Today did indeed dawn overcast and miserable, casting a quiet peace on proceedings in the harbour, which was quite pleasant really. A couple on the next boat had recommended visiting the villa of Axel Munthe, a Swedish doctor and writer. The villa is in Anacapri, which is where we planned to visit today, so we thought we would catch a taxi to the villa, explore the town and take the chairlift, which now runs to the highest point of the island. We had a coffee in the quiet harbour first and then headed to the taxi rank. The taxis a bigger than they were when I was eleven, with fold down seats that turn them into mini buses. The road is no wider and there are the same hairpin bends to negotiate, though there are now sturdy metal railings of head height, built on top of the low wall. These both prevent cars from plunging over the edge and help block the dizzying views down. It is nearly summer and the traffic does swish past at times, but there is a rhythm to the way frequent road users pause before the bends (for which a vehicle must take up the entire road) or at wider sections so buses and lorries can pass. Half way up is a roundabout at which the left turn was so sharp our driver went all the way round to reach it. I think this was the site of the crossroads with the lonely shopkeeper of yesteryear, when I believe we had to crisscross it so many times to avoid having to make the sharp corners. This time our driver, a Kojack figure minus the lollipop, dropped us at the taxi rank at Anacapri and gave us directions to the villa.
It was a fair way along a cobbled pedestrian street lined with shops, where we became embroiled in a large mob of people we hoped were not heading to the villa. Actually Lara and I became embroiled, John managed to take the lead just ahead of the tour guide, strolling along unconscious of the fact that we were not the people behind him. Lara and I struggled through the mob catching the occasional glimpses of John’s red T-shirt, a very fortunate choice of colour on his part. We just managed to hit the front as he reached the villa entrance and turned to look for us. Luckily we were the only people to head into the villa.
I had never heard of Axel Munthe, but he practiced medicine in his native Sweden, in the trenches of the Great War and at various places around the Bay of Naples, occasionally writing books including most famously one about the building of this very place from the ruins of a Roman villa. A sort of for runner for A Year in Provence, though in Munthe’s case he was stretching the boundaries of his Hippocratic oath by setting up home there with the Swedish Princess he had supposedly been paid to treat. The house had a number of square white rooms full of solid old Swedish furniture, some of which was decoratively painted. Amongst this were incorporated various Roman artifacts dug up during the building work, a few fresh flowers and a rug and it would have been very Homes and Gardens. From the house we followed an arched corridor with views out to the sea far below, which morphed into a pergola, which had views from the balustraded cliff on one side and opened to the terraced gardens on the other. The terrace ended with a small patio from which the harbour could be looked down upon, guarded by a stone sphinx. There was a private chapel, in which Munthe had kept his library and then steps up into the garden, which managing to be both secretive whilst giving glimpses of the vast panorama of the bay below. It was also full of the fragrance of roses and jasmine. Back at the house Lara suggested we have lunch in the café’s roof terrace. Cautious of our previous days’ experience we went up to take a look. This place really did have a roof top terrace, running out over the archways below, with truly breathtaking views across the whole Bay of Naples. We sat happily at a shaded corner table and had bruschetta; in my case a posh mushrooms on toast, for Lara a medley of tomatoes and cheese and John kept faith with the Swedish ownership and had smoked salmon.
After lunch we headed back along the now quiet street and took the chairlift up to the summit of Mount Solar. I loved the chairlift, floating up over vegetable and looking out across the sea. Once we were reunited at the top it was clear John and Lara had not found the experience quite so exhilarating and they were glad to be back on terrafirma. We wandered around the top, peering over the various viewing platforms, looking down on the now familiar Faraglioni and the azure trails of the little boats below. This is not the same highest point in all of Capri, immortalised in our family photograph. I guess the chairlift now goes higher than was possible then. We sat in deckchairs at the top and had a go in a swing seat. More Selfie training and then it was time to go back down. Lara found this easier as she reasoned that if she fell she would at least be able to see where she was going. We then had a look round the shops and Lara had an impressive ice cream in a brioche from a gelaterie before we returned to the taxi rank. We were planning to take the bus down, but the buses are small and the queue a long one, so we shared a taxi with a couple of girls who had a ferry to catch.
That evening we dined out yet again in a restaurant along the quay, which is pleasantly quiet once the tripper boats have finished for the day.