The glamorous Italian island of Capri, around an hour’s ferry ride from either Naples or Sorrento, is stunningly beautiful … but also infamously expensive. The island is blessed with breath-taking scenery and remarkable natural phenomena like the Grotta Azzurra where the water inside the otherwise pitch black cave glows a magical bright blue. Yet, most tourists sadly fail to discover any of this as most only visit the island as part of a day trip which rarely gives one time to go beyond the overcrowded Marina Grande (harbour) and the stylish boutiques of Capri Town. The harbour and town do have their charms and glamour, and are certainly worth exploring, so if this is what you want to experience on the island then there’s no shame in that. But to truly see what this beautiful and relatively unspoilt island really has to offer I would recommend staying on Capri for a night or three. Most of the beauty spots can only be reached by foot (but well worth the leisurely hike) and are day trips on their own, so the idea of getting back to a comfortable island hotel after a day’s exploration rather than worrying about getting a ferry back to the mainland, is probably a more appealing prospect.
Staying on the island though will not come cheap. Even a low star rated Caprian hotel (of which there are hardly any) is expensive compared to similar dwellings in mainland Naples and Sorrento. During my trip to the island late last September (2012), I stayed in a lovely family-run 4 star hotel just outside Capri Town. Even though it was low season, I paid a whopping €130 a night (approx £100/$150) for a spotlessly clean but extremely small single room which had a view overlooking next door’s brick foundations. Taking my breakfast on the hotel’s roof terrace every morning however, made up for it.
The cost bought me time to discover the island, and although I only managed to see half the sights I wanted to, on reflection what I did get to see was well worth the unhealthy dent in my bank account.
Most of Capri, particularly around the main town are pedestrianised and routes to the beauty spots are mainly along narrow lanes that even a rented scooter would have trouble passing along. But all these routes are very well maintained, designed with pedestrians in mind, and are clearly signposted with the most dainty looking signs I’ve ever come across.
One popular route from the town leads to a delightful hilly walk along the south-eastern cliff edges of the island, where one can marvel at the beauty of the Arco Naturale and Isola Faraglioni. The stamina required for this walk depends on which natural beauty one aims to reach first (the route is circular). Follow the signs for the Arco Naturale along Via le Bottegh out of Capri Town and go clockwise (or east to west), rather than anti-clockwise via Isola Faraglioni which I unwittingly did and spent a large amount of time panting up steps and steep pathways. At a quick pace the whole 1.2km route can be completed in over an hour. I spent half the day completing it as every few hundred metres along the path offered another moment to stop and sigh at how beautiful the scenery was. There are some bars and eateries along the route, but they can be expensive, so take plenty of water with you at the very least.
Along the way is the Grotta di Matermania, a huge cave once used by Roman settlers as a shrine to Ancient Rome’s equivalent to Mother Nature: the Mater Magna.
Capri boasts of twelve Roman villas, and on a separate route out of the town, the Villa Jovis is apparently the largest and most decadent on the island. I say ‘apparently’ because I didn’t actually get to see it, not for want of trying. My guidebook stated that the villa closes to the public about an hour before sunset, so one evening I took the leisurely 2km walk east of Capri Town along Via Tiberio, to discover only when I got to the entrance that the villa had closed at the ridiculous time of 3pm! A good four hours before the sun was ready for bed. So be warned: depending on the time of year a lot of entrance-fee paying sights on the island close for the day in the late afternoon. To avoid disappointment (or in my case, a tantrum) get them in as early in the day as you can.
Heavenly creatures and a helluva way to get up a mountain from the island’s charming town of Anacapri
…. and taking a boat trip to the light fantastic: the magical Grotto Azzurra