A perfectly Mediterranean holiday
Island style … the Marina Grande, your arrival point on Capri.
You need to get the name right, and this is important. It's not ca-PREE but CAH-pree, accent on the first syllable. Roll the "r" and you're in the fast lane.
And get used to sighing, because that's mostly what you'll do on Capri. This tiny knob of limestone flung into the Mediterranean off the coast of Naples is possibly the most gorgeous small island on the planet. I say possibly because if your taste in islands runs to coconut palms and leis, Capri won't do. But if your idea of island heaven includes green hillsides dotted with white villas, cliffs that rear vertiginously from the sea, knotted lanes lanced with flaming bougainvillea and a history that blends Hollywood, Victorian royalty and ancient Rome, then Capri will do nicely.
Capri is tiny, just six kilometres from end to end and less than three across, yet its seductive powers are obvious from the moment your hydrofoil berths at the Marina Grande and the funicular whisks you up the hill to Capri town. The town is charm itself, a compact arrangement of squares, alleyways, cubist houses and domed churches squeezed onto a narrow balcony with grey cliffs on one side and the sea on the other. The
Roman emperors were some of the first to be seduced. It was one of the earliest, Augustus, who started the craze for Capri, throwing up villas all over the island, and it's been attracting the beau monde ever since.
It was his successor, Tiberius, who really set the tone for Capri, conducting wild orgies and hurling disagreeable acquaintances from Salto di Tiberio, the high point of his astonishing Villa Jovis – Jupiter's Villa – which remains one of the island's stellar sights.
During the 19th century, Capri was associated with famous writers up to no good, divorce and European aristocrats in pursuit of risqué pleasures. Throughout the 20th century, Capri was the very essence of la dolce vita: Jackie Onassis, Grace Kelly, Clark Gable, Greta Garbo and Sophia Loren all paid homage here, and Capri repays the adulation with an annual Art Film Festival every April.
Capri breaks most of the conceptions of what constitutes a Mediterranean island. You can swim at various places around the island, but none of these are really beaches in the Australian sense of the word. You do not go to Capri just to sprawl in the sun. Its chief appeal is aesthetic. Capri exercises a powerful hold over the artistic imagination, and has done since the time of the ancient Greeks.
In the Odyssey, Homer chose Capri as the mythic home of the Sirens, who sang sailors to their deaths, and artists and authors down through the ages have followed Homer's example. One of the favourite subjects for painters is the Faraglioni, three brooding rock pillars that jut a hundred metres from the sea like the spires of a drowned cathedral.
Of the 600-plus books that have been written about Capri, one of the best is The Story of San Michele, a semi-fictional account of one man's love affair with the island written by Axel Munthe, the physician to the Swedish royal family. You can still visit his Villa San Michele, modelled on the ancient Roman model, complete with courtyards, marble paving and atriums, and strung together by a pergola that overlooks the Bay of Naples.
One Caprese experience you will not escape is the Blue Grotto (Grotta Azzurra), a sea cave in which the only light comes from the narrow entrance and reflects off the walls, giving the water and the white sandy bottom an opalescent shine. Floating on the surface, the small rowing boats that are the only craft that can enter the grotto are weirdly lit from below, suspended on the ethereal glow that emanates from the floor of the cave. You can swim here, as the locals have for centuries, but only before 9am and after 5pm, when the tour boats are not around.
For me, the real pleasures of Capri are quieter ones. Long walks in scented sunshine along roads edged with prickly pear, lunches of grilled calamari and afternoons over espresso and limoncello, the tangy aperitif that captures the flavours of lemons and sunshine in a bottle.
That's Capri. Anything but capricious, fickle, changeable. Just drop-dead gorgeous, all the time.
TIPS FOR YOUR TRIP
Hydrofoils depart from Naples' Molo Beverello port and take about 40 minutes. Fast ferries and ferries depart from Calata Porta di Massa and take 50 and 80 minutes respectively.
Where to stay
La Scalinatella (scalinatella.com) is a gorgeous boutique hotel set on a clifftop, a 10-minute stroll from town. The Grand Hotel Quisisana (quisisana.com) has been a byword for good living ever since it opened in 1845, with a guest list that reads like a who's who of pop culture. La Minerva (laminervacapri.com) is a less-glossy accommodation option, but the sea views are nothing less than dazzling, and come at a reasonable price.
What to wear
Movie star sunglasses, straw hats and anything faded with yachting connotations is good. The island gives its name to Capri pants, made popular by Grace Kelly.
What to drink
Limoncello is the classic, made using the macerated peel of lemons grown on the island.
Where is your yacht? Dove è il vostro yacht?
May I telephone you? Posso telefonare?
I'll see you next year, my love. Ci vediamo l'anno prossimo, amore.
Dinner at Il Cucciolo, in a remote spot near the Blue Grotto and famous for its sunset view.
Celeb-spotting over cocktails in La Piazzetta, Capri town.
Gorgeous plates and bowls in the L'Oasi Ceramiche shop in Anacapri.
In the Spirit of Capri by Pamela Fiori.
Go to capri.net.