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Capri

Island of Capri - Faraglioni
Island of Capri – Faraglioni

Capri

There’s no denying that Capri is expensive. The rich and famous have holidayed here for over a century, and the small island has become very upmarket. But it’s worth it. Capri is one of the favourite destinations of international tourism.

From Jack Lemmon to Sophia Loren, from Clarke Gable to Jackie Onassis, from Tom Cruise to Naomi Campbell, the jet set has always elected it as its favourite resort.

Capri is tiny, 4 square rocky miles spread under the sun, in the middle of the sea, on the southern tip of the Bay of Naples, in the Mediterranean.

Why Capri? Because of its undeniable beauty. It’s a quiet place where lemon trees grow in streets; where cars are as useless as umbrellas, and just as rare; where perspectives and views change every few yards and the sea is the deepest blue; where a still white mist redesigns the horizon every few moments and the air is filled with the scent of jasmine, citrus and pine.

The fact that the island is so small means that wherever you’re staying there is always a beach or a beach club less than half an hour’s walk from you, at the bottom of one of the tens of steep lanes that cross Capri.

Bay of Naples area map with Capri at its southern tip
Bay of Naples area map
with Capri at its southern tip

Island of Capri

It’s an island near the southern entrance to the Bay of Naples, Napoli province, Campania region, southern Italy; it lies opposite the Sorrento peninsula, to which it was joined in prehistoric times. The island is a single block of limestone 3.9 mi (6.25 km) long, with a maximum width of 1.8 miles and an area of 4 sq miles (10 sq km), rising to 1,932 ft (589 m) at Monte Solaro in the west.

Two indentations in its precipitous cliff-lined coast serve as landing places: the Marina Grande on the north shore, protected by a breakwater, and the open Marina Piccola on the south, used when the north wind is particularly strong.

The island has a population of less than 10,000 people.

Its name in Italian is Isola di Capri (pronounced with a stress on the first syllable, not the second), its Latin name is Capreae.

Since the second half of the 19th century, Capri has gradually become one of the most popular resorts in southern Italy, famous for its magnificent scenery and the mild climate in which vegetation flourishes. The flora is among the most varied in Italy, and large numbers of migratory birds rest there for days. There are fine bathing beaches and numerous hotels and villas, and Capri is connected with Naples and Sorrento by frequent steamer and hydrofoil services.

The island has two towns: Capri and Anacapri.

The Blue Grotto

The rocky shores of the island of Capri abound with caves. The most notable of these is the Blue Grotto (Grotta Azzurra) which is located on the estreme north-western tip of the island, was rediscovered in 1826 and is accessible only by boat. Sunlight entering through the water that fills most of the entrance gives it an extraordinary blue light, whence its name.

Island of Capri map
Island of Capri map

Capri Town Attractions

The centre of activity and the soul of the town of Capri is Piazza Umberto I, which everyone calls La Piazzetta, meaning “the little square”, usually fully packed with people milling around. But the charm of the place remains despite the daily sea-borne invasion.

It doesn’t take long to find peace and quiet on the island. Walk out of the town, up steep narrow alleys, shaded by trees and flowering shrubs, and blessedly free from motorised vehicles, to the ruined Villa Iovis which the Roman emperor Tiberius built as his retreat on the edge of a precipitous cliff, from which those who offended him were hurled to their deaths.

Graham Greene lived in Anacapri in a villa which is still there, and used to make this walk.

In Capri town is the oldest church on the Island of Capri, Chiesa di San Costanzo, the island’s patron saint. Some historians think that it originated as early as in the 5th century.

The Faraglioni Beach, renowned for its beauty, is a 20 minutes’ walk from Capri town, on the south coast of the island.

Where to shop

In Via Camerelle, Capri’s most exclusive and fashionable shopping street.

Nightlife

It revolves around the Piazzetta, in the shadow of the Cathedral of Santo Stefano. After the day-trippers’ boats have all gone and the island is returned to locals and visitors, about 10pm the long Capri night starts. The discos open around midnight.

There are also clubs where they sing traditional Neapolitan music. And remember, pizzas in the whole area of Naples are the best: this is where pizza was invented, and Italians acknowledge the region as the best for pizzas.

The Roman emperors connection

Inhabited in prehistoric times, the island later became a Greek colony and then a resort (Capreae) of emperors in the early years of the Roman Empire.

The relaxing environment and incomparable beauty of Capri have always been the two key factors in the island’s great success as a holiday venue.

It’s not surprising that Capri was the favourite holiday destination of emperor Augustus, who resided there.

For 11 years his successor Tiberius reigned over the vast Roman Empire from his home in Capri, where he built several villas in the most panoramic areas of the island.

One of these, Villa Iovis, on the island’s northeastern tip overlooking Naples, has been excavated.

Another is in the splendid locality of Damecuta: sea, rocks and lush vegetation; on one side a view of the Bay of Naples, visible as far as the peninsula of Sorrento, and on the other the endless blue of the sea.

More history

During the 10th century the population, fearing pirate raids, moved from seaside settlements to the present towns, Capri (east) and Anacapri (west), high above the shore. Until a carriage road was built in the 19th century between Capri and Anacapri, the latter could only be reached from the sea by a flight of 800 steps called the Scala Fenicia (Phoenician Stairs).

In the Middle Ages Capri belonged to the Abbey of Montecassino and to the republic of Amalfi before passing to the Kingdom of Naples. It changed hands between the French and the British several times during the Napoleonic Wars, before being returned to the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies in 1813.

Capri Travel Practicalities

Capri is connected with Naples and Sorrento by frequent ferry and hydrofoil services.

It takes 20 minutes to get from Sorrento to the small harbour of Marina Grande in Capri by hydrofoil. Capri town centre can be reached from the harbour by taxi, cable car or bus, all of which get to the famous piazzetta, the main square.

From Capri you can go for trips to the surroundings: Pompeii, Amalfi, Positano. Or you can rent a boat for a relaxing day on the island’s crystal waters.

When in Capri, you can take the funicular railway (that of the famous Neapolitan song «Funiculi’ Funicula’», fondly played even by the British Royal Guards Band) for a short trip of the island.

Anacapri, view from Villa San Michele
Anacapri, view from Villa San Michele

Capri or Anacapri?

The island has 2 towns: Capri and Anacapri.

Where is it best to stay?

Each of them has it own advantages and disadvantages.

Capri is the main urban centre, with most of the hotels and restaurants on the hill above when you arrive at the port of Marina Grande. Anacapri is in the western part of the isle of Capri.

Anacapri is definitely cheaper than its very upmarket neighbour, but it’s also very beautiful.

Anacapri is the larger place. Capri town has less space, whereas Anacapri’s hotels are more geared for conventional holidays, making them more suitable to families. The advantage of being in Capri town is, obviously, that it’s where most action is. True, the two towns are connected by frequent bus services and taxis. Bus rides are cheap, and take about 15 minutes.

Anacapri rises on a plateau on the side of Monte Solaro, the island’s highest mountain (589 m) and best vantage point from where the eye sweeps over a vast panoramic view from the Gulf of Naples to the Gulf of Salerno. You can take the chairlift from Anacapri to the Mount Solaro’s peak. The town owes its name to its high position (the Greek prefix ‘ana’ means ‘above’), and is of rare beauty and charm: lovely small white houses, surrounded by lush green olive and vine groves, full of flowers and Mediterranean vegetation.

Near Anacapri are several of the island’s attractions, one of which is the beautiful Villa San Michele, built by the Swedish writer, doctor and lover of Italy Axel Munthe to fulfil his Mediterranean dream, with the Axel Munthe Museum.

Of great interest is the long and steep Phoenician Staircase made of stone, which connects the port of Marina Grande with the town of Anacapri. It was built by Greek colonists in the 6th-7th centuries BC, when the whole of Southern Italy was the Greek colony of Magna Graecia. Scholars don’t believe in the Phoenician origin of the staircase, which consists of 921 steps, for a total length of 1.7 km.

In Anacapri are the massive ruins of a medieval castle probably from the 9th century, the Castello di Barbarossa, located 412 meters above sea level on a large expanse of 250 square metres which opens onto a side of Mount Solaro. It is named after the Ottoman pirate Khayr al-Din, nicknamed Barbarossa, who captured it in 1535.

Graham Greene, the great novelist, lived in Anacapri in a villa which is still there.

Anacapri is closer to the Blue Grotto, which is in the fact in the district of Anacapri, not Capri town.

Anacapri public transport is good. There’s a bus from Anacapri getting to the Grotta Azzurra or il Faro in 10 minutes, but strolling through the town’s narrow streets it’s easy to get to the Blue Grotto and to the many other beaches of Anacapri, which, since they face west, will let you enjoy the sun until sunset. In a few minutes you can reach the Heliport, to get to Naples airport in 10 minutes.

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Italian Mini Dictionary

Napoli = Naples

Golfo di Napoli = Bay of Naples

Aliscafo = Hydrofoil

Porto = Harbour or port

Funicolare = Funicular railway

Spiaggia = Beach

Negozio = Shop

Discoteca = Disco

Motoscafo = Motorboat

Traghetto [pron. with the g as in ‘get’] = Ferry

Piscina [pron. pishina] = Swimming pool