Capri: Exploring in solitude on an island away-day

Even in low season, Capri retains all the elegance of a Fifties film set. And there's even the legacy of more ancient playboys
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The Independent Travel

My fellow travellers queuing up for a ticket at the port of Naples are either smartly dressed, leather briefcase-carrying Neapolitans or "Capresi" returning home clutching anything from charming hand-carved "nativity scenes" to live chickens. The hydrofoil makes little fuss of an agitated Bay of Naples and after 50 minutes the island named Kapros, or wild boar, by the Greeks, looms into view.

My fellow travellers queuing up for a ticket at the port of Naples are either smartly dressed, leather briefcase-carrying Neapolitans or "Capresi" returning home clutching anything from charming hand-carved "nativity scenes" to live chickens. The hydrofoil makes little fuss of an agitated Bay of Naples and after 50 minutes the island named Kapros, or wild boar, by the Greeks, looms into view.

Historically Capri was always the ultimate awayday from the office. Lenin came here after a failed uprising in 1905 and even the Emperor Augustus visited regularly to get away from the mounting paperwork in Rome. In fact, he acquired Capri in 29BC. On this cold, crisp morning the island feels like it belongs only to me.

I make for the Swiss-built funicular that rises up quickly to the village of Capri itself. Ischia, Procida, Naples and the Sorrento Peninsula fill the horizon and the ever-threatening Mount Vesuvius reminds us all who's still in charge.

Coming to Capri is like watching your first film. On arrival, the picturesque Piazza Umberto is undeniably the stage set, and one reason why Capri has been the chic resort of choice for the wealthy since the mid-Fifties.

A Dean Martin lookalike in a Brioni suit is enjoying a hot cappuccino, the immaculate jewellery shops are still aching to adorn an elegant lady traveller, but today tightly wrapped Barbour jackets have replaced the desert suits and panamas. Despite my being the only soul on the Via Camerelle, Gucci, Ferragamo and all the other designer stores are open.

With the glitz in semi-hibernation, Capri is all about walking and exploring. The Certosa di San Giacomo is a rundown 14th-century monastery and probably the only reminder that anything at all existed between the holidaying Roman emperors and a visiting Frank Sinatra.

However, it is a 45-minute walk uphill along Via Tiberio that takes me away from the whitewashed and pastel-hued villas and east towards Villa Jovis - the imperial residence of the Emperor Tiberius. The landscape even in winter is verdant, even though the olive trees are hauntingly skeletal.

All of a sudden the legendary Faraglioni pop into view. These two enormous rock sculptures rise out of the sea like the Twin Towers in New York. Soon Villa Jovis approaches. The deranged Tiberius ruled the Empire from here for 11 years until his death. It is hard to believe that the ageing Caesar could bring such chaos and debauchery to such an inspiring place: the vistas are magnificent. The custodian points out how to get down much quicker. The exhilarating "Tiberius' leap" is where the stomach reels and the mind wanders as you peek over the fence on to a 275-metre sheer drop and imagine many a tortured enemy thrown down on to the unforgiving rocks below.

Back in Piazza Umberto, the uniformed waiter delivers just enough polite flattery to disguise the price of the steaming cappuccino: "Your taste is exquisite, sir." He then adds that a fiver will get me to the Blue Grotto and right around the island by boat.

There are many rock cutaways that surround Capri that were once used by the Romans as shrines for sibyls. The Blue Grotto though is something else. In the summer, hurried boatmen whisk you in and out in minutes on crowded boats. As the crack in the rock won't allow for oars or heads, I duck down while the boatman pulls the two of us along by a chain. Within seconds we are the only ones inside, just as the low winter sunlight filters through the water and lights up the grotto. It's... well, blue, but magical.

The best way to reach Capri is likely to be with Go (0845 60 54321, www.go-fly.com) from Stansted to Naples (cheapest return fares from £90, average price £130). You can either sail or take the train to Sorrento and board a boat there if you'd prefer a shorter crossing

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