48 Hours in Capri

Fleur Kinson spends 48 hours in Capri and discovers the island’s best-kept secrets – its wonderful walking routes, far from the crowds, with stunning natural beauty in every direction…

Glamorous partygoer arrives in Capri harbour

Towering out of the Bay of Naples, Capri has long seemed a distinctly enchanted island. It was from here that the sirens of Greek myth reputedly called to Odysseus. And the seductive aura of the place hasn’t abated since. The Emperor Tiberius famously built a pleasure palace on Capri, where he entertained lovers till he tired of them and threw them off the high cliffs. Various sensualists were later drawn ineluctably to the island, including the Marquis de Sade, and throughout the 20th century a long succession of artists, writers, actors and politicians all fell under Capri’s spell.

And how could a place so beautiful incline the mind to anything but pleasure? Capri is a sensual delight. Gentle sea breezes and hot sunshine take turns to caress your limbs, flowers and pine trees sweeten each inhalation, and the eye is constantly assailed with high white rock and wide blue sea, with fruit-coloured villas and teeming greenery. It was this aspect of Capri that I wanted to explore – not the yachts and luxury boutiques, not the spa-pool idylls and exquisitely-dressed evening passeggiata. I just wanted to walk for hours across the island’s exceptionally beautiful terrain. And so, armed with a map of Capri’s various paths and trails, I set out for two days of blissful walking.

My boat sweeps into the harbour at sunset, and up in Capri Town’s piazzetta I find the glamorous pre-prandial passeggiata in full swing. The honeyed light of a warm September evening gilds the locals in their effortlessly elegant clothes and the tourists in their adequate-to-shabby travel-rags. Everyone is happily milling about, perusing shop windows, sipping aperitifs and plotting where to have dinner tonight. Vesuvius broods across the water, and a small volley of fireworks goes off from the roof of a large yacht in the port below – some private celebration made suddenly public.

Marina Piccola
Marina Piccola

Reluctantly tearing myself from the happy hubbub, I board a taxi and am whisked away to the island’s other main settlement – the quieter and possibly even prettier Anacapri, set at the towering highest point of the island. Here I’m enfolded into pure luxury at the Capri Palace Hotel, and after a magnificent meal followed by stupefied strolls round glowing turquoise pools, I fall asleep to dreams of tomorrow’s long, sun-kissed walks, where I shall be surrounded by fragrant vegetation and enjoy spectacular views across a cobalt sea.

When I awake and open the curtains, a monsoon is pounding onto my balcony. The nearest hillside has vanished beneath a shroud of vapour, and the sky is a ragged, low-hanging mass of hostility. I’m English and so I know every shade of rain, but I’ve never seen anything like this. It’s violent, tropical rain. Exotic, alien rain. It pours like a waterfall and roars like a lion. It’s thrilling, but it’s no good for walking in. I close the curtains and go back to bed, expecting it to pass over in an hour or two. But it doesn’t. It’s a freak storm, and baffling to the locals. I hear that on the mainland, the road to Sorrento is impassable. How exciting. But what to do? Will I let a soaking scupper my day’s walking plans? I will not. I gamely don my leather jacket, swathe my camera in plastic, and set out.

Clearly impressed by my fortitude, the rain pulls back a little, downgrading its mood from furious to sullen. I follow a series of charming pedestrian alleys out of Anacapri, admiring the fecund back gardens of passing homes – fig trees, vines, fat orange marrows lying on the soil, tomatoes and fruits heavily pendant from bushes. The views out across the sea to other islands and the mainland would be breath-taking in clear weather. But rain or no rain, the air is beguilingly soft and sweet, and my spirits are high. My shoes become squelching sponges, my soaked trouser-ends slap against my ankles and my hair hangs in wet rat-tails round my face, but truly, the walk just gets lovelier.

After admiring a dramatic clifftop vista of the distant Punta Carena lighthouse which marks the southwestern tip of the island and the intended end of my walk, I bound downhill through a fragrant wild pine forest with a springy layer of vivid red-orange pine-needles underfoot. The rain-shiny tree trunks twist at pretty angles, and there’s a halo of radiant green needles overhead. It’s an arresting, Arcadian landscape – in any weather. I navigate through a tiny village then down a whole hillside of steps that leave my legs trembling by the time they spill me out onto a tiny road. I can hear the occupants of the few passing cars thinking “Who is that crazy, sodden blonde woman marching through this downpour, and why?” The rain finds renewed vigour as I make a final push to the lighthouse, where I whoop defiantly at the sky and then throw myself on the mercy of a passing bus to deliver me to a hot bath back at the hotel.

Natural arch climbing from the sea
Natural arch climbing from the sea

The next day, it’s a tense moment when I roll up the electric shutters. Hot light sweeps across the room. Sun! Sun! I leap onto a bus to Capri Town, intending to walk the entire east of the island. The tall, narrow bus merrily rattles me down the hairpin bends of tight little roads evidently built with no expectation of two-way traffic. There’s an audible gasp from my fellow passengers whenever we pass an oncoming vehicle – only inches away, with nothing but a solid rockface on one side and a death-plunge on the other.

I alight into the scrum of Capri Town and squeeze my way through once-lovely streets now flanked with the nauseating glitz of millionaire – boutiques and awash with slow-moving backpacks and baseball caps. Things improve considerably as I leave the town and join the network of quiet pedestrian paths that weave all over the island. Relishing the warm sunshine on my legs and arms, I stride past teeming gardens and pretty villas, deeply breathing in the sweet, delicate smell of the pine trees. I stop only to admire a clifftop panorama of offshore rock stacks and a yacht-dotted marina – its inky blue depths ceding to turquoise shallows, all streaked with the white trails of travelling boats.

From this blessed vantage point, I head down and along a paved hiking trail that sinuously curls around the southeastern edge of the island – sloping up and down, and periodically breaking into steep steps. I pass very few other walkers. It’s all shrieking cicadas and bushy trees, the sudden flash of coppery lizards across white rock or grey stone. It’s all solitude and space, an exhilarated immersion in a perfect natural world. Capri Town is less than a mile away, but it’s a million miles away. The magnificent haughty lump of the Sorrento Peninsula looks approvingly at me from across the water ahead.

I want to see how much ground I can cover in four hours, so I power onward. Rest-stops are for weaklings. I round the island’s southeast corner in a blur of a billion steps and carry on higgledy-piggledy northward, passing an ancient grotto-temple and climbing up, up, up to the arresting Arco Naturale – a high natural arch of white stone with the sea at its feet and endless tumbles of leaf all around. The sole viewing point for the arch is a tiny terrace in the sky, almost abutting the rock of the arch itself – making it a spot both vertiginous and claustrophobic. Here I allow myself a five-minute break to stand agog, catch my breath and ward off a feared heart attack after all the climbing.

Ruins of Tiberius's Villa Jovis
Ruins of Tiberius’s Villa Jovis

The plan now is to go all the way up to the ruins of Tiberius’s Villa Jovis, at the northeastern tip of the island. I plough heroically on, joining new pedestrian alleys that carry me past curlicued gates guarding the jungly front gardens of heart-meltingly lovely villas. Rampant bougainvillea spill fluorescent pink and purple across white stone walls backlit by vivid blue sky. Out across the bay I can see the hazy tump of Ischia and the distant blur of Naples. The path climbs steadily all the way to Villa Jovis, adding to the sense of rising towards some wonderful final goal. Which of course it is – a sprawling mass of Roman bricks worn smooth by sea wind and millennia, set on cliffs halfway to the sky.

Full of endorphins, glowing with exercise and sun, I crunch back through a sloping hillside wood. The branches suddenly open out to reveal a huge view across the entire length of the island – down to Capri Town and up the high hulk of rock beyond it with Anacapri perched on top. I’m seized by a delicious roller-coaster feeling of having crested one high point and rolling giddily down before escalating towards another. The island feels like a great tilting entity – undulating, full of high climbs and fun plunges. It’s a playground you can ride around on foot. You could do a different long walk here every day, until you knew the place intimately. The island is small enough to be knowable in its entirety, but topographically exciting enough to keep you always enchanted. Capri, you great beguiler, you siren of the bay. Among everything else you are, you’re a walker’s paradise.

For Fleur’s top tips on where to stay, where to eat and drink and what to see and do on your trip to Capri, click here.