Stop and Smell the Roses: Anacapri Shines with Natural Beauty


At the end of the day, when it’s time to shut off the lights in glittering boutique after boutique, each beckoning with prestigious designer names on Capri’s high-end shopping streets, salesclerks hop on their motorini or catch the island’s faithful mini-buses. They head to some of the Mediterranean island’s most enchanting corners high up on the verdant hills, where islanders make their homes, in white-washed “villette” lining flower-scented lanes, or within strolling distance of stupendous cliff-side views of sapphire-blue water, a lighthouse, and birds soaring over the seas.

Anacapri is Capri isle’s ”other town”, where a sojourn is an idyll for the asking. Even simple rental houses are surrounded by lush gardens; full-fledged villas come complete with pools and servants. Augustus knew he had a choice in real estate when he visited, and traded it for Ischia, a larger island in the Bay of Naples. A later Roman emperor, Tiberius, had several villas constructed to honor the gods on Capri, which became his retirement home.

Even a few hours in Anacapri can be heavenly. While many tourists come up from Capri for a quick look around Anacapri’s tiny town center, relatively few take the time for gentle hikes on paths that slip past modest islanders’ homes surrounded by vineyards or dotted with lemon trees — think limoncello — or wind down roads that seem more like wandering through one big public botanical garden, with a riot of colors and perfumes assailing the senses as flowers spill over fences.

So rare are passing tourists on some of these paths, that if you stop to sniff or photograph up close an exotic blossom, chances are a good local will smile and start chatting, regardless of what language the visitor and islander speak. Anacapri’s residents are grateful when visitors appreciate the island’s natural beauty that is part of their everyday lives.

Anacapri’s more formal tourist delights are few, but richly rewarding. Visitors who wander to the 18th-century San Michele church walk gingerly over a walkway that protects its majolica floor, with a marvelous, imaginatively vivid rendering of Eden.The guardian shows genuine pleasure when tourists respectfully admire the flooring.

And if the gardens and trellises along Anacapri’s back streets aren’t wonderful enough, Villa San Michele, a house built by a Swedish doctor and writer who lived much of his life on Capri, Alex Munthe, and tastely decorated with antiques, can be toured. The highlight is a landscaped, extensive garden, which invites lingering and admiration of its selection of typical Mediterranean flora as well as plants from other continents, At one end, an overlook presided over by an granite Egyptian sphinx, presents a picture-postcard view of the Bay of Naples. The heart can reach the villa and garden, perched 1,000 feet above sea level, by climbing the Phoenician staircase, or by a short stroll, from Anacapri’s center. The villa was built on what was a site of an ancient imperial villa. Tourists can relax at a modest café with sublime views of the seas.

For an even less populated corner of Anacapri, but with more breathtaking views of the sea below, there is the ”Belvedere” or panoramic viewing point, at the end of the pleasant Migliara path, reached by following former mule paths, or by paved, rising roads. Belvedere offers sweeping views which encompass the ”faraglioni” — towering rocks which rise ruggedly out of the sea.

Indeed, not far from sophisticated Capri town, hikers can wander on footpaths or better, mule paths, that invite exploration. Swimmers will likely enjoy their dip in the pristine sea by climbing down the ladders of yachts or jumping off colorful wooden fishing boats that circumnavigate the island, although a few paths lead down to tiny rocky beaches where locals take their sun.