Travel review: The Isle of Capri

This Italian island’s name is pronounced CAP-ree, rather than ca-PREE. Capri was not named for goats (as one might guess from the name, since “capreae” is Latin for “goats”) but for a colony of wild boars that the first ancient settlers found there (“kapros” is Greek for “boar”).

Our tour group went to Capri in March (during the off-season) via a large ferry boat from Naples. Everyone else in our footsore group opted for a bus tour, but my friend Carol and I decided to hike around on our own. Those who went on the bus tour said it was rather unsatisfactory, and was geared more for people who wanted to shop at the many expensive boutiques scattered across the island.

Capri is very, very expensive if you plan to stay there; expect to pay upwards of $300US a night for a hotel room. A much better tactic is to stay someplace on the coast (like in Sorrento) and make a day trip out to the island.

Capri is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. I think Carol and I spent a solid five or six minutes just wandering around going “Wow!” after we got there. The scenery is just stunningly gorgeous.

We took a funicular up from the dock to the main town. After exploring the lovely Augustus Garden, we went to the 14th century Carthusian monastery of San Giacomo. We wandered into the municipal public library that’s housed in the monastery, and the young man there let us into the museum, which was closed for the day. The museum is pretty small, but still has its share of treasures.

We also went up to see the Villa Jovis, the Roman ruins at the top of Capri. The Villa Jovis was the palace of the Roman emperor Tiberius; he ruled the empire from the island for about 12 years until his death (if you’ve seen the movie Caligula, much of it takes place in the palace at Capri).

The ruins are very much worth seeing, but, unless you’re in much better physical condition than the average U.S. tourist, don’t believe travel expert Rick Steves when he says one can make it from the town to Villa Jovis in a mere 45 minutes. The hike up the mountainous island will take you closer to an hour or an hour and a half. I’m pretty sure the hike would have been too much for at least half our tour group. Wear good shoes, and bring water, because you’ll need it.

The path up to Villa Jovis is not as well-marked as one would hope, and it’s easy to take a wrong turn and end up at the Natural Arch instead. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing, because the natural arch — a huge arch formed naturally by the action of wind and water — is quite beautiful.

The trek to Villa Jovis also lets you see some very nice houses and landscape. Chances are, though, you won’t be in a mood to notice them until you’re on your way back down to the town.

We did not go see The Blue Grotto, which is a partially submerged cave you can visit in which the water seems to glow a brilliant blue. Other people we met there said that while the grotto’s pretty, you don’t get to spend much time there considering how much the boat trips cost, and all in all it’s a bit of a tourist trap.

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