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Capri - The places to know

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Get Capri wrong and it can be a major disappointment. Here Nicky Swallow, who's been going for years, provides all the classic addresses plus more unusual finds.



An impressive chunk of limestone soaring from the Tyrrhenian Sea, Capri has been attracting attention since Roman times: the notorious Tiberius ruled the empire from the cliff-top Villa Jovis, and in the mid-19th century the island became a magnet for artists, intellectuals, aesthetes and especially writers, drawn by the inspirational scenery, gentle climate and dreamy, liberal lifestyle: 'Capri makes you forget everything,' remarked Lenin when visiting Maxim Gorky here in 1910.

In the 1950 and 1960s, the literati gave way to glitterati. Images of Jackie O wandering the narrow lanes in ankle-skimming Capri pants, huge sunglasses pushed back on her head, are synonymous with the island's appeal in the heady jetset age (as are the Capri sandals she had made by local cobbler Canfora).

Visiting anywhere so famous is always tricky, and I have to confess to being disappointed the first time I stepped off the ferry at Marina Grande, one baking late August afternoon some 12 years ago. The quay was lined with tacky souvenir shops, cheap bars and restaurants touting fixed-price menù turistico deals. Glamour just didn't come into it.

I later learned that in high season an average of 20,000 day-trippers pile onto the island every day; I also learned how they can be avoided. Capri is the sort of place that grows on you, and it has been growing in my affections ever since that first visit, but it takes a bit of effort: you need to stay several nights (day visitors all leave by late afternoon) and you really need to go out of season.

In May, the carpets of wild flowers add glorious colours to the wild scenery, but the sea is chilly; I personally prefer late September or early October when the evenings are balmy, the water is still warm and there is a sense that things are calming down to a seductively easy pace.



The Summer Time