Capri has a mystical almost otherworldly quality to it: perhaps because it requires a seemingly endless string of transportation to finally arrive at the main port that makes you feel like you’re traveling to the ends of the earth. Or perhaps it’s due to endless stories and varied history spanning from the Ancient Greeks to the Roman Empire to Audrey Hepburn to us lucky modern day visitors who frequent the island. I consider myself to be a part of an exceptionally fortunate subset of people who have visited Capri almost a dozen times (working in tourism has its perks). There is a special air to the island and it’s one of those destinations that surprisingly exceeds all expectations and world-renowned hype.
I was told before visiting Capri for the first time that the best way to visualize this mystical land is to envision it as a tiered wedding cake — describing layer by layer the vertical structure of the island. At first I thought this was an odd description for an island, but surprisingly it makes a lot of sense, so stay with me (and no I’m not talking about torta caprese, that’s a whole different story). The first layer consists of Marina Grande — the central hub and hearty base of the island — where the large majority of traffic to and from the island convenes. More of a thoroughfare than a main attraction, you’re swept away from the port and head up to the second layer and first main town on the island, Capri town. Here you can catch a glimpse of the sweeping views of the island and the sparkling blue and teal waters below.
As someone who always hikes from the port to Capri town (the wait for the funicular can be quite long in high season), the short 15-minute uphill walk stretches to feel like an eternity as you battle a steep incline and 90 degree heat in the middle of the summer. Arriving in Capri town out of breath, covered with a layer of sweat and dressed in my denim cut-offs is about as subtle as wearing an American flag across my chest and a hat that says “tourist.” More so than usual, my standard beach traveler outfit of sandals, shorts and a tank top is unacceptable attire for this part of the island.
Capri town is a luxury traveler’s dream. Fabulous visitors stroll the streets like a Milan catwalk, dressed to the nines and somehow repel the summer heat with their sheer fabulosity. Meticulously kept streets and piazzas — including the famous Piazzetta — are lined with cafe tables filled with patrons sipping refreshing limoncello spritz and granita. Bobbing in and out of high-end boutiques to catch gushes of refreshing air conditioning while eyeing designer goods is a preferred pastime in Capri town. For many day trippers, their journey to Capri ends here amongst the pristine pathways and name-brand negozi.
After grabbing a granita, those who continue the journey up the peak of the island stretching up towards the clouds will arrive at the third layer of our decadent island cake. For this portion of the trip I usually will jump on an affordable public bus. Traveling along winding, cliff-hugging roads is something I’ve become accustomed to fondly associating with southern Italy. Your eyes dart across the rugged terrain, lush greenery and vibrant blue waters to take in the fleeting beauty — while simultaneously distracting yourself from the pit in your stomach — as you rip around corners at breakneck speed. Somehow, thankfully, I, and thousands of others each year, always arrive safely in Anacapri.
Jumping off the bus in Anacapri instantly feels distinctly different than the carefully curated experience of Capri town. Maybe it’s the altitude and the breeze, but where Capri town can feel like a mix of crowds, chaos, and luxury, Anacapri feels lighter, calmer and more humble. Along the town’s quaint streets, in place of endless luxury boutiques, you’ll find locally-owned stores selling artisan-crafted ceramics and sandals. While many tourists do find their way up to the top of the island, the masses tend to remain on the layer below.
If you’re wanting to enjoy the beauty and magic of Capri, but with slightly less glitz, then Anacapri is mandatory. Perfectly positioned for the outdoor lover, you can hike to the Blue Grotto, the Punta Carena Lighthouse or up to Mount Solaro, which is the frosting on top of this luscious island cake. Visiting the very top of the island doesn’t always require a laborious hike, as the town is equipped with a chairlift that will whisk you away to the top. The single-seater chairlift gives you twelve minutes of solitary bliss accompanied by an 180-degree view of the island’s coastline. The quiet ride up to the peak is one of my favorite parts of visiting Anacapri. As someone who is way too scared that I might drop my phone or camera on the way up, preventing me from even pulling either out of my pocket or bag, the chairlift allows me to breathe in the moment, let the breeze dry the beads of sweat running down my neck, and appreciate the ride.
Once you arrive at the top of Mount Solaro, you’re met with spanning 360-degree views of the entire island of Capri, and on a clear day a glimpse of the Amalfi Coast and Sorrento peninsula in the distance. Down below the electric blue waters of Marina Piccola are speckled with boats and yachts and nearby you’ll recognize the famed Faraglioni rock formation. Enjoy the view with a reasonably priced coffee or a spritz at the mountain top cafe before heading back to Anacapri on foot or by gliding through the sky once more.
Many of my favorite Capri trips hold special memories from Anacapri, like eating endless insalata caprese and lemony seafood pasta over a lengthy lunch, or enjoying a coffee with my toes dipped into the pool at a B&B perched above the town. After many trips to the island, the individual memories seemingly melt together with the sweltering heat of every passing summer. What sticks with me the most is instead the senses that Anacapri ignites with every subsequent visit. The warm breeze that carries the scent of lemon through the tree lined streets. The feeling of being amongst the clouds surrounded by the bright blue sky and endless horizon, while simultaneously wanting to dive into the beckoning waters way down below. The sheer beauty of Capri and Anacapri refuse to become less impressive, no matter how many times I return.
While it’s easy to get wrapped up in the glamour and luxury of Capri when you visit (and I strongly suggest that you do), remember to breathe in everything that the island has to offer. Seek out those experiences that will leave their sensory mark emblazoned on your memory. Most of all, make sure to make it all the way up to the top of the cake.