Travel: How to visit Capri without breaking the bank

Clare Speak
Clare Speak - [email protected]
Travel: How to visit Capri without breaking the bank
A view over the port of Capri from Villa San Michele. Photo: Clare Speak/The Local

Capri is synonymous with glamour, though these days the island is known for being crowded and expensive. But there's quite literally another side to the island.


There's a good reason why Capri, the fabled island off the coast of Sorrento in southern Italy, is synonymous with sun, sea and the super-rich. After all, it's the place where Sofia Loren would go to escape from the crowds at her villa back in the day, as did Gracie Fields, the most (or perhaps only?) glamorous famous person from my hometown. And it's still known as a second-home hotspot for today's rich and famous.

No wonder the Italian man who is now my husband thought it would impress me.


But I wasn't sure if the likes of Loren would still be charmed by Capri today. My brief pre-trip research had led to me believe that the island now was all about overcrowded boat tours and questionable seafood restaurants.

But I had no idea that we'd be seeing a very different side to the island.

Photo: Clare Speak/The Local


After the vertigo-inducing drive up the steep, winding road from the port, the bus we'd caught headed west. We were soon very clearly the only people on there who didn't live on the island, and by the time we got off, there was absolutely no one around.

Away from the port and Capri town, you'll find Anacapri, located hundreds of feet above the Mediterranean Sea. The prefix ana- in the name comes from classical Greek, meaning "above".

In Anacapri the quiet countryside has a feeling of timelessness, appropriate for a place where ancient Greeks, Romans and many others have settled.

It was a hot walk up a dirt track to our accommodation, which we took slowly, stopping to watch the lizards darting up and down dry stone walls and behind exotic-looking flowers growing wild along the path..

When he'd said we were staying at an “agriturismo”, I'd expected to be sleeping in a barn. I was not prepared for our farm stay, perched on one of Anacapri's highest points, to be quite so chic. And miraculously, we had the whole place to ourselves in the middle of July.

The view from our agriturismo.  Photo: Clare Speak/The Local


There are no beaches on Capri. This was my first disappointment – in Capri, I learned that I'm not a fan of sunbathing on a sort of rocky outcrop. There are plenty of great places to swim, though, and the lack of beach makes the water around the rocky coves clear and pure.

We got back on the local bus and made our way to the Lido del Faro where, after sitting on a rock to dry off after a swim in the sea, we walked up the the Punta Carena Lighthouse. Perched on white cliffs high above the sea, it's an incredible place to watch the sun go down.

A better way to enjoy the coastline is by boat. .Capri is famous for all those private yachts that moor in its marina, owned by the various international millionaires and billionaires who have holiday homes on the island.

We joined a more affordable boat tour and set out to see the caves and rock formations which are the first thing many people associate with Capri.

These are the Faraglioni: the three towering rock formations jutting out from the sea.

The middle one, Faraglione di Mezzo, is the most famous as it has a tunnel big enough for small boats to pass through. The tradition is to kiss as you pass underneath the rock.

Our tour didn't go to the Grotta Azzurra, and that was fine with me. Visiting seemed to involve joining a long line of small boats and queuing for an hour under the blazing sun before popping inside for a couple of minutes. So I can't tell you anything about Capri's most famous sight, other than that visiting in July doesn't look like a lot of fun.

After that we caught the Monte Solaro cable car from the port area up to the town of Capri.

Photo: Clare Speak/The Local

Here you'll find the smattering of souvenir shops, several pretty, whitewashed churches, the statue of Gracie Fields, and the Piazzetta, or Piazza Umberto, where a simple espresso in any of the cafes will set you back five whole euros.

That and the fact that the square was like a hot, airless oven sent us wandering down a backstreet in search of a cafe. We didn't find one for about twenty minutes, but when we finally did it had much lower prices, a fantastic view, and even a breeze on the outdoor seating area.

And the unexpected walk through winding, narrow streets filled with whitewashed houses ended up being a highlight of the day. You can easily walk around much of the island, and it's the best way to see it.

Anacapri has its own “centre”, which is really more like a single path lined with tiny shops, mostly selling perfume, coffee and limoncello.

From here, a walk up the phoenician steps (actually built by the Ancient Greeks) takes you to Villa San Michele. Built around the turn of the 19th century by Swedish physician and author Axel Munthe, this grand villa and its gardens are set across several levels, all with incredible views over the port, the town of Capri, and the sea.

The Sphinx. Photo: Clare Speak/The Local


The villa and its gardens are filled with artworks, including ancient Egyptian artefacts. One of the highlights is the Sphinx, which looks out over the bay. You're supposed to touch it and make a wish - and I can't tell you what I wished for, but my wish was granted pretty quickly.

Munthe wrote a highly successful memoir titled The Story of San Michele, which describes how he discovered the island, built the villa, and decorated it with the remains of palaces built by the Ancient Romans which he found on his land.

After wandering around the villa, a plate of alici fritti, a salad and a glass of wine for lunch on a tiny restaurant terrace, again with that incredible view, was a very affordable light lunch.

It was so hot and humid in July that during the day, all I wanted was granita and the occasional bit of fried seafood. But the dinners we had there late at night were decadent, and ranked among the best I've ever had in Italy: one at Da Tonino, which has panoramic views and the kind of tiramisu you dream about later, and another at our agriturismo, where we sat out on a secluded, candle-lit terrace and I wondered if they were actually trying to feed us to death.

Despite doing things more cheaply, we still burned through our money in just a few days on Capri. It's an expensive place to live, as the owners of our agriturismo explained, and so things will always cost more than they do on the mainland.

But if you're careful, I learned, it is possible to have an affordable stay in Capri. 

Photo: Clare Speak/The Local

Stay in quieter Anacapri, choose family-owned accomodation instead of a luxury hotel, seek out small restaurants off the main squares, walk or catch the local bus or cable car instead of taking a taxi, and you'll have cash left over for granitas, limoncello, and the other important things in life.

Doing this also makes your trip more sustainable and means that the money you do spend will be supporting local businesses.

Most importantly it didn't feel like we were overpaying for things, and it was worth every cent for such an unforgettable trip.

It might be known as the playground of the rich and famous, but there's no price tag on enjoying Capri's slow pace of life, or soaking up the air of ancient mystery and decadence.

While I felt like I could happily stay there or weeks, three days was about all my bank balance could handle. And you do need a few days. 

Day trips to Capri are a waste of time, as there's no opportunity to get into the island's pace of life, see the side most tourists miss, or experience the magnificent sunsets.

I hadn't expected Capri to live up the hype. But as we sipped coffee and waited for another incredible home-cooked breakfast at our surprisingly chic agriturismo, taking in the incredible view of the Gulf of Naples glittering below and the neighbouring island of Ischia in front of us, I fully understood what all the fuss was about.

Photo: Clare Speak/The Local


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Anonymous 2019/05/25 11:30
I lived in Naples for a year back in the 80s and used to go to the island every couple of weeks in order to regroup my brain from the bustling chaos of the city. It set a trend and I have returned something around 20 times since then but not for the last 10 years as the expense of so doing (I am now retired) precludes a return so it was interesting to read this account. I know all the places mentioned and recognise the description of the humid heat which affects the island for much of the summer. How many times have I too sat at Punta Carena and seen the sun dip below ...<br /><br />The island has a side to it which most tourists are unaware of and it is a side of considerable wonder. It remains one of my top five places in the world as it brings together history, mystery, food and wine and the still discernible hint of decadence which once gave it a different sort of star quality than today. But one must stay on the island for a few days and one must walk everywhere. Use the Monte Solaro chairlift and walk back to Anacapri and you will begin to know something which can then be followed up with visits to Roman and Phoenician sites near Capri itself. <br /><br />Capri is an inspirational place once one knows it better. There's nowhere quite like it.

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