Saturday, 29 November 2014
The Island of Capri
The island of Capri in the Gulf of Naples has been a vacation resort for the rich and famous ever since the Roman emperors Augustus and then Tiberius built villas here back in the year dot. In more recent times, Dame Gracie Fields had a villa here, and the U.S. singer Mariah Carey still does.
During the Summer, the island is packed full of sun-worshippers, yachters and water-sport enthusiasts, and celebratory-spotters. At the very end of November when we went, it was much quieter, but unfortunately all the designer boutiques were closed so we couldn't buy that to-die-for Fendi leopardskin clutch and matching sandals. Still, the weather was comparatively warm and we had the island's natural tourist attractions almost to ourselves.
We arrived on Capri at Marina Grande, having sailed over by hydrofoil from Sorrento.
Though the harbour has its attractions (well, so long as you want to buy bottles of limoncello or expensive ice-creams), most visitors will very soon take the funicular up the steep hill to the main square in Capri town, the Piazzetta. Here is a view from the funicular. I promise not to post any more photos of the funicular. I have been told off:
The view back down to the Marina Grande, with the sprawl of white villas nesting below the towering limestone cliffs, is impressive as first impressions go:
The Piazzetta itself was not so impressive. I had in my mind's eye an expectation of some grand plaza with large hotels and street-cafes around it, but in reality it is very small, and the restaurants not places to write home about (except to complain about the prices):
The most exciting thing going on was that they were erecting a Christmas tree:
Ah well, we weren't here to sit around the Piazzetta all day, so after checking into our apartment we climbed up to the eastern side of the island to see the Arco Naturale, or natural limestone arch. Quite impressive, especially for its view of the cliffs that are most of Capri's coastline, and the lovely turquoise sea below:
We then followed steps down and down and down the cliffs, and then down and down some more, until we came to the Grotta di Matromania. This cave has an air of ancientness about it, primeval even. The Romans have left behind traces of building work they did to make it into a cross between an imperial banqueting hall and a shrine for some unknown mystery cult, maybe to Mithras, maybe to an Earth Goddess (hence the name). It's sheer inaccessibility (even with all those steps, so imagine what it was like before they were built) makes it a special place to visit. Perhaps at the height of Summer there is a conga line of tourists puffing and panting their way up and down the cliff, but we had the mystery of the cave to ourselves.
From the Grotta di Matromania there is a path around the SE coast of Capri that slowly climbs its way back up to the town affording some lovely views of the cliffs and the Faraglioni:
Even when nearly December, there is still fragrantly-scented bougainvillea on the walls around the villas:
View from the coastal path down to Marina Piccola:
Marina Piccola on the South of the island is a steep walk down more steps from Capri town, or take the little orange bus. The colour of the water around the smaller harbour is amazing. I don't think I really understood the visual meaning of 'aquamarine'. These photos have not been Photoshopped to alter the colour we actually saw! Swimming in this water in Summer must be divine, but then I'd have to share them with a hundred other bathers.
According to legend (or at least the Capri tourist agency) these are rocks from which Sirens enticed sailors to their doom through their enchanting singing. For sure, the rocks around here are razor-edged volcanic lava where they are not limestone. There was also a bit of surf up when we visited, but only enough to fill my boots with sea-water if I got too close:
In the evening of the first day we re-visited Marina Grande then returned to the Piazzetta for some night shots:
The next day we took a walk from our apartment, climbing up and South, to Belvedere Cannone. This was named after a cannon that the French put here in 1808 to overlook approaches to Marina Piccola. I'm not about to start recounting how come the French were doing here in 1808 or I'll be here all day, and the main to remember is that the viewing terrace has magnificent views of the island, the harbour, and the Faraglioni:
After that, back to the centre of Capri town, and a pleasant walk in the sun up to Villa Jovis on the NE point of the island (it turned out Villa Jovis was shut for the Winter, but that didn't stop us getting in).
There aren't any cars on Capri by the way. This is how the locals get around transporting goods and luggage to the hotels through the steep, narrow, winding streets:
That's Villa Jovis on the top of the hill (the Roman Emperor Tiberius' Villa of Jupiter):
And so back to the apartment to pick up our rucksacks, before going back to the harbour to catch a hydrofoil to Naples, with one last look at the aquamarine waters and deserted beaches:
If you don't want to get about on foot on Capri (and you do need to have a degree of fitness), then there are tiny orange buses that travel the few main roads. On the evidence of their collection of bumps and scrapes, I think even the main roads are a bit on the tight side.
Farewell then Capri! It has been a lovely couple of days, but now on to Naples!