Rural themes are not limited to Jersey! Philippa Evans-Bevan continues her series, RURAL REACH, taking readers off the Island to international locations. Recently she took us to Madeira: she journeys now to: CAPRI
Slipping out of a Naples B&B at 5 am in the dark to catch an early ferry bound for Capri, was the perfect prelude to the visual crescendo of my first sighting of the island of Capri. I did not have to wait long. The distance from Naples is only 20 miles.
The dawn ferry is used for transporting daily supplies, and Italians who work in Capri but who live on the mainland, so my travelling companions were the conveyors of essential goods and services. The men with the mozzarella, technicians, teachers and more.
As the twinkling lights of Naples faded behind us, we journeyed out into the Tyrrhenian Sea. The sun was creeping over the horizon and it was a calm and surreal sail as Mount Vesuvius came into view to the east. Moments later Capri began to loom larger and larger like a majestic monument of Nature surrounded by sparkling emerald and blue water.
Capri consists of a high block of limestone and sandstone rock rising at its highest point to 589m above sea level at Monte Solaro. An area of six square miles, the shape of Capri is compared to a camel’s back with two mountains east and west, and a saddle between which slopes to the sea.
Disembarking in Marina Grande, (which is not very large) there was no sign of these slopes, only a cliff face. I was at a slight loss as to how I scaled this to reach the main commune of Capri above. A bemused barrister who had observed my confusion, kindly pointed me to a small archway. I had found the ladder. The Capri Funiculare.
At the top, the view from the pretty piazza was magnificent and also greener than I expected. There are more than 800 species of plants that flourish on the island and in the days that followed as I meandered through lemon groves and explored the wild natural beauty of the island breathing in the scents of Mediterranean shrubs and herbs, I saw mastic trees, broom, myrtle, arbutus, heather, cypresses and the occasional oak tree.
Many species have small leaves with a thick waxy layer, which reduce the loss of water during the hottest hours of the day. During those hours I also sought relief from the heat and in need of a cooling swim. I discovered the beaches are tiny, just a few square meters of pebbles and small platforms positioned between the rocks on the water’s edge. The Blue Grotto is not to be missed.
The azure and clear emerald waters around the Island of Capri are host to a diverse fauna of mammals, fish, reptiles and invertebrates including the Blue Lizard and cuttlefish.
Capri is well known for its fresh seafood, and of course its namesake salad:
Insalata Caprese. Delicious plump tomatoes are cultivated on the island to combine with fragrant basil and Capri produces some of the best olive oil in Italy. Zucchini is also widely grown and for a small island, Capri has an impressive natural larder and wine cellar too. The Ventroso and Uva Rappa grapes are authentic to Capri and wine making here dates back to the Greeks.
There is no lack of cultural as well as culinary delights; Capri has a rich history dating back to Neolithic times. The development of the island by Emperors Augustus and Tiberius, the later tossing of Capri between the French and the British, until the end of the Napoleonic era in 1815 is a fascinating tome of historical chronology.
Many colourful characters match Capri’s rich history. It became a popular resort for European artists, writers and celebrities. The book that spawned the 19th century fascination with Capri in France, Germany, and England was Entdeckung der blauen Grotte auf der Insel Capri (Discovery of the Blue Grotto on the Isle of Capri) by the German painter and writer August Kopisch,
Artists John Singer Sargent and Frank Hyde stayed on the island around the late 1870s and Claude Debussy refers to the island’s hills in the title of his impressionistic prélude Les collines d’Anacapri (1910).