Capri lives up to the hype as 10,000 tourists a day can’t all be wrong

CAPRI Island Italy — I don’t like buying hype when I travel. It’s like lobster. It’s good but never quite lives up to its billing. But believe me on this.

Capri is the prettiest island in Europe.

Nothing is like Capri’s towering cliffs that descend through olive and pine trees into a sea so clear and clean I could drink it. I languidly floated in a Tyrrhenian Sea that’s the blue of an Italian summer sky. I looked down through the depths at an ocean bottom that seemed five feet away instead of 20.

Capri Island Italy: One of the many great views from high atop Capri
One of the many great views from high atop Capri

Every turn up the mountainous little isle produced a view more spectacular than the last. Little rocky coves with sunbathers basking next to the sea. Ancient villas sticking out over cliffs with views clear to Naples 26 miles away. Expensive yachts lining a bustling port with tony shops and outdoor cafes. If you put together the minds of Bernini, Neptune and Prada to design an island, it would look like Capri Island Italy.

However, Capri (pronounced CAH-pree) is about as exclusive as Baggage Claim in Rome’s airport. I have never seen so many people crammed on one rock in my life. It’s only 4 x 1.8 square miles and attracts 10,000 tourists a day. Nothing in Greece in July compares. It was like all the immigrants in the history of man came to Manhattan Island at the same time.

I stayed in a bed & breakfast that was “only” 120 euros. By the price scale of Capri Island Italy, that represents your basic closet. It wasn’t. Alle Ginestre sat at nearly the top of the island. From the lounge chairs on my front porch I could see across the sea all the way to Naples and Mount Vesuvius.

Capri Island Italy: Palm trees dot the island always in the right places
Palm trees dot the island always in the right places

Three Main Parts of Capri Island Italy

There are three main parts of Capri: Capri town which has the major cruise port, Anacapri which is the island’s other main village high up on the hill and the countryside.  Capri town looks like a playground for millionaire yacht captains. Piazza Umberto I is enclosed by outdoor cafes. The narrow, windy roads closed off to traffic are lined with Prada, Gucci and Bulgari outlets among others. Tanned tourists with designer sweaters and shades nearly as expensive nibble on piles of mixed green salads and pasta dishes with porcelain cups of cappuccino at their side.

Anacapri is much more laid back.  It’s spread out over a half dozen streets. School children in matching uniforms run across narrow roads with minimal traffic. Local craft stores and lazy sidewalk cafes in understated piazzas replace designer outlets although the prices aren’t much different.

The Capresi, despite the constant flood of tourists, are remarkably nice. This isn’t life in a fishbowl. It’s life in a sardine can. It’s that crowded. Piazza Umberto I had so many people preening, strolling, eating, diners seemed to swing their forks away from bodies to reach their mouths. The little buses, about the third the size of a normal school bus, go from the harbor to Capri town one level up and then up higher to Anacapri. I often waited 30-45 minutes to find space on a bus and that was only space enough to breathe.

Capri Island Italy: The popular Piazza Umberto I
The popular Piazza Umberto I

Swimming in Capri’s sea is one of the remarkable experiences in Italy but it has no beaches. It is surrounded by rocks, big, sharp, black boulders. They accompany every majestic cove. It’s a beach only an Indian fakir could love. And every cove is packed. I went to one private beach that charged 21 euros for a lounge chair. All the lounge chairs were full. Could I pay 21 euros just to lay down my towel? The stocky beach boy laughed and waved his hand at the mountain of rocks beyond the overpriced cafe where I stood. He was right. I couldn’t see one 3 x 4-foot rock free to place my towel. I finally found a public beach with a bit of sand scattered along the rocky shore, kind of like sprinkling confetti on New York’s Fifth Avenue. I laid down nose to feet and feet to nose with a few hundred other sunbathers for two hours. However, the warm, clear waters made tightroping along the rocks well worth it.

Capri Island Italy: There is a lot more rocks than grains of sand on Capris beaches
There is a lot more rocks than grains of sand on Capris beaches

How Much Things Cost

The prices in Capri Island Italy are comical. I dropped by La Scalinatella, one of the many five-star hotels scattered around the island.  I asked for the rate card. Then I asked for a sedative. The cost for a double room was 480 euros. That’s the cheapest available. It’s 640 for a deluxe and 830 for a junior suite.

One store sold a simple black swimsuit with white stripes for 168 euros. A bag at Prada was 1,600 euros. A black and red dress was 3,800. You don’t need a bag to go shopping here. You need a loan officer.

Capri Island Italy: The view from the five star hotel La Scalinatella
The view from the five star hotel La Scalinatella

The 18-euro Tour

The best bargain on the island was the 18-euro boat tour that circumvents Capri Island Italy in an hour. On my particular ride, a hilarious, bald tour guide gave a history to a boatload of sunburned, pudgy English tourists. The guide pointed out one arch where, legends has it, if you kiss your significant other as you go under, you will stay with her forever.

“Men,” he said, “think TWICE before you make a move.”

But he was a wealth of information. He pointed out a bevy of watch towers used to fend off attacks from the Turks and Greeks. During the Roman Empire, the reclusive Emperor Tiberius built 12 villas, all of which he hopscotched during in his manic paranoia of assassination. After the fall of the Roman Empire, pirates ransacked Capri Island Italy right down to its seashells, burning the island seven times. Then came a string of colonization from the French to the English, back to the French and eventually to Sicily in 1813. In the late 1800s, celebrities discovered it and Norman Douglas wrote his famed novel, “South Wind,” a slightly fictionalized characterization of the beautiful island and its gentle people.

Capri Island Italy: A classic Caprese sunset
A classic Caprese sunset

I will be back. You can’t let crowds stand in the way of beauty. We all get good views and there’s a reason we look. You don’t need $500 sunglasses to see Capri Island Italy.

Follow John Henderson’s travel website, Dog-Eared Passport

About John Henderson


John Henderson worked nearly 40 years as a sportswriter, the last 24 with The Denver Post, including eight as a traveling food columnist. Worked since 1984 as a free-lance travel writer. Traveled to 98 countries and retired to Rome in January 2014. Originally from Eugene, Ore., and also worked in Kent, Wash., and Las Vegas. Graduate of the University of Oregon in 1978. Check out my blog, Dog-Eared Passport. Twitter @JohnHendeRome

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2 Responses

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    Nicola McCarthy

    Hello! I loved reading your piece here about Capri! Its exactly what I was looking for 🙂 We’ll be travelling in Sept and I was just wondering where you took the photo of the sunset from? Seems to be the perfect vantage point. Hope to hear from you! Thank you!!!


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