article by Silvia Marchetti first appeared in GlobalPost.
ROME, Italy — Ischia and Capri, two tiny islands in the Gulf of Naples, are fighting over big money. That is, Russian money.
Ischia, a thermal baths and spa destination, complains that its Russian clients prefer shopping on the neighboring isle because it has a wider choice of luxury boutiques. On both islands, nearly all hotels and restaurants have menus written in Cyrillic and employ waiters whose mother tongue is Russian, while shops display price-tags in both euros and dollars.
It’s indeed worth the trouble. Luring tourists from Russia is a lucrative pursuit in Italy. Many of the most breathtaking and expensive locations have been virtually colonized by them.
They’re the former Soviet Union’s new nobility — billionaire businessmen, bankers and investors who travel across the peninsula in limousines, yachts and helicopters (for 2,000 euros an hour), picking the most romantic scenery for the purchase of dreamlike castles and sea manors.
Thanks to their cash (dollars, no credit cards), commercial ties between Italians and Russians are flourishing more than ever, helped along by the “special friendship” between Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Putin’s daughters are frequent guests of the Italian media tycoon-turned-politician.)