Paradise Isle

As I stepped onto the ferry for Capri, I was relieved to leave the busy and frantic city of Naples behind me. It was early in the morning, but the sun was already reflecting strongly off the Capodimonte Palace standing way up in the Neapolitan sky and it was moving slowly down Vomero Hill to illuminate the shadowy crevices of the medieval streets of Old Naples.

The human and vehicular traffic in the city is exhausting, but the trip across the breathtaking bay of Naples provides time to chill out and acclimatize to the easy-going pace of island life. If your boat leaves for Capri from the elegant Sorrento about an hour south of Naples, then you will already be half way there.

The now dormant and silent Vesuvius dominates the skyline as the urban smog was left in the wake of the boat and the azure sky and sea seemed to melt into one another.

The Capresan dot on the horizon expanded until I had to squint into the sun to view the silhouetted craggy limestone lump of island mountain that was my destination. Legend has it Capri is the remains of one of the Homer’s sirens. The temptress goddesses of the sea, with their voice like honey, died when her attempts to lure Odysseus to his death ended in vain. The story goes that the sirens turned to stone and ended up as the group of islands, of which Capri is the most famous, in the gulf of Naples.

As you arrive at the bustling island port at Marina Grande, you may be surprised by the number of people about, but Capri has become such a popular tourist destination and many ferries shuttle people from the mainland to view the island in a day.

These daytrippers will be gone when the last ferry heads back to the mainland and the island is much quieter. If you are lucky enough to stay on the island, you may even have some of it to yourself, but in the summer season you will have to share the tranquil beauty of the place with many others but that can be pleasant.

To get into the town, which is high above the Marina Grande, you can catch one of the quaint old taxis or even better you can queue for the funicular which passes up vertically to give you impressive views of the olive groves and private homes of the inhabitants of the islands.

Sitting at a café in the Piazzeta of Capri town you are unlikely to rub shoulders with the rich and famous too often anymore. Although when you are out for your evening meal or having a drink in one of the bars, you could be lucky and catch a glimpse of one of the Westlife boys out for a pint after a tough day in the recording studio with Mariah Carey.

Yes it was here they recorded that Phil Collins song “Against all the odds” with that diva who some people might consider to be a modern day siren (at least vocally so). Those boys have it tough.

The Roman emperors Augustus and Tiberius, among the most famous early immigrants onto the island, are long gone. Tiberius so liked the place (not a big surprise) he decided to rule the Roman Empire from here. He built twelve villas here and dedicated them to the twelve Gods of Olympus. You can leave the town behind to view the ruins of the most impressive and only remaining of these, Villa Jovis, at Monte Tiberio, which is one of the highest points on the island.

It is a long steep climb to the summit and if you do it in the middle of the day it is important to wear walking shoes, take ample water and to shade your crown with a good hat. On a clear day the view from the can be stupendous.

Other famous and more recent Capresan blowins included Alexander Dumas (the musqueteer novelist bloke), our own sad exiled Oscar Wilde, Gracie Fields, and even Lenin was here as director of a school of revolution set up by Maxim Gorki in the early 1900s. Capri is the perfect place for planning a revolution, as I could not think of a more pleasant place to sit under the shade of a tree and plan one, or perhaps just have a snooze.

There are many small coves and secluded beaches along the coastline of Capri and many are still kept secret by the locals. The most famous of these is the Marina Piccola where Gracie Fields had her her “Canzone del Mare”(“Song of the Sea”) bathing establishment .

In the 1930’s, the famous English singer Grace Fields chose it as her residence. After the war, she transformed it into the, an internationally known gathering place of the 1950’s and 60’s. including the very rare lizard of the Faraglioni rocks. In the first half of the last century when

The Blue Grotto (Grotta azzura in the local lingo) is probably the most famous attraction in Capri. The discovery of the grotto by a German poet in the nineteenth century was the impetus for the tourism boom we see today and it has made many people on the island rich.

Before this the grotto was avoided by locals, as they used to think it was inhabited by witches and monsters. It is a magical water cavern with a small narrow opening that opens behind it to a larger space. There is only room for a small rowing boat to pass through the opening and you need to lie down in the boat so you don’t bang your head. Around noon on a sunny day the water in the cavern sparkles a magical blue and silver, especially when a silhouetted boatman drags his oars through it.

There are two ways to get to the grotto. You can take the road route via Anacapri by catching a taxi or local bus. The second way is to go via speedboat on one of the organized tours from Capri’s Marina Grande. Either way you will have to transfer to a small rowing boat at the entrance to the cave.

The most quirky thing to see on the island is the small San Michele church in Anacapri. Its full name is the church of St. Michael the Archangel. He was the one that fell from the heavens, so I don’t imagine there are many churches dedicated to him.

The major attraction is the floor of the church, which is decorated with elaborate tiling and an incredible depiction the earthly paradise Eden. The detail in the animals is extraordinary and ones to look out for are the unicorn and the crocodile with ears, where methinks the artist overdid his creative license.


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