Think of Capri -- one of the world's most glamorous destinations, beloved of literati (including George Hemingway) and glitterati (from Elizabeth Taylor to Tom Cruise) -- and you might well picture French Riviera-style winding mountain roads with dazzling sea views leading to stylish enclaves filled with gorgeous whitewashed villas, classy hotels, elegant shops and intimate restaurants.
In some respects, you'd be spot-on. But if you arrive at Marina Grande, the island's bustling main harbor, with only that picture in mind, you'll be in for a disappointment, as you need to take a bus, taxi or cable car ride up to Capri Town and Anacapri to see the island's more elegant side.
What you'll find at Marina Grande, and along its harborfront, are cheap and cheerful restaurants, a small and rather scrubby shale beach, and shops selling cheap beachwear, souvenirs and gelato.
This is not surprising, as Capri (the emphasis is on the Cap rather than the ri) lies just three miles off the Italian coast and, along with its sister island, Ischia, is served by regular ferries bearing tourists and daytrippers from Naples (the nearest big port) and Sorrento.
So your arrival might be a bit of a hassle. But look -- and go -- beyond the immediate hubbub of the harbor and this astonishingly beautiful island will soon exert its spell.
Capri is really a group of gigantic limestone cliffs surrounded by sapphire seas, and the higher up you go, the better the views you'll get. The island has three towns: Marina Grande, the gateway for all travelers by hydrofoil, motorboat or cruise ship tender; Capri Town with its upscale boutiques including Prada, Versace and Gucci; and Anacapri, near the peak of Mount Solaro.
At 1,933 feet above sea level, Anacapri is the island's highest spot. So as you might imagine, the views are amazing, and the 12-minute cable car trip up Mount Solaro is an absolute delight.
You'll look down over whitewashed villas dotted with scarlet bougainvillea; breathe in the heady fragrance of groves filled with lemon trees, and spot flower-filled gardens, many sporting colourful religious shrines made from seashells.
Capri is an island which rewards patient travelers. Waiting in line might seem like a national sport in Marina Grande during the hot summer months when daytrippers descend. But hang on in there, for this magical island -- once the private playground of Emperor Tiberius and a magnet for the bronzed and the beautiful since the '50s -- is simply spectacular.
Even small cruise ships have to tender into Capri, and protectionist locals insist they use resident motorboats instead of their own tenders. This means the process of getting ashore can be a bit hair-raising, as you have to step onto the highly polished edge of a bobbling motorboat instead of a more solid tender platform. But ship's crew are always in attendance to ensure your safety. Big ships dock in Naples and offer access to Capri only as a shore excursion.
There are plenty of restaurants, snack bars and gelato shops along the Marina Grande, as well as a fair-sized (but pebbly) beach, and rows of pastel-colored, balconied houses which are very pretty to look at.
If you'd rather not wait for the cable car, you'll find plenty to do at sea level. It would be a shame to just stay here though; this is an island well worth exploring.
Taxis and scooters steam through the crowds on their way up the hill and local boat owners have a rather lax approach to safety.
On arrival at the Marina Grande, you'll find getting around independently fairly straightforward.
A biglieterria to the right of the tender station sells tickets for bus and boat trips and round-trip rides on the funicular (the entrance is virtually opposite the marina). Most relevant to cruise passengers are trips by local boat to the Blue Grotto, and cable car tickets.
The cable car is fun and convenient, as it takes you right to the heart of Capri Town and lets you out around the corner from the main square, Piazza Umberto 1. But you need to be prepared for lines, especially at peak times.
If time is at a premium, buddy up with fellow passengers and take a cab to Capri Town or Anacapri. There's a taxi stand to the right of the biglieterria.
If you're feeling brave, you can rent a scooter from one of many outlets along the waterfront.
The official currency is the euro. (For the latest exchange rate, visit www.oanda.com or www.xe.com.)
You'll find ATMs and exchange bureaux along the Marina Grande, and also in Capri Town (where you might need them, if you plan to hit the designer shops!).
Tourism is big business in Capri, so most of the locals will know at least some English and you should have no problem getting by. That said, they warm to any visitor at least attempting to speak their language, so a buon giorno (good morning) or a grazie (thank you) will be well received.
There are outdoor cafes and restaurants all along the waterfront in Marina Grande, and plenty more up in Capri Town.
Da Paolino Lemon Trees Restaurant: Set on the waterfront beneath a canopy of lemon trees, this lovely spot offers sea views and is a good place for a traditional Italian lunch of salad caprese (fresh tomato, mozzarella and basil) and pasta. (Via Palazzo a Mare 11; +39 081 8376102; open for lunch noon to 3 p.m. and from 7 to 10 p.m. for dinner)
Ristorante Casanova: A good choice for an affordable lunch in Capri Town, this laid-back spot offers pizzas and pasta dishes for around 12 euro and has a well-stocked antipasti buffet. (Via le Botteghe 46; +39 081 8377642; open for lunch noon to 3 p.m. and from 7 to 10 p.m. for dinner)
Bagni Tiberio Capri: You can catch a boat from the Marina Grande's beach to this pretty seaside mini-resort, which lies close to the ruins of what was once the Emperor Tiberius' summer residence and has a (pebble) beach, a wooden terrace for sunbathing, a restaurant and a snack bar. You can also get free Wi-Fi and take tours around the island to the Blue Grotto. (Palazzo a Mare 46; +39 081 8377688, open daily throughout the summer)
For a really classy souvenir, sniff out a bottle of perfume from one of Liz Taylor's favorite perfumeries, Carthusia-Profumi di Capri (Via Camerelle 10, +39 081 837 0529).
Less stylish but more affordable options can be bought in the souvenir shops and stalls along the Marina Grande, which are stocked with pretty cotton kaftans and packaged selections of olive oil, pasta or soap.
When in Italy, sip a Campari and orange (a sophisticated antidote to sun-induced thirst). Or opt for an Aperol Spritz: chilled prosecco enlivened by a splash of Aperol, a vivid orange liqueur which is a little like Campari, but distinctly less bitter.