To visit the island of Capri – just a one-hour ferry journey from Naples – is to step into one of the most beautiful places on earth; a world of legendary and timeless romance. Its crystal azure waters, rugged landscape, fabled and hedonistic beauty, have charmed and beguiled everyone who has set foot here, from Roman emperors to Hollywood icons.
The mesmerising luminescence of the Blue Grotto and the awe inspiring Faraglioni Rocks, give way to trendy, ritzy cafés and exclusive designer boutiques that seek to part the 20,000 visitors a day from the hard earned contents of their wallets. Yet beyond the over-indulgent tourism and the skyrocketing prices that inevitably follow, is the real Capri, a place of unspoiled romantic charm, of grand villas with their sun-bleached and fading facades, of deep blue water that laps rhythmically against mystical grottoes, and of the scent of lemons that weaves its way through the air and permeates your soul.
Capri’s single most famous attraction bar none is the Grotta Azzura, a dazzlingly beautiful sea cave lit by a light that appears to come from some other world. The Emperor Tiberius built a quay into the cave in around 30AD, complete with a nymphaeum – a shrine to water nymphs, such as that which was discovered at Baiae. Here, at the Grotta Azzura, you can still see the remains of the Roman landing stage at the rear of the cave.
The secret to the Grotta Azzura’s unearthly blue light lies in the fact that the cave sank by 20 meters during the Paleolithic period, thus blocking every entrance save for the 1.3 meter high entrance used today. Sunlight enters through a small subaquatic aperture, refracted through the water and this, combined with the white sandy seafloor acting as one giant reflector, produces the vivid blue light to which the grotto owes its name. I for one was somewhat disappointed to learn this. I still prefer to think that the light is borne from some other world, rather than the prosaic realm of physics.
A rowing boat into the grotto plus admission is around €13 (this is paid separately to the return boat tour which can be booked at Marina Grande). I was lucky, however, in that I have a very dear friend living in Capri, who offered to take me to the grotto on her own boat. A word of caution here: the price of the rowing boat and grotto admission also covers the singing captains, so do not feel pressured if pushed for a tip.
From the Grotta Azzura, I took a trip to Marina Piccola beach, to indulge my love of snorkeling. It was here that Odysseus almost succumbed to the Sirens’ song, and, diving into the crystal clear waters, I couldn’t help but think how fitting a legend this was. For here, it would take a will of iron not to succumb to the overwhelming beauty which lies beneath the waves.
After a long, but memorable day, I had chosen to rest my weary head at the hotel La Minerva. What I have to say next, I do not say lightly. Every aspect of my stay was exceptional! The hotel is conveniently located close to myriad of restaurants, eateries, and, dare I say it … gelaterias! The staff at La Minerva are professional, courteous and attend to your every whim with a smile and an air that your desires are no trouble at all. I shall go further, and say that I was made to feel rather a member of the family than a hotel guest. I shall single out Kamal for an extra special mention, for I was told by many other hotel guests that he quite often awoke early in order to ensure that guests who were heading out on tours before breakfast was usually served, had something to eat before they left. What makes La Minerva so far above the other hotels, however, are the views. There are no bad room options. Each one has stunning views and there is nothing quite like ending your day on your private terrace, soaking up the last rays of sunshine with a glass of chilled prosecco. Pure heaven!
The following day, after a most enjoyable breakfast on the terrace, watching the sun spread her warm fingers of light over the Mediterranean, I headed off for the Certosa di San Giacomo Monastery. Built in 1371 by Giacomo Arcucci, the Charterhouse of San Giacomo is the oldest historic building on the island. The entrance to the Charterhouse lies at the end of an avenue, nearby to a fortified tower. There are two main cloisters – the Chiostro Grande and the Chiostro Piccolo.
Here, the Chiostro Grande follows a late Renaissance style, with cross vaults on stone columns, with a geometrical design of green spaces at its centre. The Chiostro Piccolo meanwhile, has delicate cross vaults on Roman marble columns. There truly is no better place to relax and escape the heat of the day. Entrance costs €4 with an extra €3 to access the Augustus gardens. Trust me, you will never spend a better €7 in your life!
If you haven’t yet visited Capri, at the risk of spouting forth an oft used cliché, you really have to come! This is a place which should be on everyone’s Bucket List. My advice would be to come and stay for a couple of days, or at the very least overnight. You can then be sure to get up early, to see the sights before they are thronged with day trippers.
Capri is a place of timeless romance. If you happen to come here as a couple, you can rest assured that not only will you fall in love with the island, you will fall in love with each other all over again. If, like me, you come here as a singleton, you can still ensure that you will fall in love … with life!
© Rona Lee Cunliffe, 2017