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Episode #102: Christmas in Capri

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Have you ever wondered what it would be like to spend Christmas on the beautiful island of Capri? Italian towns have a charming way of celebrating Christmas – think cute Christmas markets and piazzas adorned with lights and Christmas trees! Capri is thought of as a summer resort but Christmas is usually a gorgeous time of year on the island that tourist visitors rarely experience.

Show notes

In this episode, Holly from Capri Michelangelo cooking school and experiences shares the many reasons why you should visit Capri during Christmas and the offseason (when covid is not a problem!). Holly lives on the island with her family (listen to Episode 42 to hear the romantic story of how she ended up living there). Holly tells us what you can do on the island around Christmas time and gives some inspiration for Christmasses yet to come.

What you’ll learn in this episode

  1. The lights that go up over Christmas in Capri are stunning and magical and certainly rival the more famous ones in Sorrento
  2. For 2021 they are having a special light installation on the clock tower, created by a famous Tuscan artist Michelangelo Bastiani called ‘Endless Blue/Blu Infinito’. Check that out here. This is going to be accompanied by a piano installation which will be nearby on the Funicolare terrace
  3. There are a variety of Christmas market locations in Anacapri and Capri filled with beautiful arts and crafts made by artisans on the island. They usually start early December and are on from the morning until around aperitivo time
  4. When you arrive in Capri it’s normally into Marina Grande, and you then take the Funicolare up to the top of the hill into Capri town – into the piazza, known as Piazzetta. The Funicular terrace is where you’ll find a bunch of Christmas stalls 
  5. The Piazzetta has been a famous meeting point of the island for over 150 years and gets very busy in summer. The bars on the Piazetta, usually close after the season ends and Grand Cafe will close right through until the next summer. In that area where the Grand Cafe usually is, at Christmas time will set up a stage which will then be the focal point for all the cultural events that will come in the weeks leading up to Christmas. 
  6. Whilst other bars – Bar Tiberio, Bar Caso and Piccolo Bar close after the peak season, they do re-open for the Christmas and New Year period
  7. Because Capri is such a touristy island, in the summer season, the majority of its residents are working (working hard and long hours!). So in the offseason, get togethers such as the Christmas light switch on ceremony are a fantastic chance for the community to really get together
  8. On New Year’s Eve there is a big concert in the Piazetta which starts around 10 pm and the festivities go on until 5 am with fireworks (best to reserve a table!)
  9. Christmas Eve is the main Christmas dinner celebration in Capri and Italy. This special dinner is always seafood-focused and may include things like insalata di mare (cold seafood salad), spaghetti alle vongole, baccalà (fried salt cod fish) and fritto misto di pesce (fried fish). It’s a very long night and you may even be having your second helping of spaghetti alle vongole at 3 am!
  10. When the Blue Grotto was ‘rediscovered in the 1820s by German writer August Kopisch, it started a trend for those doing the Grand Tour to come to Capri and many artists and intellectuals went on to settle on the island because they liked the mild autumns and winters
  11. Out of the heat of the high season is a great time to go hiking and explore the trails of the island (when it’s not raining). Perfect to pack a picnic (or get Michel’Angelo Capri to pack one for you!) and take the chair lift up to Monte Solaro mountain for the incredible view with its peak – the highest point of Capri or into the stunning Cetrella Valley down into Anacapri central – maybe passing some wild goats along the way. Or the Sentiero dei Fortini (the fort walk) from the Blue Grotto to the Lighthouse. Or on the east coast the Pizzolungo trail
  12. Other sites to see on these trails include the Arco Naturale ( a natural rocky archway), the ruins of Emperor Tiberius’s Villa Jovis, and the lovely Villa Lysis built in 1905 by Jacques Fersen. Most of the museums etc are opened though with shorter opening hours than in peak season www.capritourism.com will have the relevant opening hours for you to check as they update on a monthly basis with what museums are open, the hours of operation and prices. They also have up-to-date info on hotels and restaurants on the island
  13. If you take a picnic prepared by Michel’Angelo Capri, you are getting not only seasonal but a myriad of home-grown produce – from fresh basil and tomatoes in the summer season and in the winter season, there might be some spinach, cauliflower, fennel, eggplants, peppers, lettuces, and cabbages. Not to mention there will no doubt be a delicious Torta Caprese – a desert made with chocolate and nuts and some amazing wine to go with it all
  14. There are a lot of Roman ruins to explore on the island as Capri is where the Roman Empire was run by Emperor Tiberius for the last ten years of his life
  15. 20,000 plus people visit per day in July and August so it gets incredibly busy, so coming in the lower seasons it’s much quieter and less crowded
  16. The Blue Grotto is open in winter but only on calm days. www.capritourism.com has contact information so you can find out if it’s open in the low season. Boat tours that go around the island again, subject to the weather conditions, run year-round but they don’t take you inside the Blue Grotto as it’s privately owned and run
  17. The ferries run year-round to Capri from Naples and Sorrento. The Amalfi coastline ferries and the ferries out to the other islands like Ischia are not running in low season. The ferries in Naples run from Port Molo Beverello, which are smaller ferries so more likely to be canceled if the seas are rough. Calata di Massa port is where the car ferries go from so they are much bigger ferries and more likely to run. It’s rare, but occasionally no boats will go at all due to extreme weather. This can even happen in the summer season so you need to keep some flexibility in your plans
  18. From Naples the hydrofoil takes 50 minutes whilst the car ferry takes somewhere between 1 – 1 & 1/2 hours
  19. From Sorrento, it’s a short trip so the hydrofoil takes 20 minutes and the ferry 30
  20. A tip would be to never have your departure from staying on Capri on the same day as you have a flight – just in case you don’t make it back over. Schedule a couple of days in maybe Sorrento or Naples as a buffer
  21. You can take advantage of the shorter days by enjoying Capri’s magical sunrise and sunsets – so in winter you can catch the sunrise at 7.30 am and sunrise at 4.30 pm
  22. The Zampognari is a traditional bagpipe type instrument that has been passed down from father to son for generations, generally by farmers or shepherds with its origins in the countryside of the Campania region. Roughly between the 29 November and the 7th December and then again from the 16th to the 24th you will see them in Capri playing through the streets – a true sign that Christmas season is here!
  23. For a week – 10 days over Christmas, restaurants, shops, and nightclubs will reopen. So whilst they might not be open in November or after January 6, they will reopen just for l just this period when there’s a lot going on
  24. The famous boutiques along the Via Camerelle will be shut and boarded up as they are only open in the summer season but there will be lots of artisan shops open – like painter Antonio Palomba
  25. At this time of year, there is the Capri Hollywood Film festival, which might find some Italian actors and actresses on the island  they have a lot of scheduled free film screenings
  26. November is a transitional time as everything begins to shut down over October but then towards the end of November things start to ramp up for the Christmas season – when in December there are lots of things are going on. Then after January 6th everything quietens down again until the Spring. January and February is when lots of business do building work etc so if you’re wanting to stay in the hub of things those times might not be great – though if you want to stay out in a villa away from the main areas then that could still work great for you

What to do in Capri on rainy days

  1. Enjoy a food experience on the island with Michel’Angelo Capri – these include cooking classes, tasting sessions, degustation dinners, and lunches. In nice weather, these can be enjoyed in their gorgeous garden but from next season these can also be enjoyed inside in wet or windy weather
  2. Indulge in a long lunch or dinner at a local restaurant. There are not as many restaurants open but again check the Capri tourism board to find out which ones are open and when. You will not be surrounded by other tourists in these restaurants but by the islanders so it makes for a wonderful experience
  3. There are some great indoor museums and churches to visit. A beautiful church (where Holly got married) is St Stefano which has a bit of marble along its altar from Villa Jovis and the church in Anacapri, Chiesa di San Michele Arcangelo, has an incredible ceramic depiction of Adam and Eve
  4. Casa Rossa was built by the very first Americans that settled on the island, John MacKowen, who collected a number of artifacts and archaeological items from around the island. This includes five of the Roman statues, that were found on the seabed of the Blue Grotto in 1964, and from this year there is an interactive light show for this exhibit. A really interesting thing to see if you’re interested in the history of the island
  5. Get pampered! You can get your hair or nails done or get some beauty treatments at many places on the island including the Gatto Bianco Spa 
  6. Go to La Conchiglia, the local bookstore – grab yourself a book on Capri history (lots of English editions) to hunker down with
  7. Catch an Italian speaking film at Cinema Paradiso in Anacapri
  8. If you’re staying a bit longer than a couple of days – if you’re into yoga or pilates why not join a local class or you can even go for a gym session at one of the islands gyms
  9. In the winter season, in the lead up to Christmas, there are lots of pop up activities – everything from live music in the bars, pop up tea rooms, or even the local chess club competitions that you can join in with
  10. Spend some time in one of the local bars. Cafe Piccolo has some upstairs seating where you can sip on your coffee and grab a cornetto or another delicious bakery item or if it’s later in the day a glass of Aperol Spritz or winter warming red wine will go down well

Where to stay on Capri in low season

  1. The majority of the hotels again will shut down at the end of October, though some might just go to January 6 or just after the New Year’s Eve celebrations and others might go to just the start of December
  2. The Quattro Stagioni one-star hotel stays open all year round and is a quaint choice in a great location near Due Golfi, the roundabout which takes you to all areas of the island
  3. La Reginella is a lovely, affordable hotel near the Arco Naturale near the Matermania neighborhood
  4. Gatto Bianco is a 4 start hotel with spa in a great, central location – open until early January this year but is changeable each year
  5. Hotels in low season on Capri are limited but there are lots of wonderful B&Bs and Airbnbs available which are great for a more personal experience – for instance in Anacapri Il Tramonto, a B&B with incredible views of the sunsets
  6. There are amazing villas available to rent – some of which might not be affordable in the summer season but are much more reasonable in the low seasons. If it’s raining you don’t need to go anywhere else if you’re in a beautiful villa, fire on, surrounded by inspiring views, cupboards stocked up with loads of wonderful local produce, and Holly and Gianluca on call to provide catered meals, cooking classes or cheese and wine tastings

About our guest – Holly Star from Michel’angelo and Giardino di Capri

holly star and gianluca

Holly was born and raised in Sydney, Australia; practised as a lawyer and now director of her employment and industrial advisory business which she still runs abroad from her island home in Capri.

In 2013, she visited Capri for the very first time. On the second evening of her three night stay in Capri, she was recommended to dine at Michel’angelo, only a short walk from the famous Piazzetta. It was this dinner that changed her life! She met Gianluca, the owner of Michel’angelo, a local Caprese and her now husband.

And, whilst they couldn’t speak the same language, they both knew there was something between them from the first smile they shared as she entered the restaurant. Now married, they live on the island year round raising their two children, Valentino (7 years) and Francesca (5 years).

Holly had a quick initiation to island life and joined Gianluca running Michel’angelo after their marriage in 2014. Together they have since opened the Michel’angelo cooking school, teaching guests from all over the world how to cook the island’s cuisine using Gianluca’s family recipes at over 750 classes in 7 years. They’ve taken their cooking class on the road, most recently collaborating with EATALY at their USA and Canadian locations in early 2020. Holly and Gianluca also expanded their offerings to include gourmet picnics, tasting sessions, villa and boat catering and their range of authentic food and wine products they ship around the world.

After 12 years in business, Ristorante Michel’angelo sadly closed at the end of 2020 however, their legacy will continue at their new venture, a sea view garden property, the Giardino di Capri, launching soon. Holly & Gianluca continue to share their love of the island, its mouth-watering local produce, and traditions through cooking classes, tasting sessions, aperitivo evenings, olive harvests, private events, art and cultural workshops, relaxation activities, and much more on their farm adjacent to the Grotta Azzurra with unparalleled views of Ischia, Procida, the Bay of Naples and Vesuvius and their picturesque garden villa in Anacapri

Check out the Michel’angelo food and wine packages plus their amazing cooking classes

You can find Holly on these channels:

Places mentioned in the show

  • Hotel Luna – hotel on Capri where Holly was staying when she went their on the solo trip where she first met her now husband
  • Anacapri – town on Capri with a more intimate and quiet atmosphere
  • Bar Tiberio, Bar Caso, Piccolo Bar and Grand Cafe – the 4 bars on the Piazetta, 
  • Marina Grande – main port of Capri with ferries to Naples, Sorrento and Amalfi Coast
  • Capri town – main town on the island with ritzy piazza, shopping and gardens
  • Marina Piccola – a resort town known for its lively and sheltered namesake beach along the Tyrrhenian Sea with views of the Faraglioni rock formations from the restaurant terraces
  • Faro di Punta Carena – the lighthouse at Anacapri 
  • Monte Solaro – a mountain on the island with its peak being the highest point of Capri
  • Cetrella Valley – beautiful nature in the valley below the mountain
  • Pizzolungo trail – trail in Capri
  • Villa Tragara – beautiful, exclusive hotel 
  • Arco Naturale – natural rocky archway
  • Villa Jovis – ruins of the villa of the Emperor Tiberius
  • Villa Lysis – villa built in 1905 by Jacques d’Adelswärd-Fersen
  • Chiesa di San Michele Arcangelo – church
  • Casa Rossa – museum set in the house of the first American to settle on Capri who was a collector of many archeological artifacts
  • Ischia – volcanic island in the Gulf of Naples
  • La Conchiglia – the local bookstore
  • Quattro Stagioni – hotel on Capri which stays open all year around 
  • La Reginella – hotel in a pedestrian-only area on the hillside close to Capri’s Arco Naturale
  • Il Tramonto – B&B with incredible views in Anacapri

Food and Drink

  • Aperol Spritz – cocktail consisting of prosecco, Aperol and soda water
  • friarielli – otherwise known as Rapini, a green leafy winter vegetable 
  • panettone – famous Italian Christmas cake originally from Milan
  • struffoli – known as honey balls, deep fried balls of sweet dough
  • torrone – a nougat sweet bar, made of honey, sugar, and egg white, with toasted almonds or other nuts
  • insalata di mare – seafood salad
  • spaghetti alle vongole – spaghetti with clams
  • baccalà – dried salt cod fish
  • fritto misto di pesce – fried fish
  • Torta Caprese – a traditional cake made with chocolate and either almonds or walnuts

Resources

  • Michelangelo Bastiani – Tuscan artist who has created a light installation on the Capri clock tower for Christmas 2021
  • Tarantella – folk band of traditional southern Italian music
  • zia & zio – aunty and uncle in Italian
  • August Kopisch – german writer who ‘rediscovered’ the blue grotto
  • sirocco wind – is a Mediterranean wind that comes from the Sahara
  • Jacques d’Adelswärd-Fersen – industrialist and poet
  • John MacKowen – eccentric American who settled in Capri
  • gozzo – the traditional boat of Capri
  • 3B Meteo – Italian weather app
  • piano, piano – slowly, slowly in Italian
  • zampognari – Zampogna is an Italian double chantered pipe instrument
  • Antonio Palomba – 3rd generation Caprese painter
  • ’O sole mio – a well-known Neapolitan song written in 1898

Untold Italy Resources

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