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 cliff bound 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, you might want 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’s a short walk from Piazza della Vittoria, past a long gauntlet of souvenir stalls, to Axel Munthe’s Villa San Michele, a light, airy house with lush and fragrant gardens that is one of the highlights of the island. A nineteenth-century Swedish writer and physician to the elite, Munthe lived here for a number of years, and the place is filled with his furniture and knick-knacks, as well as Roman artefacts and columns plundered from a ruined villa on the site. There’s also an attractive, small natural history exhibition in the gardens, which fills you in on local flora and fauna.
Top image: Faraglioni rocks visible from Giardini di Augusto in Capri, Italy © Natalia Macheda/Shutterstock