December 08, 2014

Simply Lovely Anacapri

Of the two towns on the Italian isle of Capri, Anacapri may be smaller and lesser known than glamorous Capri town but its charm and tranquility have won me over. You'll find luxury here too, like the Capri Palace Hotel, but the town’s top attractions are more modest: ancient Roman statues, an Egyptian sphinx and a traditional majolica tile floor.

Quiet Streets of Anacapri

The name Anacapri comes from the Greek word “ana”, which means upper, as the town is located higher than Capri town, at the base of Monte Solaro. We travelled there by mini bus and the drive itself is an event. There’s a saying that the bus drivers on Capri are either very good, or dead. And I must confess that, when I first read this little tidbit, I considered skipping a visit to the town. (I once rode a bus that slid off an icy road into the ditch and I've been wary of buses ever since.)

The Bus Ride to Anacapri

But the breathtaking views were the perfect distraction and before I knew it we'd arrived at Anacapri's central square, Piazza Vittoria.

Piazza Vittoria, Anacapri

Piazza Vittoria

Our tour included a ticket for the chairlift to the top of Monte Solaro but I’m not fond of heights or chairlifts either. I took the opportunity to see the sights on my own while my daughter joined the group for the journey to the summit. We agreed to meet an hour later beneath the bougainvillea-draped shopping arcade of the Capri Palace Hotel.

The Monte Solaro Chair Lift

Capri Palace Shopping Arcade

I began my exploration of Anacapri by following Via Capodimonte to one of the places on my Bucket List, Villa San Michele. And since we’d arrived before the onslaught of the day-trippers, the pedestrian walkway lined with shops and leafy trees was blissfully quiet.

Anacapri Shopping Walk

Villa San Michele was built in the 19th century by Swedish physician Axel Munthe. I toured the rooms of the villa and then went out onto the terrace to find what I'd really come to see:  an ancient Egyptian Sphinx.  The granite sculpture dates from the time of Ramses II and makes a memorable sight gazing out from his parapet across the sparkling Bay of NaplesAnd after the heat and crowds of Rome, my stroll through the villa’s shady gardens was a treat with its trickling fountains, thickets of blue hydrangeas, and chorus of warbling birds.

Villa San Michele, Anacapri

The Villa Terrace

The Sphinx of Villa San Michele

The Gardens of Villa San Michele

To find the other places on my to-do list, I headed in the opposite direction from Piazza Vittoria along Via Orlandi which leads to Anacapri's Centro Storico, or historical centre.

Bronze Statue in Piazza Vittoria

Via Orlandi

My first stop was Chiesa San Michele, St. Michael's Church, notable for its flooring of majolica tiles. A raised walkway lines the perimeter of the nave and the pews have been removed to leave an unobstructed view of the floor. But the scene depicting the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden is best viewed from a second floor balcony, reached by a narrow circular staircase. The floor was created in 1761 by Neapolitan artist Leonardo Chiaiese.

Chiesa San Michele, Anacapri

Church Interior

Majolica Tile Floor, Chiesa San Michele

Staircase to the Second Floor

Then I backtracked to the Casa Rossa, the Red House, completed in 1899 by an American, Colonel J. C. Mackowen, and named for its striking Pompeian red walls.

Casa Rossa, Anacapri

The Red Walls of Casa Rossa

Casa Rossa Entrance

Casa Rossa Courtyard

Domed Roof, Casa Rossa

There are some minor pieces of artwork on display at the Casa Rossa but the highlight of the collection is the group of ancient statues recovered from the depths of the Blue Grotto in the 1960s and 70s. It's believed that the statues of the sea gods Neptune and Triton were commissioned by the Roman Emperor Tiberius.

The Blue Grotto Statues

Speaking of the Blue Grotto, this was my second visit to Capri and both times the Blue Grotto tours were cancelled due to rough sea conditions. The closest I got to the famous cave was this postcard. If you’ve ever ventured inside the grotto, you're very lucky!

Blue Grotto Postcard

While I was busy exploring the sights of Anacapri, my daughter had enjoyed her visit to the top of Monte Solaro. I later enjoyed the panoramic views myself through the photos she’d taken.

The View from Monte Solaro, Anacapri

View of the Faraglioni Rocks from Monte Solaro

The Monte Solaro Chairlift

And we still had enough time for some gelato and shopping before the bus took us back to Capri town. The colourful displays of local ceramics, linens, lemon products and hand-made sandals make for fun browsing - and inexpensive souvenirs.

Anacapri Ceramics

According to Homer’s Odyssey, the island of Capri is the home of the seductive Sirens. The legend claims that their hypnotic voices lured sailors to their death by shipwreck on the jagged rocks.

Today, the island’s beauty lures travellers to her shores and the charming little town of Anacapri.

The Seductive Sirens of Capri

Siren Sculpture, Anacapri

Next:  Gardens of Augustus, Capri

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Posh Capri Town

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