I’m sure I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: Capri is the most beautiful place on earth. End of debate. This is our fifth summer traveling as nomads and our fourth visit to Capri (we missed 2016). And after those three previous visits I was genuinely wondering if I would be a little blasé about it. Would it have that “Been there, done that” feel to it? Would I find the hordes of day trippers just too much this time? Would I be frustrated by the relative lack of good food and high prices?
Not to worry. The day crowds are there and the prices are high, but there is a reason Capri has been the location of choice for those who can get there since (at least) the time of Caesar Augustus. From the incredible limestone cliffs to the stunning flora and the perfect water, from the ideal summer climate to the beautiful shops and people, it’s a gorgeous place.
One of the amusing things about Capri is how different it is in the mornings and evenings compared to midday. We arrived midday and getting to the hotel was kind of hellish. The massive crowds trying to get from Marina Grande, where pretty much everyone arrives, up to the town were oppressive. And once you get up there you still have to walk 10 or 15 minutes to your hotel because the narrow lanes are far too small for cars. (To be sure, lazy people can hire some little cart thing to take your luggage but we’re too proud to do that.) And the town was just absolutely packed.
By evening, though, three-quarters of the people or more were gone. It’s by no means empty, but it is peaceful, something you couldn’t remotely say earlier in the day. And the next morning as we walked to town out for our daily adventure it was quiet, peaceful, and beautiful.
The secret, then, is to get out of town during the daytime and come back when most people have left. For us that meant two days at the beach and one on a hike. When I say “beach,” though, don’t think sand and surf and wide open vistas. Think rocks and cement infill that chairs and umbrellas are packed in to as closely as possible while still letting people move around. It’s not something that I would imagine liking, but here it works. The water is amazingly clear and blue and – at this time of year – reasonably warm. The scenery is unbeatable. And there’s an (expensive) restaurant serving genuinely good food. So that’s what we did on two days.
The middle day – we sent four nights on the island, meaning three full days for adventure – we headed up to Anacapri, the slightly less fabulous town on the western, higher end of the island. From the town you hike down to the western coast and hike along an old trail connecting forts from the Napoleonic Wars. The forts themselves aren’t that interesting (OK, not interesting at all as far as I’m concerned) but the views are stunning.
There was just one problem: even though we’ve done the hike twice before, we couldn’t find the trail. It was incredibly frustrating. There was a small sign on the road pointing to the Sentiero dei Fortini (Path of the Forts), we followed it, and it trail quickly petered out. Twice. Then we found another place where the trail was marked, and it pointed us back whence we’d come. It seemed incredible that the trail was so badly marked and that we couldn’t find it, even though we’d done it twice. Eventually I figured it out – there were two options on a map but one didn’t exist anymore and we just didn’t see the second one – but by then Mark was frustrated and tired and hot and thirsty – we’d hiked probably 90 minutes just to get to the trailhead – so he headed back to Anacapri while I finished the hike.
Once I got on the trail it was just as beautiful as I’d remembered. Great views and almost no one else on the trail in the mid-summer heat. There were a lot more boats than I remember from the other times we’ve done the hike, just a constant hum of boat engines, but it was still a nice hike. One strange observation was a villa that we admired along the trail four years ago. It was way out on that western coast, isolated, with a beautiful pool and a private stairway down to the water. It seemed like it would be the perfect place and I’ve always thought of it as the perfect fantasy. The last time we did the hike it was empty and I just assumed that it was a vacation house closed for the season. But no, this time it was obvious: the building was abandoned, the pool empty, the landscaping becoming overrun. Hard to imagine what’s going on because it has to be a really expensive place, but that seemingly perfect vacation spot is pretty much trashed. Strange.
So those were the big experiences on Capri, two days on the beach and one on a hike. What else did I learn from four days on Capri? I thought I’d seen a lot of yachts on the Amalfi Coast, but this place makes Amalfi & Positano look like pikers. Lots and lots of boats, small, big, bigger, and massive. Yes, David Geffen is obviously stalking us, as his boat was again prominent, but there were lots of other really expensive yachts, too.
And yes, all those beautiful shops are really expensive. At lunch the first day we sat across from a little boutique clothing store that had a men’s sweater in the window. I liked the looks of it and asked Mark how much he thought it would cost. He said €180. I said €250. We were off a little; after lunch I went in and found that it was €498. I didn’t buy it.
On the other hand, some things aren’t so expensive. We tend to like the life on the main town of Capri better than Anacapri, but we more typically like the meals on Anacapri. So when we stay in Anacapri we find ourselves going down to Capri during the day, and when we stay in Capri we go up to Anacapri for dinner. And once per trip up in Anacapri we splurge for pre-dinner drinks at the Capri Palace Hotel, a beautiful five-star place that makes perfect Perfect Manhattans. So we go up there the second night and instead of a quiet, almost-deserted bar area there is some event going on. “Damn,” we both thought, “we’re not going to get in tonight.”
That wasn’t the problem, though. There was an event and it was called something like “Free drinks on the house night.” We never did figure out exactly what was going on but … drinks were free. The special of the night was a variety of creative gin and tonics, and we each had one, but what we really wanted was either a Perfect Manhattan or Negroni. So we ordered Negronis and they were free, too. Along with free drinks there was a never-ending supply of free hors d’oeuvres. And models who were slinking around on duty, just, well, slinking. We thought there was a chance we were going to get some mighty bill when it was time to leave, or maybe the police would chase us down but, no, it was all just free.
And now you wonder why I love Capri?