I admit to approaching the Island of Capri with some trepidation. I had heard how overrun it was going to be with wealthy ‘beautiful people’ who have driven up prices beyond belief (the island has the most expensive real estate in all of Italy). I’d read about how it gets especially crowded in the summer. Here we were going on a Sunday, which I feared would make it even busier than usual.
Nonetheless, I was not going to miss the chance to visit this legendary spot, sometimes referred to as the “Island of Dreams”.
Capri has a checkered history. We know it was a popular vacation spot of the Roman emperors Augustus and Tiberius. I don’t know about Augustus, but Tiberius had issues. Anger management issues. The story goes that if anyone displeased him, he would have them thrown off the vertical cliffs into the Mediterranean Sea.
Some say the wine was to blame. The ancient Romans apparently stored wine in lead containers. The poisonous lead made some Romans go crazy, including Tiberius.
Poisoned or not, I would not want to get on his bad side.
Capri is also the fabled haunt of the Sirens in Homer’s Ulysses. These mythical and seductive creatures (half bird – half human) would call out and sing to sailors, causing the men to crash to their deaths against the limestone cliffs. Ulysses got around this by plugging his sailors’ ears with wax and having himself tied to the mast. He warned his crew not to untie him not matter how much he begged.
The Sirens, thinking they had somehow lost their magic, killed themselves and turned into the giant stones that can be seen in the bay today.
It’s pretty hard not to fall under the spell of the island with stories like this.
The Blue Grotto (Grotta Azzurra) is of course the most famous. I’ve read different explanations as to the cause of the intense sapphire colour of the water. Some say it’s because of the small opening to the cave that most of the light comes from underwater, giving it that azure hue. Other accounts say it’s due to a hidden opening in the rock that refracts the light.
In any case, being inside that cave was like nothing I’d experienced before. Yes, it was a bit annoying having other boats in there. I could have done without the boat operators belting out “O Sole Mio” so we could hear the acoustics, and the other visitors constantly snapping flash photography. But in spite of it all, it truly was magical.
The blue seemed to change the texture of the water, making it look as thick and dense as liquid mercury.
I imagined what the cave would have been like in Roman times, with mosaics on the walls and statues situated near the opening. I envisioned ancient lovers who’d sneak in to have a little ‘alone time’. I bet they had the best sex ever in there!
It would have risky though. It was rumoured that the cave was haunted by witches or monsters. I suspect that this story came from worried parents wanting to keep their daughters’ virtues intact.
Once on the island itself, there was no doubt we were going to be battling crowds. So we decided to immediately leave the main drag. We hailed a cab (a sleek white Fiat convertible) and within minutes we were whisked away to a chairlift that took us almost 2,000 feet up to the summit of Monte Solaro. The view of the Bay of Naples was spectacular, there were few other people, and the magic of the island truly revealed itself.
It seemed like the crowds were really limited to small sections of the island. If I were to go back, I’d bring my hiking boots; there are many trails that a person could have almost all to themselves.
Yet another reason to return to Italy.