Guarding each prong of the Bay of Naples, the islands of Capri, Ischia and Procida between them make up the best-known group of Italian islands. Each is a very different creature, though. Capri is a place of legend, home to the mythical Sirens and a much-eulogized playground of the super-rich in the years since – though now settled down to a lucrative existence as a target for day-trippers from the mainland. Visit by all means, but bear in mind that you have to hunt hard these days to detect the origins of much of the purple prose. Ischia is a target for package tours (predominantly from Germany) and weekenders from Naples, but its size means that it doesn’t feel as crowded as Capri, and plentiful hot springs, sandy beaches and a green volcanic interior make the island well worth a few days’ visit. Pretty Procida, the smallest of the islands and the least interesting – though the best venue for fairly peaceful lazing – remains reasonably untouched by the high season.Read More
Sheering out of the sea just off the far end of the Sorrentine peninsula, the island of Capri has long been the most sought-after part of the Bay of Naples. During Roman times Augustus retreated to the island’s gorgeous cliffbound scenery to escape the cares of office; later Tiberius moved the imperial capital here, indulging himself in legendarily debauched antics until his death in 37 AD. After the Romans left, Capri was rather neglected until the early nineteenth century, when the discovery of the Blue Grotto and the island’s remarkable natural landscape coincided nicely with the rise of tourism. The English especially have always flocked here: D.H. Lawrence and George Bernard Shaw were among its more illustrious visitors; Graham Greene and Gracie Fields had houses here; and even Lenin visited for a time after the failure of the 1905 uprising.
Capri tends to get a mixed press these days, the consensus being that while it might have been an attractive place once, it’s been pretty much ruined by the crowds and the prices. And Capri is crowded, to the degree that in July and August, and on all summer weekends, it’s sensible to give it a miss, though the island does still have a unique charm, and it would be hard to find a place with more inspiring views. It is expensive, although prices aren’t really any higher than at other major Italian resorts, and you can find very reasonably priced and attractive accommodation in Anacapri. Alternatively, just visit on a day-trip, which should give you time enough to see the major sights of the island.
Largest of the islands in the Bay of Naples, Ischia (pronounced Iss-kee-ah) rises out of the sea in a cone-shaped series of pointy green hummocks. German, Scandinavian and British tourists flock here in large numbers during peak season, attracted by its charming beach resorts and thermal springs. Although its reputation has always been poorer than Capri’s – it is perhaps not so dramatically beautiful – you can at least be sure of being alone in exploring parts of the mountainous interior, and La Mortella, the exotic garden cultivated by the British composer William Walton and his widow Susana, is an unmissable attraction. Indeed, if you’re after some beach lounging, good walking and lively nightlife within striking distance of Naples and the rest of the bay, it might be just the place.
The island is fairly large and has some two-dozen towns, villages and hamlets, spread around in a ring, with the cone of the dormant volcano in the centre, and the more reasonable order for a visit is anticlockwise, given the way the towns are clustered.
A serrated hunk of volcanic rock that’s the smallest (population 10,000) and nearest island to Naples, Procida has managed to fend off the kind of tourist numbers that have flooded into Capri and Ischia. It lacks the spectacle, or variety, of both islands, though it compensates with extra room and extra peace.
The island’s main town, MARINA GRANDE, where you arrive by ferry, is a slightly run-down but picturesque conglomeration of tall pastel-painted houses rising from the waterfront to a network of steep streets winding up to the fortified tip of the island – the so-called Terra Murata. Part of this was once given over to a rather forbidding prison, now abandoned, but it’s worth walking up anyway to see the abbey church of San Michele, whose domes are decorated with a stirring painting by Giordano of St Michael beating back the Turks from Procida’s shore. The views, too, from the nearby belvedere are among the region’s best, taking in the whole of the Bay of Naples.
For the rest, Procida’s appeal lies in its opportunities to swim and eat in relative peace. There are beaches in Marina Grande itself, on the far side of the jetty, and, in the opposite direction, beyond the fishing harbour, though both are fairly grubby. Similarly, Spiaggia Chiaia, just beyond the fishing harbour of nearby Coricella, is a reasonable bathing beach but isn’t very large and can get crowded. On the whole, if you want to swim you’re better off making the fifteen-minute bus journey from Marina Grande to CHIAIOLELLA, where there’s a handful of bars and restaurants around a pleasant, almost circular bay and a long stretch of sandy beach that is the island’s best.