Faraglioni and Giardini di Agosto
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Capri, a mountainous island just three miles off the coast of Italy's Naples and Sorrento, is a port of call for some travelers (particularly on small luxury ships) and a shore outing for others (just about all the big ships, which will most likely dock in Naples).
And it's one of the glitziest islands in the Mediterranean! A jet-setter's international paradise since the 1950's, Capri has attracted everyone from Ernest Hemingway to Tom Cruise and even, as I spied on a recent visit, Emeril Lagasse, the celebrity chef (he was nice enough to pose for photographs). And typically, where celebrities can be found so can luxury boutiques, restaurants, and hotels.
But that's not what makes Capri so special.
From a distance, the island (the name is pronounced CAP-ree, not Ca-PREE), just four miles long and 1.5 miles wide, looks like nothing more than a giant set of rocks (the larger isle you'll see is Ischia). Capri is located three miles off the Italian coast and is made of limestone, with giant cliffs and two mountains, Mount Tiberio and Mount Solaro, all towering over a very blue stretch of sea. The geology serves up both interesting rock formations and natural grottos, the most famous being the Blue Grotto. On the manmade front, the white-washed houses and gardens, where lemon trees often dominate, cling to cliffsides, and bougainvillea and other lush flowers bloom and grow as if wild.
There are three towns on the island. Tenders land cruise passengers in Marina Grande, a busy little port also welcoming hydrofoils and ferries from Sorrento and Naples. From there it's an uphill trip (by taxi, funicular or bus) to Capri town, where upscale shopping has gone mad -- here you'll find Italian brands like Prada, Pucci, Ferragamo, Versace and Gucci. Lower-key Anacapri is even higher up, right near Mount Solaro, and reached by narrow, winding roads.
As a resort island whose season is pretty much limited to the warmer months between April and October, Capri can become quite a scene -- and we mean crowds -- particularly when day-trippers descend from Fast Ferries that ply the waters between here and Sorrento and Naples. Another caveat (and this may surprise you): Capri's beaches aren't all that fabulous. They're pretty rocky, though there's one good choice -- head for the south side of the island near Marina Piccola.
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Other Western Mediterranean Cruise Ports:
Barcelona • Cannes • Capri • Corsica (Ajaccio) • Elba • Florence (Livorno) • Fuerteventura • Genoa • Gibraltar • Ibiza • La Palma • Lanzarote • Las Palmas • Lisbon • Madeira (Funchal) • Malta (Valletta) • Marseille • Monaco • Naples • Nice • Palermo • Palma de Mallorca • Portofino • Rome (Civitavecchia) • Saint-Tropez • Sardinia • Sete • Seville (Cadiz) • Sorrento • Taormina (Giardini-Naxos) • Tenerife • Tunis (La Goulette) • Venice • Villefranche
Italian, but nearly everyone you encounter will speak at least some English.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The local currency is the euro. There are plenty of ATM's around town. There is also a money exchange near the pier in Marina Grande (head to the left). You'll also find one in the main plaza in Capri town.
Capri is best known for "capri" slacks (Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis had hers made there) -- try La Parisienne on the Piazetta. It's also famous for handmade leather sandals (stop by Canfora on Via Camerelle 3). If you're not interested in fashion, pick up a bottle of Limoncello, a lovely lemon-flavored liqueur.
Where You're Docked
This is a tender port with the tenders dropping you off at Marina Grande. There is shopping (mostly of the souvenir variety) and cafes right near the pier. Same goes with the Fast Ferries that operate from Naples.
Taxis are available at the pier. A ride to Capri Town is about $15, to Anacapri about $20. There are also buses (tickets and other information are available at the Ticket Office -- head right as you exit the pier area). Funicular passes (about $1.75 each way) are also available at the Ticket Office and the funicular (located to the left of the pier area) is the easy and fun way to get up to Capri town. The steep ride only takes about five minutes (standing in line for tickets can take longer). You are dropped off up top right around the corner from Piazza Umberto I, the main square of Capri town. As another alternative, tour operators offer island tours from booths near the pier and in Capri town, priced from about $12.50.
Piazza Umberto I, also known as the Piazetta, is a central place to meet and greet, and the hub of life in Capri town. There are chic cafes (it's the cool place to overpay for a cappuccino) and shops, and the clock tower, town hall and cathedral, with its campanile and clock, are immensely photo-worthy. The cathedral was built in the 17th century in Baroque style, with a buttressed roof.
The Blue Grotto is the best known natural sight in the region. It was discovered by the ancients, but then lost to the world until an artist happened upon it in 1826. Inside the limestone cavern, light reflects the very blue sea, creating a blue-walled cavern -- the effect is stunning. Be aware that in rough seas you can't visit. If you don't visit on a shore excursion, check the offerings of local operators at the pier (prices are usually around $25).
Villa San Michele (daily 9:30 a.m. - 3 p.m.) was the home of Axel Munthe, a Swedish author, physician and friend of Gustav V, King of Sweden. It was built on the ruins of a villa built by Emperor Tiberius. Walk the gardens and enjoy the ocean views. Inside is 17th-century furniture as well as some ancient Roman artifacts. The statue of Hermes was given to Munthe by the city of Naples as thanks for his work in the city during an 1884 cholera epidemic. The villa can be reached by climbing 500 steps from Marina Grande (recommended only for those in good shape), or by catching a bus to Anacapri and walking five minutes to the villa.
For perfume, check out Carthusia-Profumi di Capri, Via Camerelle 10. Elizabeth Taylor shopped here before she introduced her own fragrances. The fancy boutiques are on Via Vittoria Emanuelle, Via Camarelle and Via Tragara, all in Capri town. Cheaper, souvenir-type shops line the waterfront of Marina Grande. If you've got big bucks and are shopping for jewelry, check out the wares at La Perla Gioielli, Piazza Umberto I, the most prestigious place for gold and gems on the island (why do we think Elizabeth Taylor may have stopped by here too?).
Been There, Done That
Head to Anacapri and Mount Solaro (1,933 ft.) for views of the island from its highest point. You can go on foot (if you are very fit) or take a chair lift, which has its lower station at Piazza della Vittoria in Anacapri (the ride takes about 12 minutes).
Capri is an excellent place to go hiking. There are views from nearly everywhere. You can get a map of suggested routes from the tourist office at the pier or from the booth in Piazza Umberto I in Capri town (there is a charge of about $1 for the map). One suggested walk is from the main square of Capri down via Vittorio Emanuele to the Giardini di Agosto (Gardens of Augustus). The park is a prime spot for views and from here you can see the Faraglioni, rocks forming three pinnacles as they come out of the sea (they are said to be inhabited by the "blue lizard").
There are outdoor cafes all along the waterfront in Marina Grande. We recommend Da Paolino, Via Palazzo Mare, 11, where lunch is served from noon to 3 p.m. This is a great place to try a caprese salad (fresh tomato, mozzarella and basil) and the pasta is excellent (including the penne with eggplant). Main courses from $25.
Up in Capri town, Casa Nova, Via le Botteghe, 46, also serves up lunch noon to 3 p.m., with offerings that include an excellent antipasti buffet, pizzas and salads. Main courses are $10 and up.
A great place for our favorite Italian beverage, "caffe freddo" (frozen and shaved espresso with sugar), is right on the harbor, called Bar Il Gabbiano.
Best Choice for Those Who Want to Say They Did: The Blue Grotto Tour takes you by local motorboat to reach Capri's famous Blue Grotto (it's about a 15-minute ride), where you transfer to an even smaller boat with a rower who takes you into the cavern, where sunlight is reflected producing the blue effect. There will be much fanfare about dipping your head as you enter the short cavern opening. The experience is touristy and over quicker than you think. But when you say you've been to Capri, your friends will ask if you've seen it.
Best Choice for View Seekers: When he lived here, Emperor Tiberius liked to build villas, and the ruins of three remain. The Villa Jovis Walking Tour takes you to the largest, Villa Jovis, which is located on top of Mount Tiberio (at 1,000 ft. above sea level). You tour what were once the official rooms and private apartments and can look down at a precipice where the cruel emperor reportedly threw disobedient servants.
Staying in Touch
Terminals can be found close to the pier in Marina Grande at Caffe Augusto (slight left from the pier). A 90-minute card will cost you about $6.
Editor's Note: Due to an anti-terrorism law passed in Italy in 2005, all passengers wishing to use the internet in a public facility must present an internationally recognized document (or a passport) to the establishment providing public communication services.
For More Information
On the Web: Capri Tourist Office
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The Independent Traveler: Europe Bargains and Features
--By Fran Wenograd Golden. Boston-based Golden, whose contributions to Cruise Critic include features, ship reviews and port profiles, is the travel editor of the Boston Herald and also co-author of "Frommer's Europe Cruises & Ports of Call."
Image of the Blue Grotto is copyright Capri Tourist Office. All other photos appear courtesy of Sarah Schlichter.