April 9 – 12, 2008: I spent three nights on Capri because I thought Naples would be awash in garbage, but I didn’t expect to like it much. Turned out, I was quite wrong on both counts. Certainly, Naples had a garbage problem – the press reports were so far right – but it would not have interfered with a visit, and indeed, when I returned to Naples a month later, I didn’t find it particularly obnoxious. Capri was a bigger surprise. As long as I avoided the tourist crowds, mostly obtrusive in the middle of the day, I found the island well worth the time. Even the cold that attacked me my second day didn’t spoil my visit.
I had arrived in Italy from the US via the UK, landing at Heathrow, taking the National Express coach to Gatwick, and spending a night in a convenient and comfortable B&B. I used my spare afternoon to pay a first visit to Arundel castle, and blame my cold on a windy wait on an exposed railway platform.
Of course, there is more than one Capri. The one I had read most about was the multi-hundred-dollar a night hotel and wall-to-wall expensive shops version of Capri. I had also heard about the package tourist/cruise ship version of Capri – lines of sticky-label-wearing tourists following the umbrella of their tour guide. I found both of those, but my Capri was a quiet place with green and granite cliffs towering over clear blue seas. No doubt it helped that I was there in early April.
It is true that avoiding the crowds, and properly appreciating the island’s beauty, involved some exercise. My first full day I trekked up to the Villa Jovis, one of twelve built on the island by the reclusive Emperor Tiberius (uncle of the Claudius of “I, Claudius” fame). Rumor has it that the emperor would have disobedient servants and unwelcome visitors dropped over the cliff edge, and the villa is certainly perched high above the water. I thought the walk, with its alternating views of cliffs and sea to one side, and modern villas to the other, more interesting than the Roman remains. For those thinking of following in my footsteps, I should mention that someone I met on the way said, “you know you are on the right path when your quads burn”.
The next afternoon I started on a more level path. In deference to my cold I had thought to walk only as far as the Faraglione islets, but eventually climbed 355 steps for a view of the Natural Arch. The arch was perhaps not worth the exercise but I appreciated the islets.
Sleeping on the island allowed me to beat the crowds to two indoor attractions in Anacapri: the Villa San Michele (great views) and the Chiesa San Michele (fabulous – all senses of the word – floor). I also found that taking a bus to Marina Piccolo, Capri’s second, and much smaller, harbor, got me away from the crowds. I ate a peaceful if priceylunch there, with my feet almost in the water.
So, I mostly avoided the tourist crowds – not even thinking of visiting the Blue Grotto no doubt helped – and I totally avoided the high-priced high life. Not being a shopper at the best of time, I wasn’t tempted by the expensive shops, buying only useful things: a SIM card for my new phone and a train ticket for Naples to Siracusa. I did eat well, but not expensively (ravioli in lemon cream and mussels in white wine and garlic at La Pergola being particularly memorable). And I slept in a no-view room at the one star La Tosca which actually cost five euros a night less than the place I had reserved in Naples. Certainly a one star is not luxury, but the plain white walls, tiled floor, and most basic of breakfasts were balanced by comfortable beds, ample hot water, a great view from the terrace and a very helpful owner who made a mean cappucino.