Finding the Holy Grail

Capri is the “Pearl of the Mediterranean”, which is located in southern Italy. It is famous for its rugged landscapes, stacks, and natural grottoes. (Photo courtesy of Capri.com)

WANDER LUST

Return to the Isle of Capri

After a brief sojourn to this beautiful island eight years earlier, gastroenterologist Dr. Jun Ruiz revisits Capri where white houses, limestone cliffs, and deep blue water fascinate him; and where a trip to the dark and solemn caverns of the Grotta Azzurra (Blue Grotto), which filter the sun rays reflected on the electric blue water, totally overwhelms him


Capri is considered to be one of the most gorgeous islands in Southern Europe. This “Pearl of the Mediterranean” is located in southern Italy. The isle of Capri is famous for its rugged landscapes, natural grottoes, unique tourism, and mild Mediterranean climate.

Capri was home of the emperors, seat of monasteries, and place of exiles during the Roman Empire and the Middle Ages. In the late 19th century, it attracted writers, artists, and bohemians after the rediscovery of an enchanting cave called the Blue Grotto. Subsequently, Capri attracted members of the European royal families, aristocrats, and politicians who engaged in fashionable parties and gala dinners in the island. This atmosphere of luxury and sybaritism established its image as a mecca for the rich and famous. Movie stars of Hollywood and European cinema added luster to Capri as they made the isle their playground in the post-War era.

Though its glamour days are over, Capri still retains its reputation as a desired destination to millions of visitors. Due to its mild climate, Capri can be visited any day of the year. I have been fascinated to see Capri in its full glory for years.

The beautiful white limestone cliffs, the lush vegetation studded with colourful houses, and the azure sky by the Marina Grande contribute to the spectacular scenery of Capri. (Photo courtesy of Jun Ruiz)
The beautiful white limestone cliffs, the lush vegetation studded with colourful houses, and the azure sky by the Marina Grande contribute to the spectacular scenery of Capri. (Photo courtesy of Jun Ruiz)

Capri is located 29 km from Naples, and 13 km from Sorrento. The total land area is only 11 square km. To reach Capri, take a ferry from either Italian city, which takes around an hour. Most of the visitors come to the island just for the day, as most of the top attractions can be seen in one to two days.

In 2008, I was invited to be one of the speakers for a medical convention set on a cruise. I gladly accepted the opportunity, upon the encouragement from my Uncle Arturo and Aunt Rosette. I was also looking forward to a fabulous European cruise vacation with relatives.

One of the ports in the cruise is Naples. I convinced our group that we go to Capri, and we took the ferry. As I got closer, the breathtaking image of Capri in my mind dawned on me. The beautiful white limestone cliffs, the lush vegetation studded with Caprese white houses, the deep blue-colored sea, and the clear azure sky all contributed to the spectacular island scenery.

Marina Grande

We arrived at the island’s main port, Marina Grande. Picturesque pastel-colored houses overlook the harbor, providing a colorful welcome to the island. You find here all the ferries that arrive and depart to and from the island, and this is the starting point for the boat tours.

From Marina Grande, we began our six-hour tour by riding the funicular to the town proper. The island is composed of two municipalities. Capri is the capital of the island with the same name, and saddled between two rocky mountains. The second town is Anacapri, which is set on the slopes of Mount Solaro.

La Piazzetta is the heart of the main town where you find the famous Watch Tower, the City Hall, and Church of Santo Stefano. (Photo courtesy of Capri.com)
La Piazzetta is the heart of the main town where you find the famous Watch Tower, the City Hall, and Church of Santo Stefano. (Photo courtesy of Capri.com)

La Piazatta

We were given time to sample La Piazzetta – the heart of the main town. The most prominent landmarks include the famous Watch Tower, the City Hall, and the baroque-style Church of Santo Stefano. You see a bustling of tourists enjoying the designer boutiques, elegant pizzerias, countless handicraft stores, and inviting cafes. Roam the labyrinth of little squares, narrow alleys, and streets, surmounted by arcades between Caprese houses – indicating Medieval origins.

Family Picture in La Piazzetta in 2008
Family Picture in La Piazzetta in 2008: Uncle Arturo, Aunt Rosette, author Dr. Jun Ruiz, Aunt Ammie, and Scott

The piazza leads to the loggia of Belvedere, which is dominated by a succession of white columns. Here you can admire spectacular panoramas of the mountains and the sea. The view is particularly enchanting in the late evening when the numerous lights of Capri contrast with the dark silhouette of the mountains,creating a fairytale-like effect.

Anacapri

We boarded our tour bus to Anacapri. Overlying along the gentle slopes of Mount Solaro, Anacapri occupies the plateau with its white houses of Caprese architecture, giving it a rural feel. I wanted to ride the chair lift to the top, but the rest of the company wanted to stay and buy handicraft from the stores. The characteristic souvenirs are ceramics, majolica, coral, and artisan products.

After spending an hour in Anacapri, we went back to La Piazzetta for coffee and last-minute shopping. We had too little time in the island. When our ferry left Capri, I promised myself that I will come back.

From Anacapri, ride the chair lift to Mount Solaro
From Anacapri, ride the chair lift to Mount Solaro. You get very good views of the white houses of Anacapri from the lift. (Photo courtesy of Jun Ruiz)

During travel talk with my cousin Atty. Cynthia Ruiz and family friend Beh Perez, they revealed how amazed they were with the Faraglioni and their Blue Grotto experience in Capri. I became more determined to return to Capri. It would take another 8 years, before finally returning to Italy. Last year, I made sure that our 16-day tour would include a visit to Capri. The wait to see the Blue Grotto had been too long.

From Sorrento

In our Italian grand vacation last year, we took the ferry from Sorrento. Upon seeing the breathtaking view of Capri, I knew I was back in paradise. I was very excited to share my dream and was able to successfully recruit four other adventurous young tour mates for this adventure. The Blue Grotto had become my holy grail. The rest of the tour group joined the more historical land tour.

Once we docked at Marina Grande, we immediately signed up for the boat tour of the island. We were excited to be told that the Blue Grotto was open, as it is only accessible if the weather, sea and tide conditions are optimal. The regular boat tour around the island lasts for an hour. The excursion brings you close to the numerous grottoes, be captivated by the natural wonders, and a 360-degree full circle journey around the island.

The enormous depths of the sea and the absence of sand result in a spectrum of colors in various shades of green, turquoise, light blue, and dark blue. The white limestone cliffs and the green mountains that dominate the landscape contrast well with the sea. The enchanting rocky jagged coast is lined with fabulous coves, and grottoes of spectacular beauty.

The Faraglioni is the most photographed attraction in Capri. The middle stack di Mezzo has a natural arch in the center where boats can pass through. (Photo courtesy of Capri.com)
The Faraglioni is the most photographed attraction in Capri. The middle stack di Mezzo has a natural arch in the center where boats can pass through. (Photo courtesy of Capri.com)

Faraglioni

The highlight of this boat ride is the close encounter with an icon of Capri. The Faraglioni are stacks that are geological landforms, consisting of steep and vertical columns of rock in the sea, formed by wave erosion. They are symbols of the island, and are the most photographed attraction in Capri.

There are three stacks, and each one has a name (Stella, di Mezzo, and Scopolo). The middle stack, at 80 m, has a natural arch in the center where boats can pass through. Riding through the middle stack was really a thrill. Romantic couples kiss as a sign of their love as the boat goes under the dramatic arch. This is said to be a promise of eternal love.

The author Dr. Jun at the top of Mount Solaro enjoying panoramic vistas of Capri.
The author Dr. Jun at the top of Mount Solaro enjoying panoramic vistas of Capri. (Photo courtesy of Jun Ruiz)

When we reached the outside of the mouth of the Blue Grotto, we were disappointed to be advised that it was closed as the tide was high. Thus, the boat could not enter the cave. We were given hope that it may be accessible later during the day. We went back to Marina Grande and re-assessed our alternate plans.

Travelling in style

The five of us agreed to travel in style by hiring a private open-top Caprese convertible with a chauffeur to tour the island. We wore our sunglasses and soaked up the sun. We visited the famed Gardens of Augustus, which is a great place to relax, and admire the myriad of flowers. Enjoy the panoramic views of Capri from the lookout point, especially of the Faraglioni. Then, we passed through the winding Via Krupp and ended at Marina Piccola. It is a fashionably famous seaside resort that has the best beach in the island. It is rocky, and has many charming coves, but do not expect a whitesand beach.

Anacapri was our next destination, and the goal was to soar to the island’s highest peak – Mount Solaro. We rode the one-person chair lift with just a metal bar to secure you – your feet hanging in the air around 30 feet from the ground. It may be scary for some, but you get very good views of the island in your 12 minute-ride. At the summit of 589 m, shout for joy as you are rewarded with breathtaking and panoramic views of the island. You can see the entire island from here, and marvel at the sights of the Faraglioni.

Blue Grotto

We headed back to Marina Grande to try our luck for the Blue Grotto as we had only three hours left on the island. If we take the next boat tour, we would miss our ferry back to Sorrento. Our guide suggested hiring a private boat at €120 (Euros) for less than 30 minutes. We didn’t hesitate with that price tag among the four of us, as the Grotto adventure will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We paid an additional €15 per person to enter the grotto.

The Blue Grotto is the island’s main attraction. Be overwhelmed with excitement by the beauty displayed by the incandescent blue waters inside the cove. (Photo courtesy of Capri.com)
The Blue Grotto is the island’s main attraction. Be overwhelmed with excitement by the beauty displayed by the incandescent blue waters inside the cove. (Photo courtesy of Capri.com)
The author Dr. Jun Ruiz
The author Dr. Jun Ruiz waited for eight years to experience the Blue Grotto. Shown with him is his tour mate Charlie Cho from Maryland, USA

The Blue Grotto (Grotta Azzurra) is the island’s main tourist attraction. It is a dark cavern where the sea glows electric blue, as a result of the sunlight penetrating the grotto through a second underwater entrance. The light filtered by the sea is reflected by the marine depths, and it colors the waters with this shade of blue. Because of its very small entrance (one meter high), it is necessary for the passengers to lie flat on a little boat in order to maneuver inside the cave.

Once inside the cave, you can sit and be overwhelmed with ecstasy by the mind-blowing beauty displayed by this incandescent blue hue of the waters and the serene atmosphere. The milieu is so surreal and celestial that I thought I was floating in heaven. The cave is 50 m long and 25 m wide. After a few quiet minutes, our boatman started singing Italian tunes. This was indeed a celebration of la dolce vita.

We made it back to our ferry heading towards Sorrento in time. This was a photo finish of colossal proportions. It would have been heartbreaking for me not to see the Grotta Azzurra. My return to Capri was an amazing experience that I shared with new-found friends from all over the world. This was a dream that I waited for eight years. Finally, I found the holy grail in Capri.

At the top of Mount Solaro, you are rewarded with breathtaking views of the island, including the Faraglione. (Photo courtesy of Jun Ruiz)
At the top of Mount Solaro, you are rewarded with breathtaking views of the island, including the Faraglione. (Photo courtesy of Jun Ruiz)

September 2017 Health and Lifestyle

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