The island of Capri has been drawing visitors across the Bay of Naples since the 19th century and before. But, the tiny Italian island's stylish image was really boosted in he 20th century when it became a Mecca for the famous stars from the silver screen.
The result is a rather odd, but utterly charming, mix of rustic island life and sheer Italian chic. It is certainly a tourism success story.
We travelled to Capri in May taking the ferry from Naples. On our arrival off the ferry in Marina Grande, below Capri town we were faced with a teaming horde of tourists thronging to get the ferry back to Naples. In the crush, I was half expecting that our flowing against the tide would result in either us, or them, falling into the harbour.
This was, perhaps, a little taste of what Capri is like at he height of he tourist season.Capri's Marina Grande and the town of Capri higher up the hill.
We stayed at the Hotel Excelsior Parc. It is a short distance from the pier at Marina Grande. Give them a call and their friendly driver will pick you up at the pier head.
Our room was at he front of he hotel with a superb view out over the Bay of Naples, with the distinctive cone of Vesuvius framed by trees. The hotel has a choice of rooms, some with spas on the balcony. The friendly staff go out of their way to make you feel welcome. We were greeted at the front door as if we were guests arriving at a private house, rather than guests at a hotel.
The Excelsior Parco is a short distance from Capri town, but it provides a free shuttle to and from the town until 9 pm.
The town of Capri nestles between the high cliffs surrounding Anacapri on the west of the island and the slightly less vertiginous cliffs to the east. It is a bustling vibrant town of narrow alleyways, filled with restaurants, cafes and shops. The main square Piazzetta has the usual serried ranks of tables waiting for hungry diners.
Because this is Capri, the prices in restaurants and boutiques can be high.
We selected Aurora, the island's longest-established restaurant, for our dinner and were not disappointed. As with the hotel, we were made to feel most welcome. Right from the outset, with Insalata Caprese (Capri's signature dish) and Pasta e Fagioli, we could tell this meal was going to be a taste sensation.
For our main course we both chose from Aurora's range of thin crust pizzas, washed down with Sicilian Tancredi Nero d'Avola Cabernet Sauvignon. At €144.90 this was not a cheap meal for two, but when it is good enough to be a memory that will last for years, we were not going to complain.
A trip to Anacapri is essential. We chose to go using the island's bus service. With narrow roads, Capri's bus fleet is composed of special compact buses – much shorter and narrower than normal coaches, to cope with tight hairpin bends and narrow roads.
We braced ourselves holding tight to the roof bar and hand rails as the bus headed across from Capri town to the hairpins that would take us up the steep rise to Anacapri. You would swear, when you saw an oncoming bus, that there was no way the two would be able to pass. But, they did. However, close inspections of the buses flanks reveals it is not always "without a scratch".
As the road rose steeply, I noted that one of our fellow passengers crossed himself. A few seconds later we saw why. The road here appeared to be pinned onto the side of precipice.
Villa San Michele is the place to visit in Anacapri. Built on the site of one seven villas built by Emperor Tiberius at the time that Capri was the de facto centre of the Roman Empire, this villa is an eclectic mix of design influences. Built by Swedish physician Axel Munthe, it is owned by the Swedish state and open to visitors. From its grounds you can enjoy a vertiginous view back to Capri.
For those who want a panoramic view, there is a chairlift to take you to the very top of the island.
Even after just two days on Capri, we could see why the island has proven so attractive to incomers from Tiberius through the 20th century film stars. It is a beautiful island with a fine climate moderated by the Mediterranean breezes and the people are so welcoming and friendly.
- Do you tip in Italy? The general rule seems to be 'no'. Tips are not normally expected by taxi drivers, restaurants and hotel staff. Taxis charge extra per bag and many restaurants have a cover charge and a service charge.