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24 August 2016

Grotto Hopping in Capri

The island of Capri lies just 3.5 miles from the southwestern tip of the Sorrento peninsula and about 10 miles from Sorrento town. It's a small island, about 3.5 by 1.5 miles, with about 12,000 residents. In the peak season, tourists outnumber residents by a ratio of about three to one, but the island hasn't shaken its glamorous past it remains one of the most popular Italian islands, as well as being the birthplace of the caprese salad and capri pants.


There are regular ferries from both Sorrento and Naples but we hired a small motorboat for the day and our charming skipper Teodoro steered us out to Capri, where we circumnavigated the small island in a clockwise direction from Marina Piccola on the south shore. It took us about 45 minutes to reach Capri, and we rode past some of the pretty perched villages and Roman remains on the mainland, including Villa di Pollio Felice (not Pollo Felice (‘happy chicken’) as I first thought Teodoro said!).





Capri's most famous attraction is the Grotta Azzurra (blue grotto) on the north shore, but there are dozens of other smaller and still very beautiful grottos and Teodoro took us into several of them, including the Grotta Verde (green grotto), Grotta Bianca (white grotto) and Grotta dei Santi (grotto of the saints). The water is so clear and appears in various vibrant shades of green, blue and turquoise; when the water catches the light, the effect is absolutely stunning. 




We stopped off to swim and leap off the boat on numerous occasions. This was a good call given that the relatively small beaches of Capri were all incredibly crowded; laying down your towel requires exceptional Tetris skills.




We docked at Marina Piccola and caught a taxi up to the town of Anacapri, which is smaller and higher than the island’s main town, Capri. There isn’t a great deal to do in Anacapri and we didn't have time to take a ride on the chair lift up to the highest point on the island, Monte Solaro, but we wandered through the town’s main drag, Via Giuseppe Orlandi, and looked at the Casa Rossa (a Moorish style house in a vibrant red colour) and the church before stopping for lunch at Le Arcate, a large, rustic restaurant with friendly waiters and good value food. I had a pizza (shocker!), which was very good, although a little too crispy to be truly Neapolitan.




The taxi journey back down to Marina Piccola was just as exciting — the roads are very narrow and twisty and there are stunning views over the bay. After hopping back onto our boat, we carried on sailing around the island, passing various lighthouses, watchtowers, Roman ruins, grottos and the three faraglioni rock formations, one of which you can boat through.



Although we hoped to visit the Grotta Azzurra, we weren’t sure how long the queue was going to be. We had asked Teodoro whether we should head there first thing in the morning but he told us that the afternoon was less crowded. There were still quite a few tour boats waiting when we arrived, not to mention the long queue of people waiting on the mainland. Our skipper managed to arrange for us to jump the line, however, which must have been incredibly annoying for everyone else (sorry to anyone else who was in Capri on Saturday).


The five of us were crammed into one of the tiny row boats, which are the only boats allowed inside the grotto. After we had each paid our €13, our brusque but characterful rower sung O Sole Mio (this is not optional) and rowed us into the grotto. I was fully expecting it to be a) not much more impressive than the other grottos we had seen and b) a complete tourist trap. Happily, although it was not dissimilar to Disney’s 'Pirates of the Caribbean' ride, it really was an impressive sight and one that cameras can’t capture very well, especially not in the five minutes you get inside. The water really does glow an ethereal turquoise, like an incredibly beautiful swimming pool but without the lighting. If you stick your hand in the water, it glows too. We asked ourselves how much we would pay to have a private visit into the grotto for an hour at sunset (when the light strikes the cave mouth at the perfect angle) and the answer was quite a lot of money!




We had one last swim and then it was time to head back to Sorrento. But then disaster struck! Well, sort of. A rather large ferry-generated wave struck the boat and ruptured the belt that powers the water pump. Teodoro called for back up but started trying to fix it himself. As you can imagine, we were devastated to be lying in the sun on the front of a boat with views of Capri and the mainland for an hour! Just as the rescue boat arrived, Teodoro had got the motor started again and we were soon on our way home, just in time for a stunning sunset over Capri and Ischia. I don’t think I have ever been less bothered by a transportation breakdown!



Our day on the boat was one of the best of my holiday and I think it is one of the best ways to visit Capri, especially in August when the ferries, beaches and buses on the island are all extremely crowded. There are plenty of restaurants and some good shops on Capri, especially in Capri town, but it is expensive to stay on the island and if you are on a budget, a day trip might be a better option.





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