Onour first morning in Capri, I stepped onto our sunny terrace, looked beyond our yellowsplashed lemon tree to a bluegreen sea, and immediately felt as if! had stepped into a frame of “Enchanted April.” In this 1992 fairy-tale movie, several unhappy, chilled Englishwomen, fleeing the rainy gloom of London, open the shutters of their Italian villa to an astonishing flood of sunlight and lush greenness. The promise of romance floats in the air almost s tangibly as the lacy swaths of wisteria.
It is easy to feel star-struck in Capri. Just hearing its name can make one think of movies, old popular songs (“The Isle of Capri”) and celebrities. Ever since Caesar Augustus discovered the charms of this small, flowering island in the Bay of Naples and purchased it in 29 B.C., the rich and famous have moored in its two inviting harbors, climbed its steep streets to admire its cascading flowers and plants (more than 800 species), taken in dazzling views of the bay and neighboring islands, sat on its sunbaked terraces, or swum in its clear turquoise waters.
Capri welcomes day tourists, too. Between Easter and November, they arrive in boatloads from Naples or Sorrento, only 20 to 75 minutes away via frequent ferries.
Because Capri seemed so immoderately well-known, I had wondered whether my husband, James, and I would find its glamour tinselly and its scenery interrupted by elbow-to-elbow sightseers. But our trusted rental agent, Daniel Morneau at Vacanza Bella in San Francisco, assured us that by staying in La Cubia, an airy, spacious and stylish house tucked away at the end of a quiet cul-de-sac, we could avoid the crowds and discover a tranquil, hospitable island. Despite the pressure of modern tourism, he said, Capri had not been spoiled.
To our delight, he was right. For 10 days last April, we explored the island, visiting viewpoints, Roman ruins, grottoes, churches and other landmarks. Taking long walks every morning, we felt we could treat ourselves to sybaritic lunches, always cheeringly inexpensive, at restaurants that offered spectacular views toward the sea. Most afternoons we read or dozed on one of our private terraces, shopped a little for groceries, and walked some more.
After cooking a light supper - Capri?s many small gardens provided us with treats like juicy tomatoes, tender new potatoes, crisp arugula and baby asparagus, supplemented by. local buffalo mozzarella and goat cheese - we talked, read and went to bed Early This was not a holiday for lovers of night life, but it was just what we had dreamed about during a wintry, gray March.
Much of the pleasure of an extended stay on Capri lies in not having a car. (Though residents own cars, tourists usually cannot take them onto the island.) Minibuses ply between several key locations, including the two main towns of Capri (population 8,000) and Anacapri (7,000), and a fleet of taxis, including vintage convertibles called bathtub taxis, hover near the main port, Marina Grande, and close to the two town squares.
Although several main streets connect key points on the island, most other lanes, narrow and twisting, are necessarily traffic free, except for occasional motorized carts ferrying heavy goods. With trails crisscrossing the hills, and a maze of intriguing lanes, this is a walker?s island.
Capri offered more enticing itineraries than we could fit into 10 leisurely days. Our guide was “Capri Anacapri in 12 Tours,” a hard-to-find paperback (try a well-stocked newspaper shop), with maps, color illustrations and literary excerpts.
This handy book outlined 12 walks, some arduous, others only an hour?s mild stroll. They led us to monuments like the Certosa di San Giacomo, a former Carthusian monastery that is now a museum and school; the Gardens of Augustus, a flower-filled park on a hill; Anacapri?s 18th-century church, San Michele, with a splendid mosaic floor; and several other landmarks. For longer walks, we also carried a detailed map of the island.
Most of our walks ended somewhere high on a limestone cliff overlooking Capri?s glinting waters. On such a compact island -4.2 miles long, 1.7 miles at its widest point -we were never far from a glimpse of the sea.
One favorite short walk took us from Anacapri?s main square, only a few steps from our house, along a paved path carved into the side of Monte Solaro, the island?s highest point (1,932 feet). Passing secluded houses and intensely cultivated vineyards and gardens wedged into the hillside, we were soon out of sight and sound of the busy small town, surrounded only by lemon trees, tiny sunbathing lizards and bees humming among the fragrant flowering bushes. In half an hour, we arrived at the Belvedere della Migliara, a terrace with views of Capri?s lighthouse, and a few steps farther, of the Faraglioni, rock outcroppings rising dramatically out of the waves.
Our excursions always included a stop at a tempting place to eat. Minutes from the
Migliara, we could relax at Da Gelsomina, a restaurant accessible only by foot. The restaurant?s large sheltered terrace overlooks the sea, and in hot weather, it even provides an open-air swimming pool.
Another walk, beginning at Capri town?s Piazza Umberto I, the island?s most celebrated gathering place and known simply as La Piazzetta, took us along Capri?s elegant shopping street, the Via Camerelle. The windows of its boutiques, often built into an old Roman wall, glittered with Gucci, Ferragamo and other designer confections, as well as sleek Italian shoes ostentatiously displayed like jewels. This promenade ended above the Punta Tragara, a promontory with more sweeping views of sea and sky, and close by, perhaps our favorite restaurant, the Terrazza Brunella.
The Brunella?s food was uncomplicated and delicious, and, given the rate of exchange, a relative bargain. One lunch, I had a risotto alla pescatore, with impeccably fresh mussels and langonstines; James tried the scaloppine dello chef, two pieces of veal wrapped around spinach and mozzarella. With wine, a shared salad, and two cappuccinos, the bill came to $44.
Other restaurants on Capri had equally good food (nowhere did we eat less than well), but the Brunella offered us unmatchable seating. Our favorite table was placed at the edge of the dining room, itself hanging over a cliff, and in fine weather, nearly that whole side is opened to a low white railing. Looking out, we had a bird?s-eye view of Capri: craggy mountainside, picturesque villas tucked among greenery, the tumbling rooftops of Capri town, and the sea below.
Much of Capri remains surprisingly wild, rocky land left to goats and sea gulls, maritime pines, semitropical shrubs and windswept scrub trees. One strenuous but rewarding walk plunges down what seem like hundreds of steps almost to the sea, past a grotto called Matromania, an ancient sacred site dedicated to the Great Mother. Then it winds among brush and woods, with occasional peeks at the sea, including the Villa Malaparte, a strikingly red Modernist house built on a rugged point, until it climbs back up, and up, to the Tragara belvedere and then blissfully downhill to the Piazzetta.
There, we toasted our stamina with delec?table pizza at da Gemma, Graham Greene?s favorite restaurant during his many years in Anacapri. (The novelist?s former home, Il Rosaio, was the focus of another Anacapri walk.)
A steady uphill climb led us in an hour to the heights of Villa Jovis, an extensive ruin where the Emperor Tiberius once held court. Capri was his capital of the Roman Empire between A.D. 27 and 37, and remnants of Roman rule - walls, odd bits of ruins, ongoing excavations - crop up all over Capri. Villa Jovis became famous when Suetonius, a Roman popularizing historian, described with relish Tiberius?s bizarre orgies and cruelties. Local guides stilI gleefully point out the Salto di Tiberio, a towering cliff where Tiberius is supposed to have pitched victims of his vicious whims into the sea.
Although Capri has its evil emperor (perhaps, historians now suggest, unfairly maligned), it also has a kind of modern saint. Every evening, we took a leisurely sunset saunter to the Villa San Michele, a striking whitewashed structure built by Axel Munthe (1857-1949), a Swedish doctor and humanist, whose many acts of generosity included tending the victims of plague and cholera in Naples. His memoir, “The Story of San Michele,” is a minor classic.
Struck by the beauty of this hilltop site with an abandoned chapel, Munthe restored the chapel and built an extraordinary house. Furnished sparely but with discerning taste, it almost glows with marble mosaic floors, antique sculptures and ornaments, and other works of art. Surrounding the house is a luxuriant garden, with a colonnade leading to a panoramic view over the whole Bay of Naples. Guarding this view is a small Egyptian sphinx, dating from the 11th century B.C., that now appears on many postcards and posters as embodying the elusive, almost mystical spirit of Capri passengers at a time through the entrance, which looked but inches high. (On windy days, with high waves, the grotto is closed.)
Our boatman loudly admonished us to lie flat; the rocky opening, he warned, could easily smash into our skulls. So I found myself prone, with legs straddling a large, genial German woman, while James flopped next to her. We must have looked like a pile of sloppy teddy bears.
Once we paid a special fee to yet another boatman, we took our place in a further floating queue. Then, suddenly, as our guide shouted again, we whizzed at high speed toward the impossibly low, narrow, dark entrance. I gasped and shut my eyes. A few seconds later, we were safely inside, bumping gently into several other boats.
At first I could see nothing in the darkness. Then I managed to make out strange glints of blue, shifting and winking as light flashed through the opening. Before I could absorb the magic of this eerie, changing color, all the milling boatmen broke into clashing versions of “O Sole Mio.” One or two minutes later, we sped toward the entrance again - and out under the sunny, welcoming sky. Our guide halted to request a tip; then we were free to reboard our excursion boat.
The Blue Grotto seemed to us the least characteristic feature of this unexpectedly restful, seductive island. On our last day, after a farewell walk through the maze of lanes in Capri town, we headed down toward Marina Piccola, the smaller of Capri?s two harbors. Our pedestrian path provided tantalizing glances past elaborate wrought-iron gates guarding domed, vaguely Moorish villas, their whitewashed walls and tiled terraces shaded by lemon trees, wisteria and flowering shrubs. A few people strolled by us, but otherwise the lane seemed asleep in the quiet sunshine.
At Marina Piccola, we ate lunch - fresh grilled local white fish, caught, the owner said emphatically, only that morning - at tables almost on top of the sunlit blue-green water. Although I could imagine from the many piled-up beach chairs and shuttered cabanas the crowds of summer, that April noon we had the beach almost to ourselves.
After lunch, we walked across some flat rocks, where a woman was sunbathing, to the edge of the water. Looking up at the rocky, pine-strewn cliffs, which now seemed so familiar, we felt as if we owned the island. And in a way, we did.

On a sunny island, a villa is a base for lovely walks
Capri Tourism?s main office is at Piazzetta I. Cerio, 11, Capri; (39-081) 837-5308, fax (39-081) 837-0918; www.caprionline.com.
Ferries and hydrofoils (aliscafi) to Capri leave from Naples, Amalfi, Positano, Ischia and Sorrento. Fares range from about $4.50 to $10 each way.
Where to Stay
We rented La Cubia, a large, gracious house with a lush garden. The house, which sleeps four in two bedrooms, costs $1,750 a week, plus heating, cleaning ($50) and a suggested housekeeper?s tip ($50). It is not available June 25 to Sept. 15. Contact Vacanza Bella, 2261 Market Street, PMB 281, San Francisco, Calif. 94114; (415) 554-0234; Web site, vbella.com. The agency rents a similar villa on the island in summer.
Other agencies renting villas and apartments on Capri include Villas International, 950 Northgate Drive, Suite 206, San Rafael, Calif. 94903, (800) 221-2260, fax (415) 4999491, www.villasintLcom; and Homebase Abroad, 29 Mary?s Lane, Scituate, Mass. 02066, (781) 545-5112, fax (781) 545-1808, www.homebase-abroad.com.
Among the most appealing of the island?s many hotels are two small ones close to scenic Punta Tragara. La Scalinatella, Via Tragara, 10, 80073 Capri, (39-081) 837-0633, fax
(39-081) 837-8291, has 30 rooms costing $310 to $440, with breakfast; and the Villa Brunella, Via Tragara, 24/a, 80073 Capri, (39-081) 837-0122, fax (39-081) 831-0430, with 20 rooms for $180 to $265, with breakfast (prices are at 2,100 lira to the dollar).
In Anacapri, Hotel San Michele, Via G. Orlandi, 1/3, 80071 Anacapri, has glorious sea views and the largest swimming pool on the island: (39-081) 837-1427, fax (39-081) 837?1420. Doubles are $115 to $135.
Where to Eat
Even in low season, it is best to phone for reservations unless you can dine early: noon for lunch or 6 p.m. for dinner. Even the best local maps don?t usually indicate minor streets, so it pays to ask for directions.
At the following restaurants, dinner for two, with wine, mineral water and tip, runs $45 to $60. Typical fare includes fresh grilled fish, pasta with seafood and ravioli with a light tomato sauce and ricotta.
Da Gemma is up stairs and through a covered arcade from the Piazzetta, at Via Madre Serafina, 6, in Capri town; (39-081) 8370461, fax (39-081) 837-8947.
Da Gelsomina alla Migliara Is on the Via La Migiliara, a pleasant half-hour walk from Anacapri; (33-081) 837-1499.
Ristorante Terrazza Brunella is in the Villa Brunella; (33-081) 837-0122, fax (39-081) 837-0420. Ask for one of the front tables looking out to sea.
Ristorante Ciro a Mare is at Marina Piccola, the smaller port in Anacapri; (39-081) 837-0264.
What to See
Hours vary with season, holidays and restoration work. Check with the tourist offices for up-to-date information.
Many boat trips around the island leave from Marina Grande. Ours cost about $8.50, lasted about two hours, and included a stop at the Blue Grotto (where boatmen charged an extra few dollars to take us inside).
Villa San Michele, Viale Axel Munthe, 80071 Anacapri, (39-081) 837-1401, fax (39-081) 837-3279, charges about $4.50 to see the house and garden.
The Church of San Michele, Piazza San Nicola, Anacapri, (39-081) 837-2396, charges $1.25 to enter to view its mosaic floor.
Villa Jovis is about a 45-minute walk from the Piazzetta along the Via Tiberio. Open 9 a.m. to an hour before sundown. Admission $1.90; (39-081) 837-0381.
Certosa di San Giacomo is closed Monday. It is down the Via Vittorio Emanuele from the Piazzetta. No phone. Free.

By Susan Allen Toth