Isle of Capri
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Written by Rick Archer
November, 2009

Our first stop on the cruise was Naples down in southern Italy.  There were some tough choices in Naples.  Many of the SSQQ group chose to visit Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius.  Still others took a trip along the beautiful Amalfi Coast. 

Marla and I had our sights set on the legendary Isle of Capri.   Marla had been studying Capri from practically the moment she first booked our Barcelona Trip.  

Marla explained to me the name of the game was to get to the top of Mount Solaro, the massive volcanic peak that dominates the entire island.


This Google Earth photo shows that the two major population centers - the towns of Capri and Anacapri - are separated by a mountain range featuring Monte Solaro.

The towns of Capri and Marina Grande are nestled in a valley that was once the cone of the volcano.


Ferry Ride from Naples to Marina Grande

As you sail in to Marina Grande from Naples, you can't actually see Mount Solaro.  Mount Solaro is back behind that crest you see in the picture.

In order to get to the top of Mount Solaro, you have to get there in four stages.  Stage One is taking the hydrofoil or the ferry from Naples over to Capri.  Marla determined the less expensive option was to take the ferry although the hydrofoil might actually not be much more.   The ferry cost 28 euros roundtrip.

The ferry is a ten minute walk from the cruise ship.  The ferry ride to Capri took 50 minutes. 10 + 50 = 60 minutes.  That's one hour.

Are you a gambler?  If you hop on the 5 pm ferry  from Capri to Naples and your cruise ship departs from Naples at 6 pm, you better hope that ferry stays on schedule.  If you are not a gambler, then you will have to come back to Naples an hour early.  In retrospect, the hydrofoil might have been the better option.  The hydrofoil is about twice as fast.

As you can see, the view of Capri from the water is simply stunning. 

Marina Grande and the Funicolare (i.e. funicular railway)

Our ferry docked along that rock-lined pier in the picture below.  Stage Two of our trip was to board the "funicolare", a subway-like train.  The funicular train runs at angle of 30-40 degrees up the side of the mountain straight to the town of Capri. 

As we got off the ferry, the ticket office for the funicular was completely separate from the train itself.  The funicular was extremely inexpensive.  My roundtrip ticket was 2.6 euros.  The wait in line was 20 minutes and the ride itself was 10 minutes.  


Living here in Texas, we don't have much experience with "split-level living".  We all live on the ground floor!

However, on the island of Capri, there are dwellings on every level of this mountainous island.  In the picture above, you can see both Marina Grande at water level and the town of Capri above on the crest of the hill.  The red arrow points to the "funicular" which connects the two towns together.

A funicular, also known as a funicular railway, is a cable railway in which a cable attached to a pair of tram-like vehicles on rails moves them up and down a steep slope, the ascending and descending vehicles counterbalancing each other.

Apparently there are two set of cars.  As one goes up, the other goes down.   What a clever idea!

The Town of Capri

About mile above the ocean, the town of Capri rests on a mountainside plateau.  Capri is practically right above Grand Marina.  The town of Capri is one of the two major population centers, the other being the town of Anacapri higher up on the mountain. 

Stage Three was to hop a bus to take us to the town of Anacapri on the other side of the island.   As you get off the funicular, you can pick up the bus about 400 yards away if you turn right. We turned left and wasted about ten minutes wandering around until I was able to find someone who spoke English. 

Once we did find the correct direction, the three ladies in our group - Marla, Maggi Dodds, and Ann Harrah - found a useful landmark for any future trips.  Just take the path that goes past the Prada store!   As you can see from the body language on Mike Harrah, he wants to get away from there as fast as he can.

Catching the Bus to Anacapri

The bus station is about 20 yards past the Prada store.  I was stunned at how little room there was for the buses to operate.  In the middle picture below, notice that the bus is about the same width as the street.  Notice the narrow sidewalk for tourists to avoid getting squished to death as the bus passes. 

Parking the bus is a major headache.  The bus has to drive past its spot, then carefully back into it.  There is little room for error.  I noticed scratches on practically every bus.  I did not for a moment criticize the drivers.  I would be hard pressed to do any better.

The bus ticket cost all of 2 euros... one euro up, one euro back down.  We barely missed a bus and had a fifteen minute wait for the next one.

The trip up the side of the mountain took about 15 minutes.  You have no idea how small the roads are.  One time another bus tried to pass.  One vehicle stopped while the other inched by at 2 miles an hour.  I estimate no more than two feet separated the two buses.  These drivers must have nerves of steel. 

The riders had to have nerves of steel as well.  At many places, the road passed on the edge of a huge cliff.  That roadside barrier didn't look very high either. One mistake and... well, you know.  I wish I could have gotten some pictures, but it is impossible to take a decent picture from a bus. 

Anacapri and the chairlift to Solaro

The town of Anacapri is not very large.  Nor are its vehicles!

Note that little three-wheeler.  I saw lots of vehicles about that size.  The roads are very narrow.  No place for any Texas-sized trucks, trust me.

Stage Four was riding the chairlift up to Mount Solaro.  Anacapri is the spot where the bus lets you off so you can catch the chairlift.  The ticket box isn't difficult to find.  It is just ten yards or so from where you get off the bus.  It cost 12 euros.

The trip up the mountain was wonderful fun!   What a view!

By the way, the chairlift is not scary at all.  It is fairly easy to get on and off.  As you can see, they have people to help you.  No problem.

On Top of  the World at Mount Solaro

Mount Solaro is basically Italy's answer to Shangri-la.  There is a plaza at the top of Mount Solaro where you can get an expresso and cookies to keep you company.  Then you sit back and take in the magnificent views.

When you reach the plaza, the first thing you see is this lovely statue. 

In the background, you can see the famous rock formations known as the Faraglioni, a famous landmark of Capri.  The Faraglioni are three blocks of rock that have survived coastal landslides, erosion by the sea and all manner of atmospheric corrosion. 

You really do feel like you are on top of the world up here.  When I was a kid, there was a song by the Who with the phrase: "I can see for miles and miles and miles!"   That pretty much sums up the view in every direction.   For example, in the picture directly below, off in the distance you can see Sorrento, an Italian peninsula on the Gulf of Naples.   Obviously at one point in time, Sorrento and Capri were joined.

In the second picture, you can see the remains of the villa of Tiberius.   At age 56, Tiberius became the second Emperor of the Roman Empire.  He was the man who followed Augustus Caesar after his death in 14 AD. 

As a young man, Tiberius had been one of Rome's greatest generals.  However he was deeply reluctant to become emperor.  Unfortunately, thanks to the devious moves of his mother Livia, the wife of Augustus, Tiberius didn't have much choice. 

Tiberius was Emperor for 23 years (14-37 AD).  He did a conscientious job for 12 years, then basically quit. He handed the job to his assistant Sejanus and began a self-imposed exile.  Tiberius moved to his villa on the Isle of Capri where he lived out the last 12 years his life.  The story of Tiberius, Livia, and Sejanus is very dark.  I can't wait to share all the gory details later on.

In the picture below, that's the town of Anacapri down below from where the chairlift originated.  You can basically see the entire island from up here.

In the second picture below, you get a look at the comfortable plaza where the people can hang out while they enjoy the views from the top of the world.  I had a definite feeling of paradise as I sat back in my lounge chair.  Too bad I had to leave!

As Marla said, if you are a tourist, the name of the game in Capri is to visit this lovely area up here first.   It was definitely worth the trip.

The Mountain Path at Mount Solaro

As I took the chairlift back down the mountain, I noticed a very clearly defined path that more or less ran parallel to the lift.

When I got home, I took a look at Mount Solaro using Google Earth.  That's how I got the picture of that path.

Obviously the climb up the mountain would be time consuming and exhausting.  However if I am ever fortunate enough to take another trip to the Isle of Capri, I think it would be fun to walk back down the mountain.  The walkway did not look steep at all.  For the adventurous, it would definitely be a great hike with magnificent views.

I estimate the walk down would take between 45 - 90 minutes.  However keep in mind I haven't walked it, so that is just a guess.

Here is a picture taken from a plane.  That is Mount Solaro in the background.  The 3 Faraglioni Rocks are on the left.  The famous Blue Grotto is on the far right. You can see Marina Grande in the center.

Anacapri is hidden behind Mount Solaro.

That cliff in the very front of the picture is where the Villa of Tiberius is located.

Travel Decisions

One of the tricky choices on a trip to a new location is whether to depend on the ship's excursion package or bravely set forth on your own.  There is no question that you can save money by going out on your own, but there are definite risks involved. 

Historically, Marla and I have cut it down the middle depending on the situation.  Sometimes we take off on our own, sometimes we rely on the ship to do it for us.  For example, on last year's trip to Rome, Greece, and Turkey, we signed up for two excursion packages, walked two days on our own, and relied on our friend Iqbal for two days.

It is basically in our nature to go it alone.  We have discovered the ship's packages sometimes stick us with terrible guides who keep us at their mercy for the entire day.  Or for that matter we are at the mercy of the slowest people in the group.  Both of our excursions last year suffered from very weak guides.

Our rule of thumb is a simple one... if we can walk to it, then we will probably do it on our own.  Based on that philosophy, we planned to visit Capri on our own.  On the other hand, the cruise write-up for the Capri Excursion was very inviting.  At the last minute, several of our friends decided to book it.  We were torn over what to do.

Here is Royal Caribbean's description of the excursion to Capri

Spend a day on the popular island of Capri, which teems with tourists during the summer. Soak up the luxuriant gardens, the sun-drenched squares, restaurants, shops, and crowded streets. You will also enjoy the spectacular views of the sea and sky from Anacapri.

From pierside in Naples, you will walk to the nearby marina to board a boat for your scenic 50-minute cruise through Naple's Bay to the Island of Capri. Arriving at the colorful Marina Grande, your guide will dispatch you into various local minibuses for the transfer along the winding road to Anacapri. Visit the beautiful Villa S. Michele and gardens of Axel Munthe, a Swedish physician and author of the famous book, The Story of San Michele, in which he wrote his life, his discovery of Capri, and his dream of establishing his home on the island. The villa offers an interesting collection of antiquities and marvelous panoramic view from the garden. After the visit, you will have a short time to explore Anacapri before the return drive to Capri Town. (Instead of visiting the Villa S. Michele, you may take the chairlift to Monte Solaro if time and crowds permit.)

The route will offer magnificent views along the way. Walk with your guide through narrow streets and the central square, La Piazzetta, which is surrounded by intriguing old buildings and filled with sidewalk cafes. Popular with tourists and local alike, Capri is always extremely crowded and bustling with activity. You'll savor a lunch of Italian fare with wine at a hotel or restaurant in Capri Town.

After lunch, you will have the opportunity to explore the Gardens of Augustus with your guide. The gardens are filled with many species of plants and you can take in the views of the Faraglioni, a famed offshore rock outcropping, and the Bay of Marina Piccola. Explore Capri's fabled plaza, La Piazzetta, with its many chic boutiques and gift shops before taking the funicular back down to Marina Grande, where you will board your watercraft for the return trip to Naples marina where you will walk to the nearby pier.  Capri is a very popular island and crowds should be expected during your visit. You may encounter crowds and delays at the funicular station in Capri.


That is Marla and Maggi walking ahead of me as
we made our way back to the funicular in Capri. 

The Game of Travel

A major part of the Travel Experience involves exploring new places complete with unknown pitfalls.   The Amazing Race is a fascinating TV show which portrays the difficulties of fighting the unknown.  Contestants travel to  multiple countries in a variety of transportation modes, including planes, taxis, rental cars, trains, buses, boats, and by foot.  Watching how the contestants overcome unexpected problems is half the fun!

Capri was like an "Amazing Race" for Marla.  Marla saw a perfect opportunity in Capri to save some money. She believed the island was small enough that she could negotiate all the various stages on her own and save a few euros in the process.  As everyone knows, "Travel" can be very expensive.  A smart traveler can save themselves a lot of money by doing some things on their own.  At the same time, "winging it" is a bit like tightrope walking.  One mistake or one unanticipated problem and the do-it-yourself traveler can outsmart themselves and get stuck!   

The threat of missing the boat was a real concern to her... as well it should be!   For example, on this trip, one couple missed the train from Rome to the ship back in Civitavecchia.  It took a very costly cab ride to solve the problem.  For that matter, Marla and I came very close to missing the train in Rome the same day.  We were lost on the confusing streets of Rome and couldn't seem to find the train station.  No one spoke enough English to help us out.  Then I lost Marla too!  I remember feeling panic-stricken at our close call!  Later in the trip, yet another couple missed the boat in Marseilles.  They had to take a train back to Barcelona on their own.  

The Game of Travel has its trade-offs. One of the problems of touring places on your own is the uncertainty of how long it takes to get from Point A to Point B.  No matter how much Marla had researched her day at Capri, she still wasn't certain how long it took to get from one place to the other.  How often does the ferry run?  How long does it take to catch the bus?  How long is the line at the funicular?  How long is the ferry ride? How long is the bus trip?  All of these uncertainties weighed on her mind. 

All in all, it took us about 2 1/2 hours to get to the top of Mount Solaro.

Stage One (Ferry):
One hour
Stage Two (Funicular): 30 minutes (20 minutes in line, 10 minute trip)
Stage Three (Bus to Anacapri):  50 minutes (10 minutes to find the bus, 20 minute wait,  20 minute bus ride)
Stage Four (chairlift): no wait.  10 minute ride.

So what did it cost us?  45 Euros

  Ferry (roundtrip) -- 28 euro
Funicular (roundtrip) -- 2.60 euro

Bus -- 2 euro (2 trips)
Chairlift -- 12 euro

45 Euros converts
to 67 USD

On the other hand, we could have taken the excursion sponsored by the cruise line.  I believe it cost $149.  Many of our friends took this excursion through the cruise line.  Afterwards, they raved about the experience.  They got to do everything we did including the trip up to Mount Solaro.  They had a guide.  Lunch was included and was very pleasant indeed. 

They also had peace of mind.  A ship-sponsored Excursion is guaranteed not to miss the boat!  Because they had a guide who had the times down pat, they got to stay on the island two hours longer than Marla and I did.  This extra time allowed them to do things like see the Gardens of Augustus among others. 

We were invited to take the excursion, but Marla had put so much work into her plans that we decided to stick with our original decision to wing it.  So Marla and I each saved $80. 

On the other hand we lost out on two hours by being extra careful about time.  We also missed spending valuable time with our friends. 

So I would have to say the results of our experiment were something of a toss-up.  


The Capri Lifestyle

After spending a wonderful day strolling through three charming towns, Marla and I began to wonder if this was the sort of place we would like to live some day.

I suppose there are some aspects to living in Paradise that the locals must object to.  I am sure they complain about the tiny roads and cramped spaces. 

I am sure they complain about the thousands of tourists that overrun their island on a daily basis.

And, boy, a steady diet of that blue sky and blue sea must really get boring. 

And all that walking uphill and downhill must surely get exhausting. 

But for all these terrible problems, Marla and I decided we would be willing to give it a try if the opportunity ever presented itself.  Capri was delightful.


For amusement, I spent the day looking to take pictures of beautiful women wearing Capri's, the distinct style of pants that are part shorts, part long pants.  I was sorely disappointed.    There were of course tourists all over the island who did wear Capri's, but I promise you they were not exactly making any fashion statements.  There were a couple of fabulous women who actually seemed to live on Capri, but not one of them wore Capri's.  That is when I began to suspect that "Capri's" had gone out of style here on the island of their origin.  So what could possibly be the newest style?

That's when Marla stumbled on what she thinks will be the next rage out of Capri - The Pastel Zombie Look.  Don't forget - you heard it here first!




Barcelona 2009 Home Barcelona Day One Barcelona Day Two Isle of Capri Day Three Evil Map of Rome Day Four
Florence and Pisa Day Five Nice and Eze Day Six Marseilles Day Seven Who Went Formal Pictures
Precruise Information Capri - PreC Rome Reborn Florence - PreC  
The Fabulous French Riviera Nice and Eze Monaco Fast Lane Grace Kelly Cote d'Azur
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