In my head, the Isle of Capri was drowning in tourists shopping for overpriced luxury goods and waiting in long lines of boats to get into the famous Blue Grotto.
Still, I’d heard it was fantastically beautiful and worth the trip. And since it was only a 20 minute jet boat ride from Sorrento, it was an easy (if expensive) excursion.
I’m so very glad I went. Capri may have been my favorite day of the entire trip. But I strayed far from the beaten path.
After taking an early jet boat chock-full of tourists in tour groups, I shuddered at the thought of herding into Blue Grotto lines with such crowds. Instead, I remembered a side-hike one of my books recommended: the Villa Jovis. Tiberius lived there in the first century AD, high above the sea, hiding from assassins in Rome. The hike sounded long but relatively simple, and it was. I took the funicular lift up from the marina to the town of Capri proper, then followed some narrow lanes until I got away from the city. The little roads don’t allow cars (or even Italy’s ubiquitous scooters), and I could nearly touch both walls if I stretched out my arms. I saw a couple of small, officially sanctioned electric trolleys picking up trash and making deliveries to the numerous villas dotting my path. Each had its own name, gate, and gardens, with everything from grapes and tomatoes to squash and lemons, growing nearly within arm’s reach.
Halfway up the steep (but easy) hike, I stopped at a little cafe for a cappuccino, rested a bit, and watched the world go by. I saw a fair mix of locals headed up or down the mountain to do their shopping or errands, and other tourists likely headed the same place I was.
The last half of the walk up was even more scenic as I climbed higher up the mountain and the sea spread out below me. The space between villas grew larger, and everything was more quiet. Suddenly, I arrived at a relatively nondescript little hut offering the best admission fee I saw all trip – a mere €2, or about $2.60.
You followed a series of arrows to guide you around the ruins. The signage was minimal, but it was still fascinating, with relatively few other tourists exploring. And the views were incredible. I kept thinking about how long it must have taken Tiberius’ fleet of slaves to drag each and every stone up the mountain to build the sprawling villa. And as I gazed at the sea far below, I shuddered at the thought of the emperor flinging his enemies from these very cliffs. Goats grazed on the next mountain over.
After I left the villa, I headed back down the mountain, stopping for a quick (well, as quick as eating in Italy gets) panini and water as I watched the view. According to my hiking book, Arco Naturale was well worth the relatively easy hike from the town of Capri, and I had seen signs for the turnoff as I had headed up to Villa Jovis.
The hike was indeed relatively simple, if far more rustic than the paved roads that took me to Jovis. Before I knew it, I had reached the Arco, a nifty natural rock formation with a view of the aqua water below. The path to view it was relatively narrow and carved into rock, so the few people there all struggled to lean back far enough to get a decent photo. But the image is burned into my memory, the contrast of the tan and the blue, framed by verdant life.
Next, I headed on down the mountain, up and down ancient, crumbling brick steps, around the perimeter of the island. I stopped several times to marvel at the natural, wild beauty of Capri. I passed a small cave filled with ruins, where Roman soldiers had helped guard the emperor from intruders. But eventually, I meandered my way back into Capri proper and the hordes of tourists and shoppers. (It was a Saturday, meaning that there were lots of local tourists, too, over from Naples or Rome for the day.) I bought some granita and sat on a bench, flipping through my book and deciding what to do next.
And then I discovered Mt Solare. My book said to take a bus to the island’s only other town, Anacapri, and from there, take an alpine ski lift up to the top of Capri’s highest mountain. So I did. On the ride up, I realized too late I should have had my camera handy, so I very, very carefully tried to use my cell phone camera to take a few pictures without dropping it into the fields below.
At the top, I found perhaps the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. The Sorrentine peninsula stretched out before me, as did the white rocks of Capri, all surrounded by startling blue water, as far as the eye could see. I took dozens of pictures, and the mood on the mountain was one of excited awe as strangers remarked to each other. I just stared off into the distance, pleased and happy and content with the world, grateful I made the trip.
But alas, the day was waning, and the chair lift was preparing to close for the evening, so I headed back down, this time prepared with my camera strapped around my wrist. No one else was coming up for the day, so it was remarkably quiet and scenic as I glided over orchards, vineyards and lemon groves, passing the ruins of a 12th century monastery and a few homes.
When I arrived back in Anacapri, it was very quiet, as many tourists had already left for the day. But I wasn’t ready to go quite yet, so I consulted my book and found a hiking path that would take me on a more scenic route to the marina rather than just riding the bus. It felt like a forever walk to my aching legs – down hundreds of stairs is hard on the knees – but it was beautiful and so very quiet. And the timing worked out perfectly, as I reached the marina, bought a ticket on the second-to-last ferry out of Capri, and ate some gelato while I waited to board. Better still, as the ferry sailed east towards Sorrento, the sun set behind Capri, making it very worth braving the wind-whipped mist at the back of the boat, even if pictures didn’t really come out.
We docked at Sorrento just as the sun finally fell below the horizon, and there was a hush on the back of the ferry as tired day trippers held each other close. No one really wanted the day to end. I reluctantly disembarked and had dinner at a small pizzeria right by the marina – the very restaurant I ate at with my family during our Sorrento day five years ago. I mentioned it to the owner – who I remembered – and he brought me limoncello and dessert and told me to come back again. After dinner, I had to walk back up into town to head down to my hotel at the other marina, and I stopped and bought some lovely cameos – a ring and a pendant – from a small shop where the owner carved them from seashells, following the ancient tradition.
I didn’t see the Blue Grotto, but the day was full of such beauty and peace that I know I’ll carry it with me for much longer than a postcard.
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I totally agree that the view from Monte Solaro is breathtaking! I was just there in May and it was the highlight of my trip! Great post!