When my husband and I visited the little island of Capri off the southern coast of Italy in 2005, we never dreamed we’d be bringing our teenagers back with us 8 years later to renew our vows for our 20th anniversary.
They were little the first time we came to Capri, and at the time we didn’t think Capri would be a place for kids. But traveling is about mindset, and when you approach an adventure with the mindset of family, you discover so many family-friendly excursions and experiences are available for you and your kids to experience together. Italy as a whole country is a wonderful destination for history, culture, and inspiration that kids can absorb as you travel, but Capri is extra special.
Capri has a vibrant historical perspective, like when Emperor Nero’s slaves and the young men he tortured were thrown off a cliff by the vicious emperor into the sea below, or the beautiful landscape and vibrant glowing waters from a boating adventure inside the Blue Grotto. The people of Capri were so inviting and open to us, and our children’s experience in Capri provided the perfect opportunity for them to immerse in the culture. As parents, we choose to travel with our kids because we want them to see the world as bigger than their own backyards; we want them to experience a life of inclusiveness, side by side with all people on the planet. Through this immersion into other cultures, they will realize their vital place in the world and the impact they can make. Giving our children tools and guidance to love others everywhere is an easy thing to teach through travel. Our children felt the culture through the kind people of Capri. My husband and I couldn’t have asked for a better wedding present.
We arrived in Capri via water taxi from the port in Naples. The ferry dropped us at Marina Grande and our hotel shuttle van picked us up for the twisting, stomach-flipping journey on the one-way road to Marina Piccola on the other side of the island. It was precarious at best, and just perfect for a 15 year-old boy to marvel at. We clearly should have gone over one of the many cliffs that we traversed past, but our demise apparently was not meant to be, because we arrived at our hotel all in one piece.
The Hotel Weber Ambassador was just as beautiful as we remembered from our previous trip; though our room had two beds this time and a terrace with table and lounges that overlooked the Mediterranean Sea, where million dollar yachts were anchored. Our son slept out on the terrace every night under the stars.
We checked in and were off to explore, but didn’t last long because we were travel weary. We found a little restaurant tucked into an alleyway for dinner. Ristorante Al Grottino quickly became a favorite. The owner treated our kids like royalty and served us a family-style seafood pasta dish in a dutch oven. He brought us homemade gelato for dessert without us asking. This is one unique and beautiful characteristic of Italians; they love to serve, and they know what you want better than you do yourself. If you follow their lead and let go of your perceptions of what you think you should be experiencing, you will learn more about true Italy and the culture than you thought possible.
We woke up and checked in with our wedding planner, Linda Gatto. My husband had secured her from our home in California, and she took care of absolutely every need. We assumed that we would have to spend the day before the vow renewal attending to things but, not with Linda in charge.
We found we had the day to explore. We followed the advice of the concierge at the Weber and took our kids on a bus up an even narrower road than previously experienced to AnaCapri.
My husband and son rode a gondola up to the highest point on the island, Mt. Solare, while my daughter and I experienced a Caprician tradition: homemade sandals made to the perfect shape of our feet. The cobblers even hammered our names into the leather soles of our sparkly shoes.
We took a tour of Villa San Michele, a beautiful estate built by Axel Munthe. This estate was featured in a book about Italy I had purchased in 1999, and showed readers a photo of an Egyptian cat statue looking out over the ocean.
The photo in that book was our initial draw to Capri, and we knew our kids would love to hike up to the lookout point of Munthe’s estate to see it. It was an unguided tour, so our kids had the freedom to explore. We ate lunch in a garden restaurant that was off the beaten path that had a simple sign announcing that it even existed; caprese, homemade gnocchi and bottles of Pellegrino were the only items on the menu.
We headed back down the mountain (we got a taxi this time because I was too afraid to ride the shuttle!), and walked down Via Camerelle, where designer stores line both sides of the street. My daughter ventured inside Hermes to ask the price of a lovely beach towel that was in the window. The storekeeper looked over that top of her very expensive glass and said, “seeeexteen”. My daughter, surprised that it was so inexpensive said, “Sixteen dollars?” The woman scoffed and said, “No, seeexteen hoondrreeed”. Maybe this part of the island may not have been as kid friendly as the rest!
However, Carthusia Perfumery was exquisite and we brought the beautiful floral scents of the island home with us. The kids enjoyed the flowery smelling hand wipes on the plane on the way home.
We woke up to a beautiful, sunshine-filled room. What a beautiful day for a wedding—except that the sunshine wasn’t the only thing that was warm. The groom woke up with a 103-degree fever. He was a trooper though. While I was getting my hair done at the Hotel Weber’s small salon, our daughter did his makeup. She covered his purple eye bags with foundation and somehow made his pale white skin look normal.
We miraculously were ready on time to meet the boat captain in Marina Piccola. Jeff showed little signs of fever, except for the buckets of sweat pouring off his forehead as we boarded. Our children were glowing, dressed in white like us and sitting by our sides as we headed out to sea. We anchored at the base of The Faraglioni (the kissing rocks) as the minister helped us recite vows in Italian, my husband turning a tiny bit green as the waves made the boat swoon.
We kissed as the captain sailed through the tunnel in The Faraglioni. We returned to the harbor and Paulo, our driver, picked us up in the most exquisite classic Italian red convertible and took us on a tour of the island with the photographer.
Our special day was perfect. Even the groom being sick was symbolic of how families work together and can make beauty no matter what real life throws at them. That night, after another celebratory meal at Grottino, the four of us sat on the terrace looking out at the dark water. One of the yachts anchored in the harbor put on a spectacular fireworks show to our surprise, and we decided the owners must have heard about our day and felt they needed to celebrate love in a big way. It was a grand ending to a beautiful day.
Our last day was all about the sea. We rented a boat and the skipper took us around the island so we could swim through the grottos “azzurri”.
The famous Blue Grotto is an experience that all should do, but the waters were too choppy for our family to get to do this trip. On our previous trip, my husband and I took a boat to the entrance of the Grotta Azzurri, transferred to a tiny dingy, and had to lay flat on each other while the guide took us into the Blue Grotto through a small hole in the rocks. Once inside, we saw the walls and water were glowing blue. All of the guides were singing in Italian all at once. It was black except for the blue glow throughout the cave. We were sad our children couldn’t experience it this time, but we were happy because we had such a great skipper that took us to other amazing locations to experience.
After our boat trip, we ate caprese and a whole fish on a platter at Lo Scoglio delle Sirene, then rented lounge chairs from the beach club where we spent the afternoon sunbathing and jumping off rocks into the sea. We learned about the myth of the Sirens depicted in Homer’s The Odyssey, that lured sailors into to the deadly rocks with their beautiful singing.
We also learned that on an average work day, many Italians spend their lunchtime sun worshipping. There were more men in Speedos than we could count, and very few bikini tops on ladies. The men were almost ritualistic about spreading the “oilio” on their dark, baked skin before lying down to nap in the sun. They were specifically interested in not missing a spot on their inner thighs!
Jeff and I decided that if we had such luxuriously tanned, firm skin as they, we would spend as much time rubbing the oilio on too! Our kids got a great laugh and we had a nice talk about how some cultures see nudity differently than Americans often do. However, we all agreed we would sunbathe fully clad in our bathing suits! They were most definitely immersed in Italian beach culture that day. For dinner, we ate pizza from Scialapopolo on our terrace and Jeff and I enjoyed the sunset together while the kids jumped off the rock into the bay. We bid arrivederci to our beautiful island and vowed to return again.
About Jennifer Payne
Jennifer Payne is a high school teacher and academic advisor. She and her husband of 23 years, Jeff, are co-founders of Love Grows Here, a company that aids families in their journey to grow victorious, powerful kids! They work to counsel parents and children on all matters of the family heart, as well as offering academic tutoring services via Skype and in-person. Jennifer and Jeff have two big kids; Hannah is a 20 year-old American Literature major at UCLA and Ben is a junior in high school with mad ice hockey skills. They love traveling together and have journeyed as a family to such places as Italy, France, England, Mexico, many US locations, and have a trip planned next summer to India. You can connect with Jennifer via Instagram, Facebook, and her blog.
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