Island of Capri
Lying a few kilometers off the tip of the Sorrentine Peninsula, Island of Capri is a rugged, mountainous island jutting dramatically from the sea. This chic playground for millionaires was the haunt of eccentrics and intellectuals in its past, and in spite of the daily tourist invasion, it continues to beguile with its spectacular scenery, impossibly azure sea and air of glamour. The network of footpaths covering the island is a delight. Up the steep slope (most people take the funicular railway) is Capri Town, the heart of the island. With its narrow streets hiding shops, a wide variety of restaurants and clubs, and some of the islands most exclusive hotels, this is Capri’s most picturesque destination. Social life radiates from the famous Piazzetta (Piazza Umberto I), a favorite spot for seeing and being seen. The best view is from Monte Solaro; take the chairlift up and walk down. Culture vultures can visit Villa Jovis, the remains of Emperor Tiberio’s pleasure palace, Axel Munthe’s Villa San Michele, and the charming church of San Michele in Anacapri, with its beautiful tiled floor.
Tourists usually pass through Marina Grande, the largest harbor on the island, on their way from the ferry to town and pay little attention to the unassuming hamlet. It’s worth taking time, however, to pop into the island’s oldest church, San Costanzo. Dating back to the 5th century, it was enlarged in the 14th century, when its orientation was turned 90 degrees so that the original apse can still be discerned in the right nave. A bit farther to the west are the ruins of the Palazzo a Mare, one of several ancient Roman palaces scattered around the island.
From Capri town, you can also walk (or take a bus or taxi) to the small harbor of Marina Piccola on the southern shore. This is especially popular for its vantage point, from which you can admire the famous Faraglioni, three rock stacks that jut out of the sea a short distance from the coast, one of the most iconic of Capri’s many famous views. The outermost rock is home to a particular type of bright blue lizard that is found nowhere else on the planet.
Linked to Capri town through the famous Scala Fenicia, is the village of Anacapri, perched on the higher part of the island among hills and vineyards. The Church of San Michele is worth a visit for its beautiful 18th-century majolica floor which illustrates Adam and Eve’s expulsion from the Garden of Eden accompanied by a veritable Noah’s Ark of bizarre animals. A short distance from the town to the east is Villa San Michele, the home of Swedish doctor and writer Axel Munthe who built this house in the 19th century on the ruins of one of Tiberius’s villas.
Northwest of Anacapri is the island’s most celebrated attraction, the Grotta Azzurra (Blue Grotto). The magical colors of the water and walls of this huge grotto are indeed extraordinary, and writers have rhapsodized about it at length since its so-called discovery by foreign tourists in the 19th century. In fact, the grotto has been charted since antiquity: On its southwestern corner, the Galleria dei Pilastri displays the remains of a small, ancient Roman dock. The grotto is part of what appears to be a vast system of caverns that is only partially explored.
Capri is not strong on beaches. Its coastline is made up of soaring cliffs, rocky coves, and the odd small stretch of sand, all surrounded by the bluest, clearest water imaginable. The sea is tantalisingly close, but often difficult to reach, and most of the accessible beaches are run by paying beach clubs. The local cuisine, featuring fresh fish and seafood, rabbit, and seasonal vegetables, doesn’t disappoint, and one of the most universally known of all Italian dishes, the ubiquitous insalata caprese (mozzarella and tomato salad) comes from here. Other specialities are ravioli capresi (stuffed with local cheese and marjoram) and the rich torta caprese, a chocolate and almond torte.
Capri is heaven for fashionistas with all the big-name designers represented along Via Vittorio Emanuele and Via Camerelle. Good gifts include soft cashmere garments made on the island and local Carthusia perfumes. Anacapri is less glitzy, and here you will find artisan shoemakers and some interesting gift shops and independent boutiques.
Sweet summer nights are lively in Capri, and the nights are long. The island of VIPs will not let you down, so prepare yourself for a trendy scene, with beautiful people dressing up and convening at the famous Piazzetta at nightfall. Fashionistas, take note: To compete with the local beauties, you’ll have to learn how to walk on the steep cobblestone streets of Capri in your stilettos! Nightlife here centers on the see-and-be-seen at the elegant and trendy bars and restaurants.