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Episode #203: Capri – Disappointed or Delighted?

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We head back to the enchanting island of Capri – where azure waters meet rugged cliffs and vibrant bougainvillea adorns charming streets. As a coveted destination, Capri draws huge crowds in the peak seasons and many a day-tripper has been caught in the crush. Long-time local Holly shares insights on making the most of your Capri experience – uncovering the true magic of this Italian paradise and how to get away from the tourist hustle and capture the authentic allure of the island and its community.

capri tour

Show notes
We welcome back Untold Italy friend Holly from Giardino di Capri food and cooking experiences. Australian Holly lives on the island with her husband Gianluca and their children.  They run their cooking school from their villa garden where they grow the produce they cook with – with an emphasis on sustainability and lack of waste – an age-old concept in Italian cooking culture. Holly and Gianluca are at the front end to witness the high visitor numbers that Capri has been experiencing – growing ever bigger in the last couple of years. Capri might be thought of as the island of dreams but some who visited there recently, sadly didn’t have the most enjoyable time because of this. Holly, who has lived on the island for many years, shares her tips on ensuring your trip to Capri lives up to the stories of those who have been loving the island since Roman times.

What you’ll learn in this episode

  1. Capri is a small island with around 14,000 residents. In the peak of summer over 20,000+ visitors a day arrive on the island and you this can cause issues and sometimes even chaos – not giving much opportunity for the relaxed, beautiful scenes you see on Instagram 
  2. If you intend on visiting Capri then it is well worth taking some time to consider thoughtfully and do some research before your visit to this beautiful island home – can mean you still get to enjoy the jaw-dropping beauty that has attracted visitors for centuries and go home delighted, not disappointed
  3. Holly is an Australian lawyer living in Capri. 10 years ago on a three-day trip to the island, she met her husband, Gianluca D’Esposito when he was running a restaurant called Michel’angelo in the center of Capri. She spoke no Italian, and he spoke no English but on the second night of her three-night stay in Capri, she dined at his restaurant and she still can’t really explain what happened that evening but they both felt like we knew each other without having spoken. They married and she joined him to live on the island year-round and they have 2 children. They’ve just celebrated 10 years since that first meeting. Listen to Episode 42 to hear the full romantic story of their meeting
  4. When Holly moved to Capri she joined the family business of running a restaurant, something she knew very little about – coming from a corporate background. To go from that to working in a restaurant in a new country and culture was quite a lifestyle change
  5. She and Gianluca worked as a great team and loved running the business, though they closed the restaurant itself down after their 12-year lease was up. The restaurant was called Michel’angelo after Michel, Gianluca’s father, a chef on the island – who is now with The Angels
  6. They both loved working with food and hospitality so transitioned at the awkward timing of 2020 to running a business of food and cooking experiences, based in their garden villa
  7. They grow their own food and host a whole range of food experiences where travelers can come and get an insight into what daily life is like on the island. Food experiences – from cooking classes, private and group, to degustation dining, to gelato and sorbet workshops, to limoncello making workshops, to cheese and wine and extra virgin olive oil tastings, gourmet picnics, catering – everything Capri food and produce related
  8. All is done with a touch of love, or as Gianluca will say, “more is the most important ingredient in his dishes”. They love welcoming people to show them a different side to Capri – the island life, in their little sanctuary away from the hustle and bustle of Capri Town in Anacapri, at the top of the island

What attracts visitors to Capri?

  • Capri is one of those places that people have seen so many photos of and often dream about. Although it is a wonderful island – a visit doesn’t mean everyone’s reality matches up to the dream 
  • Capri is a place that people dream about going to, maybe even for years and years – salivating over the gorgeous pictures you see in magazines, on Instagram (they might even follow Holly). They may see these beautiful, rocky outcrop islands surrounded by the amazingly colored blue seas. Unfortunately, what we’ve heard a bit this year is that some people have been rather disappointed with their experience because when they’ve arrived they’ve experienced the crowded ferry and it’s been difficult to get around when they then get on the island. They’ve come on a day trip and been stuck at the port for most of their day
  • Capri enticed Emperors to uproot themselves from the riches of Rome and decamp to a little island. There is a reason for that, but it is probably not going to be found at 11:00 AM on a Tuesday morning in June at Marina Grande whilst waiting in a long queue for the funicular
  • Even Holly has been unprepared for the number of people heading to the island in 2023/24. The demand and the amount of international travel are back on a different level and do not look set to reduce anytime soon. Holly knows she could not have the same kind of trip she had 10 years ago when she first visited Capri
  • Capri has become loved by so many, but looking back to why it was first so popular, attracting people over centuries – it is the nature and the landscapes. People have been visiting here since before Christ. The ancient Greeks were here first, and then the Roman Empire
  • The island has a crystal clear, shimmering sea, dramatic limestone cliffs, dramatic rock formations like the Natural Arc, and of course, the epic three rock formations that extend from the sea, the Faraglioni rocks. If you go on a boat around the island, you will generally sail through the middle of the second Faraglioni, known as Lover’s Arch where legend has it, you can kiss for everlasting love. There are pinewood forests, amazing hikes, mountainous terrain, pebble beaches and rocky platform beaches. There is the famous Blue Grotto and all those other lesser-known but equally wondrous grottos dotted around the coastline
  • There are flora and fauna that are unique to the island. The famous blue lizard of the Faraglioni rocks and there are mountain goats from which the island takes its name – Capri in Italian means goats. There are numerous bird varieties on their migratory paths, Mediterranean shrubs, olive trees, the blooming bougainvillea, wisteria, hydrangeas, geraniums
  • There is a lot of color, but another sense which is aroused on the island is smell. There’s the lemon groves and the scent of the herbs, like the marjoram which grows wild on the island and is one of the secret ingredients for the ravioli Caprese, as well as sage, rosemary, lavender and thyme
  • Before she met Gianluca, Holly didn’t spend so much time amongst nature. She always loved nature, but she was mostly in an office. Now she spends a lot more time outside and appreciates the beauty so much more. She never imagined that nature would have such an impact on her life
  • Last summer when Katy and her family were visiting Capri, they were walking through Anacapri, just through the back streets to get back to their hotel, and they didn’t see a soul – just surrounded by the flowers blooming all down the streets – with the odd island lizard scamper across the street (still a highlight for her kids). Despite this being in the peak time of summer – they still had this experience of feeling they had the place to themselves
  • Even if you’re coming in the peak of summer, there is around 20,000-25,000 people visiting a day, there are still always places on the island, if you’ve researched them and sought them out, that you can go and you will feel, as Holly puts it ‘that the island is yours’
  • An example of these little treasures scattered around the island is the beautiful little church in the Cetrella Valley called the Hermitage of Santa Maria. The Cetrella Valley is only accessible by foot, but the way to do it is to take the chairlifts up to Monte Solaro, and then walk back (comfy shoes a must!). The church is built on a cliff, and although the church is not often open to the public, it has a view over the whole of the island and the Faraglioni and it has a very special feeling. It’s a perfect place for a picnic area – with stunning views, the church and the abandoned solar observatory that is also there
  • As we suggest with all trips to Italy, probably the most important thing is to realize why you do visit Capri. What is the reason to visit Capri? What are you coming for? Is it the nature and the views? Is it the food? Is it the shopping and the glamour? If you want those natural surroundings and epic views, then do your research and work out where you want to go and if it’s not easily reachable – arrange how you’re going to get there well in advance

Caprese History

  • Capri’s rich cultural history is actually what makes the island what it is today
  • The Roman Empire was ruled from Capri by Emperor Tiberius, who came here for the last 10 years of his life
  • He was responsible for constructing 12 villas on the island. Two of those are open to the public – Villa Jovis, which is in Capri Town at the top of Mount Tiberio. You can walk up there to the villa which is a museum. You can just pay to enter or get a local licensed guide. Damecuta was supposedly Emperor Tiberius’s summer residence and has a beautiful view of the sunset
  • After the Roman Empire, there were many different influences on the island. There were the Normans, the Turkish pirates, the English and the French battled over the island
  • There are 2 things that put modern-day Carpri on the map – the Blue Grotto and the Roman ruins
  • The rediscovery of the Blue Grotto was in 1826, almost 200 years ago. At the time of the Roman Empire, the grotto was said to have been adorned by Emperor Tiberius with 12 Sea God statues
  • In 1964, two Caprese divers went down, and they extracted four of them from the seabed floor of the Blue Grotto. In Anacapri, you can view them in the museum at Casa Rossa. They’ve now done a light show where they talk about the history of these four Sea God statues and the Blue Grotto in general
  • When the Blue Grotto was rediscovered, in the 1800s, it was the time of The Grand Tour. The intellectuals and elites were traveling on The Grand Tour and would stop at Naples. These were then the first day-trippers to Capri
  • They would come across and go into the Blue Grotto and the Roman ruins. Nowadays, people come to see the Blue Grotto, but not so many people come to see the Roman ruins, despite them being one of the most important sights to see on the island and from where the Roman Empire was ruled
  • As travelers, it is easy to become a little bit one-dimensional. We want to go to those famous places and get those photos. Everyone’s the same – us included. We want the great photos – the beautiful, perfect sea, the dress – a photo to make everyone at home jealous. But there’s more to the island than all that. You’ve got this amazing background, but like everywhere, it’s got a story to tell and thousands of years of stories in the history of the island

Caprese Culture

  • You may have heard people describe Capri as just a tourist resort and that there is hardly any locals there – far from it. There are over 14,000 residents of the island year-round. Their children go to school on the island. There is a local community here that still celebrates its customs and traditions regardless of any travelers coming to the island
  • It is well worth researching before you come to see if any of the beautiful traditional ceremonies or processions are taking place. Even if they’re right in the middle of summer and there are thousands of people arriving, they still celebrate as normal
  • The day for the patron saints of Capri and Anacapri, San Constanzo, is on the 14th of May and San Antonio in Anacapri is on the 13th of June. They will hold big processions for both of those as well as other smaller local festivals
  • In September in Anacapri, as with many places in Italy, they celebrate the harvest and the agriculture, like the making of wine and olive oil. There are lots of activities and things going on at that time – including the Chesnut Festival which is one of Holly’s favorites
  • Take any opportunity to see the folk dancing on the island. The Tarantella folk dancing is something special and unique (listen to more on this in episode 102). It’s a vibrant site with these amazing colors and their tambourines. You often see them in the summer season, running between wedding celebrations
  • Ask your hotel concierge or your host about local events – there are often lots of things going on – music concerts, plays. Some concerts in the piazza with folk bands will have the Tarantella dancers
  • On the evening of 1st January every year, they have the folk festival where all the folk bands of the island perform. That is one of Holly’s favorite days of the year
  • As you stroll the streets of Capri you can admire the beautiful architecture. There’s the Roman villas, but there’s also the next wave of modern tourism and modern life on the island where people came and settled and built these amazing villas, such as Villa San Michele, built by the Swedish physician Axel Munthe as well as Villa Lysis, Casa Rossa. These are publicly accessible villas that you can pay to visit as museums. Look at the details of these buildings, there’s much to take in – the ceramic tiles, the natural light, the arches, the statues
  • A lot of people will say, “Oh, Capri is just all boutiques”. But this is a misconception. There are still people on the island performing their artisan crafts – ceramic, sandals, jewelry and clothing makers. Wander off to the little cobbles laneways one way or the other way, and you’ll eventually come across a little locally run boutique. When shopping on the island it’s worth thinking about how you are supporting the island. Supporting the local artisans and any locally run stores helps protect the island’s culture
  • Everybody knows an Italian piazza is the living room of the world. You sit there to people-watch. The chairs are all positioned so that they’re outward-looking and everyone’s enjoying their aperitivo with a spot of people watching. The piazza in Capri Town can obviously get very busy at certain times – during the day when all the day trippers and maybe at aperitivo hour – but as the day trippers empty out and the evening goes on, this can be a wonderful place to watch the island goings on
  • The island’s cuisine are an important part of the culture. Capri has a lot of international influence but there are dishes that are island-born and they are still enjoyed by the Caprese. At Holly and Gianluca’s cooking school they, of course, teach how to make many of these dishes (or you can visit them and have Gianluca to cook them for you, or take them on a picnic to enjoy out and about.  We talked in more detail about Capri’s food in episode 160

The Visitor Experience

  • This year, Capri has had mixed reviews. Some people love their first stay on the island. Some people have been coming back every single year for the last 20, 30 years and continue to love it. And then there are others who may have visited for a day and didn’t get that same enjoyment or the experience they were expecting. This can be for many reasons. How you enjoy the island can depend on what you want from the island. It is important to know what you’re after before visiting. The same as if you would ask for a recommendation for a meal – are you after a sea view, fine dining, local cuisine, or a rustic trattoria?
  • What are you coming to the island for? There’s a misconception that the island is extremely expensive in terms of accommodation. We are not saying it is a bargain, but on par with anything across the Amalfi Coast – particularly in season. You’ve got 5-star luxury hotels or there are B&Bs, Airbnbs, private villas and moderate one-star hotels – so it doesn’t have to be super expensive to stay on Capri. It’s also cheaper to stay in Anacapri than Capri Town
  • A challenge in Capri is because it is small and there’s not huge choice – things can get booked up quickly. In a similar way to places like Positano – popular but small places
  • Organization is the key – researching and planning. Adjust your expectations – if you want to stay on the island for a moderate budget, understand you could find something more accommodating from a budget perspective in an area not so close to the city center, but you will have to walk that bit further. This could also have its advantages. The accommodation in the heart of the action will not only be more expensive, the you will be surrounded by the hustle and bustle – whilst further out it can be a more chilled-out experience
  • You generally can’t just wing it in Capri. Gone are the days when you could just arrive Italy and decide to head off for a day trip to Capri without  – you need to know a bit more about what is involved because it’s a unique destination
  • Travel has been democratized. Flights and traveling around are easier – more people are traveling, and with that has come a lot of challenges. It’s made us a little bit less aware of what’s going on around us and we need to take responsibility as travelers. Capri is an excellent example of somewhere suffering from over-tourism – like Santorini, Dubrovnik and Venice. These places are super popular for a reason. It’s incumbent on us to take stock and think about how we’re going to approach our visits to these places
  • As travelers, we should take responsibility while we’re traveling and think about sustainability at each step of our travels
  • Day-tripping to Capri in the 3 peak summer months puts a lot of stress both on the island but also on the travelers – because you’re not getting an easy experience. You’re arriving at the same time as so many other people who all have the same expectation to see this small island. There are so many things there to see and do, that in only a couple of short hours is unrealistic
  • Not everybody has the budget or the timeframe in their itinerary to visit overnight, but it is worth it to really get a feel for the island. Holly would recommend to stay at least 2-3 nights
  • If you are going to splurge in some places – Capri is certainly the place where you can. There are some amazing hotels there and you can have that luxury experience if that’s your thing. Everyone travels in their own way. Katy splurged on a few things on their trip to Capri last year – you can pick and choose to suit what is important to you. That can be on your accommodation, meals, beach clubs, private boat trips
  • Planning any trip is difficult as to what you do and don’t include. If you decide to go to Capri on a day trip, you might be compromising your experience in several ways but if you decide to stay, then you’re also compromising because you won’t be able to stay somewhere else perhaps. We all want to have a trip that has everything in it, but at some point, we have to choose. The best thing about Italy, we believe, is that there are no wrong choices
  • In some ways, Capri is in a little bit of a time warp, but that’s part of the beauty of it. You have the convertible taxis, characteristically Capri, and the paparazzi that will walk past you in the square and take your photo which you can buy a printed photo of – old school in our digital world. It’s still a place for old-fashioned glamour and there’s something about it that makes people feel nostalgic and sentimental

Approaching travel to Capri

  • Something that people can fall foul of when it comes to Capri is the weather. No one can control the weather and you cannot reply on the blue skies you will see in those dreamy photos of the island. It is an outdoor island – a lot of the things to see on the island are outdoors. You’ve got to be flexible and adapt. In May 2023, the rain was un-characteristically bad with wind and rain that lasted weeks, rather than the couple of days you would expect
  • Bad weather days can mean that boat trips don’t go out and even that the ferries do not run at all over to the island. There are things you can do in bad weather – the time to go shopping, enjoy the restaurants, and museums, take a cooking classes
  • At Untold Italy we have always encouraged people to look for experiences rather than tick off things to see on their bucket list, but these days there is a danger that these experience bucket lists are a little too generic and are having an effect on the countries we are visiting. Someone might have a cooking class on their list but think about it in a little more context of where you’re going. If you want to cook carbonara, do your cooking class in Rome, if you want to learn tortellini, do it in Emilia Romagna, and of course, if you want to make Torte Caprese – go to Holly and Gianluca!
  • Katy feels partly responsible for encouraging people to look for experiences – but we want to encourage people to make them a little more location and culture-specific
  • We all need to try and relax into our trip a bit more and let’s go for those experiences that mean a bit more, and have that flexibility to adjust and adapt
  • We all have dreams of traveling in Italy inspired by books such as Under the Tuscan Sun and Eat, Pray, Love. Holly’s own story has heaps of serendipity and destino (destiny). She was in Australia feeling like she was stuck in a rut, and decided to book a return ticket to Italy for a couple of months with no itinerary. She had only the very first night booked in Milan. She then woke up in the morning and just had to think ‘Where to first?’ Looking back it seems crazy how her life ended up, with the story starting so directionless. She was four weeks into her trip and someone suggested that she visit Ischia. She’d never heard of Ischia (nor Capri). She was traveling exactly how we advise you not to travel – but it was some time ago when things were different. She put Ischia into Google and images of the amazing Faraglioni rocks came up. She didn’t realise that they weren’t actually in Ischia and she just knew she wanted to see these epic rocks so she clicked on the images and it went through to the Hotel Luna in Capri Town. She looked a their website which looked like the backdrop to a film set.  So she called them and as luck would have it, they had just had a cancellation and had a room available for 3 nights. She asked what their address in Ischia was, which is when she discovered they were actually in Capri. So she ended up in Capri and on her second night Luigi, the bar manager at the hotel recommended that she dine at Michelangelo and the rest, as they say, is history!
  • This might have been destino – but Holly does doubt that such an experience could be as likely in peak season Capri – unless you find love in the ferry queue. But the romantics in us like to think you could maybe find it at a different time of year
  • There are definitely places in Italy where you can wing it – but those peak tourist hotspots like Rome, Venice and Capri – not so much. But in any of these places, you can always get out of the way and find space and your own little piece of happiness
  • In the summer season, it’s extremely busy on Capri, but it is like that in all the summer coastal destinations in Italy. But it is a destination to visit year-round. It was in November that Holly was up in that beautiful church in the sunshine. If you’re an author or an artist – autumn and winter are wonderful times to visit. Spring, as the flowers begin to bloom and before the crowds descend is also a lovely time to visit. We urge you to consider Capri outside of the peak times, though it is not for everybody because a lot is closed. You need to do a bit of research – but this is the time when the locals are living their best life, so their are plenty of restaurants and bars to enjoy

Giardino di Capri

  • Holly and Gianluca’s villa garden Giardino di Carpri can be found in charming Anacapri, a quieter and local part of Capri
  • They are open year-round. They’ve already got a number of reservations during the Christmas and New Year period and they are excited to welcome people to their island at a time that’s not so common for travelers
  • Holly loves the island, her adopted home. They are raising her two there and one of the reasons they aim to make their business as sustainable as possible is to care for the island for their future and the future travelers – the grandchildren of current visitors. To preserve the island as a destination for generations to come
  • It’s important to respect when, how, and in what ways you visit any destination in the world,  but even more so and island because it’s got a unique ecosystem
  • Follow Holly on Instagram at @michelangelo_capri for gorgeous and delicious images of the island and their food. She does a lot of Insta stories to give a little insight into their life on the island – the garden, the food, their daily lives as well as some beautiful sunsets and sunrises
  • Giardino di Carpri are re-launching their website and are opening their reservations for 2024
  • They’ve redesigned their food experiences for next year – incorporating more group activities, so that they can welcome more people, and also meaning people can meet other like-minded travelers with a love for Capri
  • They’re going to be doing some long table garden dining experiences along with their usual cooking classes, private and group and workshops, etc
  • If you’re stuck for Christmas gifts and you’ve got an Italophile in your life, they sell a whole range of their own products – gourmet goodies, artisan sauces, organic vegetables and of course, extra virgin olive oil, wine and pasta. They also send a video alongside your order with a demonstration so you can cook along at home to make a beautiful, celebratory meal. It’s impossible not to get tempted by their wonderful gift packages!

Untold Italy Capri Tours

Our 4-day Untold Italy Capri Tour, includes an incredible food experience with Holly and Gianluca, of course, featuring the amazing local produce of Capri. This takes place at their villa garden, in charming Anacapri. Other experiences include artisan sandal making and a leisurely boat tour around this beautiful island.

About your guest – Holly Star from Giardino di Capri

holly star and gianluca

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

She lives on Capri with husband Gianluca and her children. They offer a variety of food experiences on Capri, at their villa and garden – Giardino di Carpri, including cooking classes and offer food and wine packages.

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. 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 Giardino di Carpri food and wine products, gift packages, plus their amazing cooking classes.

You can find Holly on these channels:

Places mentioned in the show

  • Marina Piccola – small port where you’ll find beach clubs
  • Anacapri – town on Capri with a more intimate and quiet atmosphere
  • Capri town – main town on the island with ritzy piazza, shopping and gardens
  • Marina Grande – main port of Capri with ferries to Naples, Sorrento and Amalfi Coast
  • Faraglioni – dramatic rock formations found near Marina Piccola
  • Monte Solaro – highest point of the island. You can take a chairlift to the top from Anacapri
  • Villa Jovis – ruins of the villa of the Emperor Tiberius completed in AD 27
  • Cetrella Valley – a meadowed valley on the slopes of Capri’s Mount Solaro
  • Hermitage of Santa Maria – a Franciscan chapel and hermitage in Anacapri. It contains a Madonna statue  and is known as ‘Capri’s most otherworldly church’
  • Villa of Damecuta – one of the twelve Augustan-Tiberian Roman villas
  • Casa Rossa – museum set in the house of the first American to settle on Capri who was a collector of many archeological artifacts
  • Villa San Michele – the villa of the Swedish physician and author Axel Munthe (1857–1949)
  • Villa Lysis – villa built in 1905 by Jacques d’Adelswärd-Fersen with impressive art collection
  • Hotel Luna – hotel in Capri Town

Resources

  • Tarantella – folk band of traditional southern Italian music
  • destino – Italian for destiny
  • Tiberius – Tiberius Julius Caesar Augustus was a Roman emperor who reigned from AD 14 until 37, succeeding his stepfather, the 1st Roman Emperor Augustus. He moved to Capri in AD 26 which was then a traditional holiday retreat for Rome’s upper classes. Listen to more about Tiberius in Partial Historians – Tiberius and Ridiculous History – Tiberius

Resources from Untold Italy

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