Luminous: Blue Grotto, a sea cave in Capri, Italy.
Standing on the elevated bus stop along the pebble beach of Marina Grande in the Isle of Capri, we couldn't help but notice a few kids playing around. Children pelted pebbles into the sea at an angle and those sank deep into the Tyrrhenian Sea after making a few bounces off the water surface. Often, the waves came roaring into the beach, splashing tiny trinkets of salt water on their faces, driving the kids away from the shore. A brief honk made us scurry inside the crowded bus that took us on a roller-coaster ride from the base of Capri Island to its top, Anacapri.
Capri is a small Italian island located in the Tyrrhenian Sea off the Sorrentine Peninsula, on the south side of the Gulf of Naples. With regular hydrofoils and ferries from Sorrento, Naples and Amalfi - Capri is a favourite day-trip destination among the travellers. Capri Island has two main towns - the centre being Capri, which shares its name with the island itself, and the other located uphill, Anacapri. One can alight from their ferry at Marina Grande and take a funicular to Capri town, or take a bus/cab directly to Anacapri.
Our first destination of the day was Grotta Azzurra or the Blue Grotto, which was beyond Anacapri, so taking the direct bus was a natural choice. With meandering karst-limestone cliffs on one side and a sheer drop into the Tyrrhenian Sea on another, the bus snaked through the curvy roads at the edge of the island. The hydrofoils making criss-cross patterns on shimmering sea sparkled like the cuts on a diamond from a distance. Narrow paths shaded by olive trees and carpeted by wildflowers welcomed us to Anacapri. From there, we took another bus to Grotta Azzurra, where an adventure awaited us.
Grotta Azzurra is a tiny sea cave on the coast of Capri. This cave has a small opening - just two metres wide and approximately one metre high. Often, during high tides, the entrance to the cave is shut off, thus making it inaccessible. But, luckily for us, the day was clear but still, the choppy waters kept the uncertainty factor intact. After waiting for our turn with bated breath, it was time to immerse in the magical Blue Grotto experience.
The insignificant opening of the cave mouth made us lie down on a four-seater rowboat to emerge on the other side of the grotto, while the oarsman held the chain above and pushed the boat inside. The moment we made it into the grotto, we were surrounded by a magnificent blue all around us, the kind we've never seen till date. The light from outside seeps through the minuscule cave opening, refracting on the surface of the water, forming a bewitching blue glow. The oarsman sang barcaroles that bantered symphony into the rather eerie atmosphere and turned the ride into a romantic sojourn.
But soon, uncertainty loomed over us as the tides became powerful and the water started gushing inside the cave, pushing us away from the exit. The boat alarmingly swayed to the powerful water currents. Our skilful oarsman calmed us down and took a shot at it and rowed with all his power. He held the chain at the cave mouth, instructed all of us to lie down and pulled the boat out of the grotto. Once we were back to the shore, the grotto was closed for the day and the ones waiting had to turn back in despair. We were blessed - both, to come out safely and yet experience the spell of otherworldly Blue Grotto.
In hindsight, going to the top of the island was a good decision. Instead of climbing uphill, all we had to do now was to descend a handsome flight of stairs to access most of the prominent sights. A short bus ride later, we came back to Anacapri and walked down the path surrounded by quaint homes with neatly decked-up gardens where lush bougainvillaea decorated almost every fence.
Monte Solaro is the highest peak on Capri with an elevation of 589 m. From its top, we can get panoramic views of the Capri Island. We can either trek for an hour or take the exciting 15-minute chairlift ride to get to the crown of Monte Solaro. We chose the chairlift way, which actually looks dangerous at first sight, but isn't as scary as it may seem.
Each person is allotted an open chair and a simple rod-like knob locks across the chair. As the chair moves slowly, inch-by-inch, in the middle of a forest, scenes open up into a spectacle offering sweeping views of the island. Altitudes soar and houses with patches of home-grown farms start to appear hazy, while the sea and skies merge into a distinctive blue, forming a mirage at the far end.
Atop Monte Solaro, yellow and purple wildflowers hang from the jagged cliffs that plunge into the deep blue Tyrrhenian Sea. Capri's famous 'Faraglioni stacks' can be seen from here. Also known as 'The Three Sisters', these rock structures rise from the sea, perfectly augmenting the fairytale setting of the view from Monte Solaro.
After descending Monte Solaro, again through chairlift, we had a scrumptious filling of wood-fired cheese pizza from a café in main Piazzetta of Capri town.
Our next stop was St Augustus garden which hosts one of the best terraced botanical gardens in town. The gardens of Augustus warrant a romantic walk in the flower-decked terraces overlooking the calm sea and the Faraglioni stacks.
Set on the other side of the gardens is Via Krupp, an engineering marvel - a series of hairpin bends cut from the rock adjoining the cliff, and are carved out so close that looks as though these are overlapped. Though it wasn't open for visitors due to loose falling rocks, just seeing them from above was a sight to behold.
Sun slipped its way into the evening, reminding us that we had a return ferry ticket to Sorrento. We grabbed a few souvenirs to gift folks back home - Blue Grotto fridge magnets and colourful starfish shells were shopped.
As the ferry moved away from Marina Grande, we knew that Capri would be missed - for its unruffled breeze, its vibrant gardens, authentic Italian flavours, zigzag paths, mesmerising caves, and its splendid holiday vibe.