Campania Capri Europe Italy

Cooling our Heels on the Hills, Steps and Cliffs of Capri

After a long day of transfer from Ischia, we landed in Capri just before the sun sank into the sea and just in time to procure some groceries at the port mini-mercato as it was closing. In the season, this transfer would have been much simpler: hop a direct ferry from Ischia over to Capri. Which is what we envisioned when we planned out our trips all those Sunday afternoons years ago. It was not to be. Before the season churns up into full tourist mode (in about a week or two from now), you need to go back to Naples and then over to Capri. Easy-peasy, no problem. Also, not to be. After a canceled ferry from Ischia, a reroute to Pozzuoli, a cab to Naples, another canceled-ferry-imposed 20 minute walk from one port to another lugging heavy bags as we consolidated backpacks and a shopping bag into two carry-on bags each to avoid the (small) fee for extra bags and a three hour wait, we hopped the high speed Caremar ferry for our destination: Capri. The upside: the rains and winds had cleared which made for a beautiful journey, less churn and we were senza ombrelloni (without umbrellas) for the first time in almost a week. Smell the roses.

Awaiting our embarkment, patiently

Our Airbnb overlooked the Marina Grande port, which made the schlep of heavy bags up the hills and stairs well worth it. For three nights we sat on our terrace, overlooking those same ferry boats carrying cars, supplies, tourists, locals, day trippers and cruisers to this magical little island. We’d listen to spring bird chirps and watch the lemons blooming and apple trees blossoming and linger as the sun went down until it was too cold to linger any longer.

Capri by Land. On our first day, we set out to the town of Capri above. We found the narrow pedestrian (and mini truck and motorbike) pathways to make the climb less a frenetic search for cars, or more so busses, around the corner of the narrow roadway. Hitting town just before lunch time we were amidst an onslaught of the aforementioned day trippers and cruisers but headed past the popular Piazzetta di Capri and its views to the Via del Pizzoluongo a narrow trail way which winds around the cliffs overlooking the Faraglioni Rocks and the Natural Arch. Beyond, we could see the Amalfi coast preparing for our imminent arrival.

When you arrive at the Marina Grande port, you can walk, take a cab, the bus or the funicular. If you walk, it’s all up. Capri proper is somewhat ritzy, so you’ll be able to buy your Ferragamo shoes if you busted a heel on the climb, the meals are overpriced (20 euro for an aperol spritz compared to 5 euro across the bay in Naples) and it was in full gear-up mode for Europe’s first full fully vaccinated summer. The walk and prices are worth it for the views.

Easy Afternoon Stroll to Anacapri. In the afternoon, I struck out for Anacapri, even higher and at the very top of the island, about 902 feet above sea level. Again, all modes of transport are available (that being bus or cab) but I chose my feet. I found the foot of the Scala Fenicia near our apartment. Named for the Phoenicians, who it was thought built them, they may have been built by Greek colonists. Whoever built them, they were a hearty sort. It begins as a gradual 25 degree climb through the neighborhood, increases to about 30 degrees through a small forest and then heads straight up at least 45 degrees along the cliff side and below the narrow two lane road to the commune over 902 steps. I was thankful for my heart, lungs and capable knees and was even more appreciative of the Phoenicians or Greeks who lugged the stones and built these steps and the women who used to be the workhorses to lug supplies from lower Capri to Anacapri above (source). As I sweat my way to the top of the steps, with a few Italian families descending above me and commenting that my climb was “dura” (hard), I approached the Church of San Antonio which some might otherwise call the “Oh Lord, What Was I Thinking” chapel.

Right after the chapel, I neared the end of the passable steps. I’d read something posted ten years ago on the internet that said you couldn’t take the stairway all the way up as part of it is closed and though you can’t believe everything you read on the internet, this still holds. Thankful for a flatter route, I checked Google Maps to make sure I wasn’t too crazy to head up the narrow, winding road and it confirmed I was almost to the village. Doing the wait before a bend, listen for cars, busses or trucks, dash past that corner for the next road widening routine, I was heartened to be one of several other crazy pedestrians (albeit most of them going down, not up). There’s security in company, after all. All this to say, from lower Capri, Anacapri is walkable and good to get the blood pumping and heart rate going. I actually loved the walk despite all of my previous sarcasm, however, it’s not for the meek or those inclined to vertigo or fear of high places.

Once at the hilltop commune of Anacapri, I visited the Villa San Michele museum and gardens. Axel Munthe, who built the villa in the late 19th century and lived there, was a Swedish doctor and the author of The History of San Michele (call me illiterate, I’d never heard of it). The story of the history of the Villa apparently tells the story of its construction during which most of the materials were lugged up those same steps I just finished whining about, albeit via donkey, and makes you want to maybe read it for an appreciation of the efforts. The mansion is cool, but the award winning gardens are quite something with spectacular views of the Bay of Naples, the Amalfi Coast, lower Capri and the harbor.

A Rick Steves podcast we’d listened to that morning told me that the floor of the Church of San Michele was worth checking out, so, after rewarding myself with a cup of straciatella gelato, I headed straight there. The reviews are right. The floor is amazing with images of Adam and Eve being driven from the garden of Eden with abundant animals (many with human-like faces) around. You can encircle it on carefully placed wooden boards and then climb the tiny spiral stairway to view it from above.

All in all, the trip to the top of Capri was worth it, but not at all for acrophobics.

Capri by Sea. On our second day, we opted for a boat tour of Capri’s famous grottos. There are many tours available. Some go out of Sorrento across the bay, but there are lots in Capri proper. You basically need to choose the size of tour you want. We chose to do one in a small boat through Airbnb experiences and were not disappointed. We saw some of the bigger ones passing us by and they are too big to get anywhere near any of the caves. It was cool but sunny so, while we couldn’t swim in the grottos and caves, we did get to go into them. We also, because it was off-season, were basically by ourselves in the caves. A big plus. No queues of boats and hoards inside.

After lunch in the port at Ristorante L’Approdo (so good, we went back while we waited for our ferry back to the mainland the next day) recommended by Tony (one of our Airbnb hosts and far enough down the port from the ferry docks to be chosen by more locals than tourists) we were met at the meeting point and ushered aboard a small sailboat with an outboard motor by Manuel and Salvador both natives of Anacapri and both in stocking feet. Manuel narrated our ride around Capri while Salvador, who was training, did most of the driving. We saw many of the famous sights we’d seen from above the day before: the Faraglioni Rocks and the Natural Arch, but got to view and visit the white grotto, the green grotto, the grotto of matrimony and the sailors’ cave. Not to be experienced without a boat, it was well worth it.

But wait?! What about the Blue Grotto?? Well, the most famous grotto, the blue one, was closed for high water. It’s the only privately owned one which means you have to pay to go into it. Due to the high water we didn’t get to go in but be warned, you will have to pay to go in even if you already paid for a tour to see the outside and in the summer it’s swarmed with tourists who aren’t afraid to fork over the admission fee. Go if you want, I’m sure it’s cool but a local told us it’s overrated.

The Blue Grotto

Melissa’s parents had visited Capri when they lived in Naples and had a painting of Capri hanging in their house, which now hangs in her sister’s house. With the help of Manuel, he pointed us to just the right street and while the view point has changed over the past 50 years we were able to find the approximate spot from which it was painted (or which inspired the painter) all those years ago.

One final note on Capri. Much like Naples, we found the people here to be just downright lovely. Helpful, funny, fun loving and happy. From the waiters and boat guides to our neighbors who all went on the hunt for me when we separated trying to find our Airbnb host at check in to our host’s dad, Tony, who helped me fish (with fishing line) my boxer shorts from the yard below when they fell off the clothes line. Capri has stunning views, great people and left us with many great memories. The kind we will conjure up as we sit at Melissa’s sister’s house and look at that painting fondly.

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