Ever since I watched the Italian soap-opera „Capri“, I dreamt about visiting the magical place in the Tyrrhenian sea, to walk the stony streets down the hill, passing the cute white houses with gardens full of lemon trees and grandiose villas that hosted many historical personalities and celebrities. I dreamt of drinking Prosecco or Aperol Spritz in my summer dress at the large terrace overlooking the sea and the reefs, of swimming inside the Grotta Azzurra. It was time for my dreams to come true.
On one Saturday morning in mid-April, before the season had started, I sat on a boat from Naples that took me to Marina Grande on Capri. The ferries sail frequently between Naples and Capri, the first one departing at 5:35 a.m. and the last one leaving Capri around 20 p.m. You can choose between faster (50min ride) and slower (1,5h ride) ferries from different companies. The boat ride can be pretty expensive and it cost about 20€ in one direction (slower ferries are usually cheaper!). Here is the schedule of ferries.
Capri is a hilly island with two cities, Capri and Anacapri. I had a feeling that it's similar to a pyramid – first, you get off from the ferry in the port Marina Grande, then you have to climb a little bit to reach Capri and if you continue climbing, you'll be in the second city, Anacapri. There are, of course, minibuses to take you between those places (one ride costs 2€) because walking around Capri can be pretty tiring (trust me :)).
If you come to Capri by a ferry from Naples or Sorrento, your first encounter with the island will be a colorful, loud and busy port, the largest one on the island. Here you'll see fishermen returning from the sea in their little boats carrying today's catch, owners of souvenir shops and restaurants trying to entice guests to their establishments, confused tourist searching for a bus station to Capri, etc. If you're up for a swim, the largest free beach on the island is also located in Marina Grande.
A walk up the hill from the port to Capri will take you approximately 20min and you'll pass many stairs and narrow stone streets with local houses, large gardens and orchards full with fresh lemons or oranges. On my way, I've noticed that the house entrances are decorated with beautiful bright-colored ceramic tiles with different signs on them (a dog, a tree, a rabbit, a mermaid, ...), name of villas or house numbers. It was my first encounter with the island, so I preferred to walk upstairs and soak up the atmosphere. However, you can also take a bus or a funicular for 2€ each.
Capri is a town with probably more tourists than inhabitants. In the 1950s, it became a luxury summer resort for rich people and many celebrities. There you can find elite entertainment, shops with designer clothes or accessories, and expensive restaurants. But, for the ordinary folk like myself, here are some places of interest:
1) Piazzetta or Piazza Umberto I
Piazzetta is a center of Capri, a small square of only a few square meters closed by the City Hall with a big clock and police station. The square is completely covered by coffee tables where both locals and tourists stop to relax with a cup of espresso. It's a place where Vittoria and Umberto are often drinking coffee and resolving their love problems in the „Capri“ It's a place where locals go in the morning on their way to work, where they chat and gossip about their neighbors lively and loudly, in a typically Italian way. In the evening, it's a place where rich tourists, world-famous actors and singers and all of the world's elite come to enjoy a cocktail and to be seen. An average price of espresso in Piazzetta is 5€, while the prices for a cocktail go to 12€.
2) Via Camerelle
When I stood in line waiting for a bus to Anacapri, in front of me, there was a girl wearing Luis Vuitton headscarf, Chanel earrings, and Versace sunglasses. If you're like her and you like to buy designer clothes and accessories, Via Camerelle is a place for you. A long street is full of classy small stores with white pergolas selling Capri Watches, clothes and fashion accessories from Dior, Prada and other Italian designers. Definitely an interesting place to see.
3) The Augustus Gardens and Via Krupp
I experienced my first „wow“ while enjoying the view of the island from Augustus Gardens. Even the road to the gardens was pretty stunning – in front of you, beautiful purple flowers in bloom; on your left side, the 14th-century monastery La Certosa di San Giacomo; on your right side, a cute small stand with freshly squeezed lemon juices and flowery smells coming from Capri's perfumery (you can even try different perfumes from the bottles outside the perfumery!).
The Augustus Gardens were donated to the island of Capri at the beginning of the 20th century by a German manufacturing tycoon called Friedrich Alfred Krupp. To enter, you have to pay a symbolic price of 1€ and it's definitely worth it. You'll see a carefully landscaped garden, different species of flora, a few statues and ceramic bench with scenes from the island's life in typical Capri colors - blue and yellow. But the most important thing is the impressive view of Faraglioni rock formations, bright blue sea with small boats sailing around the island and Via Krupp, a unique winding footpath connecting the Certosa di San Giacomo with Marina Piccola. Via Krupp was built by F.A. Krupp and it's connected with a scandalous story. The footpath leads to the cave Grotta di Fra Felice where at the beginning of the 20th century Krupp supposedly organized homosexual orgies with local inhabitants, an act for which he had to abandon Italy.
4) Marina Piccola
A picturesque small port was used by Ancient Romans as a port, but nowadays is mostly a touristic place where you can observe Capri's nature, the three famous rock formations called Faraglioni or swim and relax on its sunny beaches. Take the bus from Piazzetta in Capri with destination to Marina Piccola for 2€ or you can walk downhill following Via Roma and Via Mulo streets. The port is divided in two by a cliff called The Rock of the Sirens (Lo Scoglio delle Sirene), a place described in Homer's „Odyssey“ as a home of the sirens, who bewitched Odyssey.
5) Natural Arch (Arco Naturale)
A 30min walk from Piazzetta following Via Sopramonte and Via Mantermania will take you to the Natural Arch, an interesting rock formation from Palaeolithic in a form of an arch. I visited the arch at the end of my day just before returning to Naples, but if you have more time, you can also take a walk on allegedly the most beautiful footpath on the island – Via Tragara. During your calming (or not so calming considering the number of tourist groups passing by) walk, you'll pass luxury hotels and villas hidden amongst the pine trees where famous writers such as Pablo Neruda and Rainer Maria Rilke used to stay. At the end of Via Tragara, there is a nice belvedere overlooking the Faraglioni formations. If you continue following Via Pizzolungo, you'll get to the Natural Arch.
6) Villa Jovis
If you think that Capri is nothing but a modern high-class resort, beautiful nature and beaches, you're wrong. There are also some historical sights on the island. In the 1st century AD, Roman emperor Tiberius moved his seat from Ancient Rome to Capri, to rule from the island full of nature, calm and serenity. He built 12 villas on Capri, but the largest one was Villa Jovis (about 7000 m2) in the northeastern part of the island. Villa Jovis was built in 27 AD for the emperor itself and his servants. It's believed that Tiberius also used Villa Jovis for indulgence in sexual pleasures and alcohol. You can visit the ruins of the former villa with imperial and servants' quarters, throne room, gardens, and extensive Roman baths. The entrance costs 6€ (every first Sunday in a month is free!) and it's open every day, except Tuesday, from 10 a.m. until 5/7 p.m. (depending on the season). You can reach Villa Jovis by a 45-min uphill walk from the center of Capri.
There is a bus station near Piazzetta in Capri where you can take a bus to Anacapri, Marina Grande or Marina Piccola (2€ each). Be prepared for long waiting lines since the buses are small with a capacity of 20-30 people and there is a lot of tourists and local people needing a ride.
I waited for a bus to Anacapri less than 30 minutes and when I arrived there, I had my second „wow“ experience. I always thought that on the island, there is only a trendy city called Capri, saving all the glory and all the beauty for itself. There is indeed a popular, fashionable Capri, but, in my opinion, the real pearl of the island is Anacapri. Anacapri is less visited by tourists and more inhabited by locals. In Anacapri, you can find peace and tranquility in the enchanting nature. The difference between the two cities is that while in Capri there is nothing in the city center, except for Piazzetta, and all of the places of interest are at least 15min walk from the center, Anacapri has a small historical center with narrow streets, white facades, picturesque squares, and 2 churches.
1) Historical center
The bus will leave you in Piazza Vittoria, noisy and crowded square with few souvenir shops and cafés. Right in front of you, there'll be a map of the historical center. Just follow it and walk through the stony streets with calming white facades and green trees, amongst charming cafés and restaurants and small shops that sell typical caprese products (Limoncello liquor, ceramics, textiles, etc.).
While strolling the main street Via Giuseppe Orlandi, the first thing that'll catch your attention is the Red House. It's the bizarre 19th-century house of an American general John MacKowen, an author of the first modern guidebook to Capri. Why it's so strange? MacKowen decorated it with the elements from different cultures and historical periods – from Greek inscriptions above the entrance, Moorish windows to Egyptian remains, Roman brick tiles, parts of mosaic floors and ancient sculptures in the courtyard. Today the Red House is turned into a museum with paintings of Capri's daily life, different sculptures and objects from ancient times (including 4 Roman nymph statues found in the Blue Grotto). The entrance fee is 3,50€.
There are two churches in the historical center of Anacapri – the 18th-century St. Michael Church with a remarkable mosaic floor and paintings from famous Neapolitan masters of the 18th century, and the older 16th-century St. Sofia Church in the picturesque square Piazza Diaz. Pizza Diaz is covered with colorful mosaic benches from ceramicist Sergio Rubino. The beautiful benches tell the story of Anacapri and its traditions: old games, festivals, lemon trees, and everyday's life.
If you turn into the street Via Trieste e Trento, you'll see rustic cupolas of the St. Sofia Church, an interesting sight in contrast with the more modern church's front facade. Via Trieste e Trento has a nice and relaxing atmosphere, far from the crowds. Here I had my lunch (19€ for grilled calamari, but in Capri, the prices are even higher) in the restaurant Il Saraceno with a large terrace just under the church's cupolas. I also drank Aperol Spritz in my summer dress soaking up the sun that finally appeared.
2) Villa San Michele di Axel Munthe
On the left side of Piazza Vittoria, a short walk beneath the trees away is Villa San Michele. The Swedish doctor and writer Axel Munthe bought land in Anacapri to make a vineyard. Working in a vineyard, he discovered the ruins of an old Roman villa. He decided to build his own villa on top of the old one and decorate it with Roman sculptures and objects that he found on his land. Today the villa is open for public and, besides its archeological collection, has one of the most beautiful gardens in Europe with a stunning view of the island. The entrance fee is 8€. Behind the villa, there is a footpath containing 800 steps that will take you to Capri and Marina Grande.
3) Seggiovia del Monte Solaro
The highest point of Capri is on top of the Monte Solaro mountain (589 m). You can reach it by a chairlift Seggiovia del Monte Solaro and enjoy the magical view of Neapolitan bay, Amalfi Coast and the nearby islands Ischia and Procida. The return ticket is 12€.
The Blue Grotto (Grotta Azzurra)
The most popular tourist attraction on Capri is Grotta Azzurra or The Blue Grotto. The name of the grotto comes from the phenomenon of sunlight reflection. The sunlight passes through an underwater hole and in that way creates a blue reflection of seawater that illuminates the cave. The view can be pretty amazing and, in some way, romantic. In the Grotta Azzurra are filmed many love scenes from „Capri“ series.
There are many ways to reach the grotto – by boat, by bus or on foot. You can buy a tour around the whole island in a small rowboat (18€; lasts about 2h) or a direct rowboat ride to Grotta Azzurra (16€). The boats depart from Marina Grande. There is also a regular bus line from Anacapri (2€) or you can walk from Anacapri downhill passing people's houses with large gardens and pine trees. In any case, you have to buy the ticket to enter the grotto separately (14€). I chose the most difficult way, by foot, to enjoy the Mediterranean scenery. I was the only one on the road. It took me about 50 minutes only to find out that the grotto is closed. This can happen very often because the tide is too high and the rowboats cannot enter the grotto. But supposedly you can check if the grotto is open for public in the tourist offices in Capri or Anacapri (since I didn't see any, I suppose they'll give you the information at the bus station).
When I finally reached the Grotta Azzurra, there was only a small souvenir shop/café on the rock near the entrance to the grotto. The owners told us that the boats don't go inside because the tide is too high, but they encouraged us to swim inside. According to all guide books, this is forbidden, even though many people illegally sneak inside after 5:30 p.m., when the grotto closes for the public. I decided to relax and have a coffee (3€ for a cappuccino), together with a German family who had the courage and went for a swim. I wanted to join them, but the temperature (16°C in the air) and giant jellyfishes swimming next to the entrance, convinced me to change my mind.
When you decide to visit Grotta Azzurra and you're lucky enough that the tide is not so high, there are few things that you have to know. I would recommend you to take a bus from Anacapri because you don't have to take an expensive boat ride (on which the tourists maybe find out that they cannot enter the grotto only when they approach it – I saw some disappointed faces on the boats passing by) and the road by foot can be tiring, even if it's downhill. You have to have in mind the long waiting lines to enter the cave, especially during the peak season. The best time to visit Grotta Azzurra is between noon and 2 p.m. when you'll see the best glowing effect of the water. When you do enter the grotto, you'll enjoy the dreamy and magical experience inside the cave with your guide singing the traditional Neapolitan songs. 🙂 The whole experience, unfortunately, lasts only 5 minutes.
Bye, bye, Capri, I'll definitely come again in the summer!