the wild beauty of Capri

DHyhZ37VwAA22qG.jpg-largeCapri is an island known for glamour, and while there is plenty of that in the air and along the charming pedestrian lanes of Capri Town and upper Anacapri in the haute couture shops, Grande Dame hotels, and restaurants… the true Capri is found off the beaten path wandering silent side streets and hiking in wildflower, woodsy meadows until you reach stunning 360 degree views of the cliffs below and the sea. This view above is of the famed Faraglioni Rocks; coastal and oceanic rock formation eroded for many many years by waves. Faraglioni is possibly from the Greek pharos or Latin pharus (“lighthouse”) and is correlated to the Spanish farallón. Some locals have told me it means the wild strawberry, for its similar shape to the tiny, bittersweet berry.img_1944There is a sublime pleasure in wandering around the island on your own and discovering ancient overgrown paths hinting of ancient Roman history of the Neapolitan isle. You can hike the “back way, the 19th century way” from the Villa Lysis to Tiberius’ most visited ruins, the Villa Tiberius. It is a little treacherous at times but completely satisfying to climb where many have tried before you. The clean scent of the sea is carried on the wind as is the perfume of lemon trees and bergamot and roses and freesia warming in the sun all day. capriblueThere are so many different breath taking views on Capri that I recommend staying for a few days if you can. A day trip can be a lovely experience if you retreat from the crowds and do something spontaneous and pleasurable at a slow travel pace, but nothing beats waking up hours before the day-trippers descend and exploring the magical side of this Campania treasure. Each turn is unexpected but you never feel truly lost. Unexpected joys are found in a simple moment of beauty – it transfixes and transforms your heart and even how you decipher beauty, see the world, view love, and even how you look at yourself. Have a glass of wine or tea and look at all the beauty of nature around you, and feel the timelessness of Italia, and the bittersweetness of the shortness but intensity of our own lives. Take a bite of something, share a smile with a stranger, warm your face and body under the gentle sun, and breathe it all in slowly. The days last forever here. 34

There is a wealth of natural beauty on Capri which mingles perfectly with the scattered ruins of Roman Emperor villas and important Greco Roman fragments in museum villas with enviable views in outdoor cafes and winding gardens. Have a lingering lunch of local food on Anacapri (La Rondinella has great vegetable antipasto, salads, seafood, pizzas, pasta, and wine, and is reasonably priced). Stopping at the Villa San Michele museum is wonderful and something I highly recommend. It is one of the places I am happiest in. The Villa was owned by Swedish writer and doctor Axel Munthe and you can see my tour of his gorgeous gardens and Roman marble portico. See the galleries here and here. Don’t leave the garden without looking out to the sea for one of the most beautiful views of the ocean and neighboring islands in muted greens and blues.  Not too far away is the Casa Rossa, with a 1st Century Hera statue and four ancient nymph statues from Tiberius‘ swimming cave, the Blue Grotto, where Caligula and Augustus were also purported to have swam.

Next post I’ll be writing about the Greek Revival Villa Lysis and the hike up to the Roman ruins of the Villa Jovis!

 

La Rondinella restaurant

Via Giuseppe Orlandi 295, 80071 Anacapri, Island of Capri, Italy +39 081 837 1223

Villa San Michele museum

Viale Axel Munthe, 34, 80071 Anacapri NA, Italy

La Casa Rossa museum

– Via Giuseppe Orlandi, 78, 80071 Anacapri NA, Italy

Images shot on Portra 400 analog film and Velvia film slides.

rebecca-starr butler    alovelettertorome.com / romepix.com

 

Italy and England 

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There’s old Winston Churchill watching Big Ben, in Westminster, London, in March 2014.

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An anglophile’s dream: the omnipresent iconic red telephone box.

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Wandering around Portobello Road, in the Notting Hill neighborhood.

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The street art / grafitti is like The Sex Pistols and the Bbc all rolled into one.

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Tea at Sherlock Holmes and Watson’s house was quite amusing.

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Enjoyed searching for british china tea cups and white darjeeling on a half deserted faire.

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After wandering the many lovely garden parks of london wound up at  Buckingham’s Gate.tumblr_n2din7vCpZ1qznevxo4_1280

Making the pilgrimage to John Keats house at Hampstead Heath, London, after years of visiting the flat he died in, and laying flowers at his grave, in Rome.

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A room with a view…over the Thames, I was always excited to wake up to (and to raise my glass to) Big Ben.

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Saw the beautiful La Boheme set in 1940s Paris at the Royal Albert Hall.

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From the window of “221 b Baker Street, London

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From the beautiful garden of John Keats home, where he fell in love with Fanny Brawne and wrote some of his greatest poems.

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From the cloisters of Westminster Abbey. I do love a cloister.

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You have no idea how deep my anglophilia goes because I am always going on about Italy but these signs gave me a profound joy.

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This sign is so British it hurts.

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One of those moments in London an American or most foreigners savor.

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Always, a pilgrimage, a  beauty, a joy. John Keats forever. English Romanticism forever. B3-yzpZIAAIuVOk.jpg-large

Down the cloistered hall… like a dream of English classics, literary characters dancing in my head, London, a city looming in my brain of larger than life characters and eccentric, wonderful stories and frightful tales.

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The heartbreakingly beautiful dream of Italy view from my dreamy Sorrento hotel room terrazzo.

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Walking along the Appian Way on a quiet, car-free Sunday in Rome or along the Renaissance Via Guilia, I am forever excited and in awe over the small beauties and signs of the ancient world in this magical, mysterious city open-armed to the world.

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The architecture and cafes are familiar but I feel and live Rome anew each visit. There’s always something new to discover or a passion to stumble onto. Life is in the moment. It is heavy with the past, it is so alive it smacks of the future, but it is so wildly, lightly felt in the now, in the moment, Rome is like dreaming awake, feeling everything. Everything!

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Finding new off the beaten path cafes was a big favorite of mine in Italy this year. Always in search of the quiet moments and the hidden corners of Rome. This cafe was in Trastevere where you can sit and sip espresso and gaze at a Baroque Madonna painted onto a church exterior wall.

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I love the Eternal City because it has so many layers of history and love and unknown stories and marks of time and beauty in decay and new life bursting forth in a macabre, colored, brilliant celebration in Roman life today.

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Took a boat around my favorite island and swam in the Tyrrhenian sea on Capri, a place which invokes everything beautiful, lush and ancient about Southern Italy. There’s nothing quite like it.

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Returned to a lot of the same pleasures of the past, freshly squeezed oranges and lemons, under the Italian sun, by a Neapolitan woman who sings all day as she flitters around her Kiosk on the gorgeous Via Tragara.

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A return to Pompeii, the fascinating buried city with Vesuvius watchful in the distance.

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Meeting new friends abroad 🙂

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Long walks soaking in the sun and the past.

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Architectural details in half-obscured gardens of small villa art museums (full of amazing Renaissance, ancient and baroque Italian art)!

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Being the foreigner in a city you fall into like a comfortable affair.

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The moments you can’t anticipate but happen upon in the most beautiful of happenstances.

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My favorite spot on earth for the golden hour, on the Pincian Hill in Rome. This is before the view of the Popolo.

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A typical Roman street, wrapped into the mystery of fragments and pieces of history.

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The beauty of being overwhelmed in Rome.

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Cafe life in Italy, a class of wine or a coffee, a little treat, there is nothing like it. Another layered moment captured, to be savored and remembered palpably.

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On every wall there is a reminder of death and a reminder of love, the eternal kind, of love that lasts, and of life in the hand too.

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Rome, a city to return to, one that keeps its shutters open to the world, long enough for an unforgettable peek.

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Since that first moment I arrived there, now, and always, for Roma.

For traveling, for seeing the world, for meeting new people, and for being at home in the world.

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Here’s to 2014… and here is a cheers to 2015 and a new year of adventure and experience and chasing beauty!

A monastery in the clouds

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One fall afternoon in Naples the clouds snuck out from behind the Pantheon-like San Francesco di Paola Church as I stood in the main square in the sunshine.

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Approaching the large, Bourbon Piazza del Plebiscito from the Santa Lucia waterfront district is one of the most dramatic views I’ve ever seen in a city. There is an old monastery on an ancient hill and from this vantage point it looks like the Certosa di San Martino is floating on clouds.

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A closer look as you come upon the piazza.

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Caffe Gambrinus (Oscar Wilde’s old haunt and one of my favorite cafe-bar-tearooms) and the gleaming dome of the Galleria Umberto I, a strikingly beautiful marble-covered shopping atrium.

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All photographs shot in Naples, Italy October 2013 and were shot on velvia 35mm film slides by Rebecca Price Butler alovelettertorome.com retrofocus@mac.com

I’ve returned back to the United States from Italy

Notes on a little about my photographic process. I’ve been asked about this and it’s mostly the use of fine art films and my analog camera, but it’s also my digital camera and my iPhone too, that I shoot images with.

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vintage sky blue vespa in napoli, italy, portra 800, october 2013

 

Yesterday I picked up my 35mm film photographs of Capri, Ana Capri, Sorrento and Napoli – shot in portra 160, 400 and 800, kodak pro h, and a few spare vintage-style rolls of color film, the names of which escape me at the moment. I shot some velvia slide film, which was developed into individual slides and I poured through each slide on a light table with a magnifying glass and chose the best ones (and the lab will scan them onto cd so I can post them here and in some articles and guides on Italy for other publications – AND which cost me $5 per slide)!!!

A roll of art film can be $15-$75 just for 35 mm film… 120 film (medium format/ large format) can be even more. Some times one can luck out with a five pack for $55, depending on the film. The film slide film is usally $25+ per roll and there is some incredibly beautiful discontinued slide film is now $75-$125 per roll with an expiration date! My fridge doors are not packed with cheese or juice or butter but with endless rolls of film, the cheap stuff, the mid range and the criminally expensive. It’s vitally important to buy your film from credible sources. That’s why I tend to buy the film in person, from a few credible photography shops in the Boston area, who properly store their unexpired film in a film fridge.

So for this trip, the 11th to Italy (ahh, makes me think of Doctor Who!) – I spent a couple hundred dollars on the film, a couple hundred to develop the rolls and a few hundred more once they scan the velvia film slides onto CD.

I shot about a hundred pictures on digital but focused mainly on analog because I prefer the dreamlike, tonal quality and the color and beauty of these special films. It’s sad how incredibly costly it is to shoot with fine art film; it’s truly a dying art form. But there is still the drugstore deals on fujifilm and kodak (buy one 5 pack, get one free, etc) I collect in bulk because that film is great for every day shots and practice. But for Italy and for shoots where I’m looking to tell a story, I still rely on those rare gems: portra, velvia, etc.

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neapolitans in spaccanapoli, portra 800, october 2013

 

As I return to writing and shooting and editing I’m thinking of arranging this into a book or extended project of my version of Off The Beaten Path Italy so I’m thinking of the tremendous cost as an investment. We’ll see.

I have a busy weekend but I’m going to get some pieces together soon and post some of the photographs here. I do post some of the stand alone shots on tumblr here.

shadows and light in the gardens of san michele on anacapri

At the edge of the garden at the Villa San Michele on Anacapri there are beautiful architectural details and greco roman fragments displayed among the trees and flowers.

“My house must be open to the sun, to the wind, and the voice of the sea, just like a Greek temple, and light, light, light everywhere!” – Axel Munthe

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I find the ramble through the gardens of Anacapri (especially the Villa San Michele one) to be a bit fairytale-like, a bit dreamy. The dark, lush, green paths over stone and fragments of ancient Roman columns and statues; the intoxicating scent of flowers and herbs; the layered calls of forty different species of birds – all hold one’s attention. When the garden is not crowded one can find themselves utterly alone, with the run of the place. There’s a sense of timelessness walking the stone paths and climbing stairs which boast unreal views of rugged coastline and layers of rocky, verdant cliffs.

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A nonchalant rustic garden with the aesthetics of a museum, an olive jar, shadows between the sunlight and a verdant spread accompanying a stroll. The stairs beckon and frighten a little when alone.

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The gorgeous cloak of wisteria entwining the columns and topiaries. Mighty cypresses soaring like some needly skyscrapers. The hint of other villas and other stories are tucked neatly into the mountain.

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Bright yellow flowers grow in impossible places, their faces outstretched toward the sun.

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The heady flowering of spring, clean white blossoms breaking up the velvet thick gloss of leaves and tangled old branches, is in every turn.

“The sacred mountain above San Michele is full of birds on their way home to mate and rear their young. What a joy to me that they can rest there in peace! Yesterday I picked up a poor little skylark, so exhausted from his long journey across the sea that he didn’t even at- tempt to fly away, he sat quite still in the palm of my hand as if he understood it was the hand of a friend, perhaps a compatriot I asked him if he wouldn’t sing me a song before he went off again, there was no bird-song I liked better than his; but he said he had no time to spare, he had to hurry home to Sweden to sing the summer in. For more than a week the flute-like notes of a golden oriole have been sounding in my garden. The other day I caught sight of his bride hiding in a laurel bush. To-day I have seen their nest, a marvel of bird-architecture. There is also much fluttering of wings and a soft murmur of bird-voices in the thicket of rosemary by the chapel.” The Story of San Michele by Axel Munthe

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On the old stairs a soft moss lies on the stone, suggesting an endless year of spring and life growing in the garden.

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Far below a tiny shock of blue sits in between the fields and the bay of Naples; while all those lives play out from an Emperor’s ancient vantage point.

“The whole bay of Naples lies shining like a mirror below my feet, the columns on the pergola, the loggias and the chapel are all ablaze with light…” The Story of San Michele by Axel Munthe

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The best view is a private spot of solace, a corner to stop in your tracks and allow the view to overtake your senses. A sip of the island’s limoncello, the scent of flowers and the sea, the sound of the birds and the south wind, the feel of the stone along your hands and under your feet – all senses are occupied with Capri from here.

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On certain days when the weather is perfect it feels as if one could see the whole world from here.

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Some of the paths are winding, some are hidden until you come upon then suddenly, some form straight lines with edges and niches laid out for yards.

“The pergola was already covered with young vines; roses, honeysuckle and Epomea were clustering round the long row of white columns. Among the cypresses in the little cloister court stood the Dancing Faun on his column of cipollino, in the centre of the big loggia sat the bronze Hermes from Herculaneum.” – The Story of San Michele by Axel Munthe

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Follow the ivy climbing over the columns and stone walls as you explore the garden, every corner is a delight.

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At the top of the steps are uniformed pots of green plants and spring buds, standing at attention for your wander about.

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On one path a sign leads to the café, a welcome distraction after all that beauty. Doesn’t everyone at a museum always love a café? This one is a rooftop one in the garden.

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Gnarled vines from long dead plants wind themselves around majestic trees along a columned loggia.

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The exotic and native flowers in every hue are marked and greet thousands of visitors each year.

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A stone water fountain which looks completely natural bubbles forth in between ivy, basil and shiny leaves. There’s mint and rosemary and too many herbs to count.

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A few Egyptian looking palm trees and several umbrella pines recall Capri’s ancient Roman days when the island played host to emperors and sirens.

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This is one of my favorite spots…I feel a sense of happiness and pleasure whenever I pass under the leafy canopy and approach the café. This is my dream garden.

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Whenever I see a Bird of Paradise I think warmly of my mother and her love for them. This was the most perfect one I’ve ever noticed.

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The Loggia has many windows to the sea and other curves of the garden. They are filled with manicured folder pots and Greco Roman statues. Roses climb the walls in every soft color.

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Some of the architecture reminds me of a Spanish style church, some is a bit Occidental, some a little Roman and the rest an eclectic mix of early 20th century and Capri-style.

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Each path ends with a different corner of the grounds, each turn is so inviting it’s difficult to choose one lane over another for the promise of their beauty.

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Where ever you end up in the next step, it’s easy (and enjoyable) to get lost. You always wind up at the heart of the garden and of Capri herself. If you remain quiet and strain your ear just a little bit and listen past the songs of birds, you may still hear the faint call of the sirens on the rocks below you.

“Like children in the trackless forest we grope our way through our lives in blissful ignorance of what is going to happen to us from one day to another, what hardships we may have to face, what more or less thrilling adventures we may encounter before the great adventure, the most thrilling of all, the Adventure of Death. Now and then in our perplexity we venture to put a timid question to our destiny, but we get no answer for the stars are too far away. The sooner we realize that our fate lies in ourselves and not in the stars, so much the better for us. Happiness we can only find in ourselves, it is a waste of time to seek for it from others, few have any to spare.” The Story of San Michele by Axel Munthe

Interesting perusal in relation to Anacapri and Capri:

The Story of San Michele by Axel Munthe (Full text)

Elsyium Press, Capri publications, Rare photographs and lithographs, Norman Douglas.

This is part three in a series of photo essays on the Island of Capri’s museum The Villa San Michele. All photographs copyright Rebecca Price Butler at alovelettertorome.com

at the enchanting villa san michele’s gardens on anacapri

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A Greco Roman bust outside the chapel in the Italiani Giardini. The white tile stairs lead up to the former bird conservatory.

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The winged Egyptian bust overlooking the Marina Grande with Ischia faintly shimmering in the background through the low clouds.

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The sphinx watching over the sea, an ancient siren calling wanderlust to travelers.

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The bird’s eye view.

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The beautiful sweeping coastline of Capri.

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The tiny chapel in the garden.

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Cypress trees and gorgeous pillars on the terrace overlooking the sea.

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There are a series of stairs leading to sumptuous turns of the garden and pathways further up the hill.

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Although the villa is high up on Anacapri, there are soaring rocky cliffs surrounding the grounds. One rock was the the fort overtaken by the pirate Redbeard, which was later owned by Axel Munthe and donated back to the island (but owned by) his Swedish foundation.

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The veranda, home to the sphinx, is inviting in white tile and stone, with benches to rest on and views everywhere you look.

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The charming path way walks are lined with greenery, flowers and fountains.

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Every turn on the grounds is more and more enchanting. I cannot recommend enough an hour’s visit to the Villa for it’s peacefulness and beauty. On hot days it’s a cool and shady refuge.

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Olive jars, more cypresses and Roman Umbrella pines!

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A side view of the Egyptian winged pegasus-like female sphinx.

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The exterior of Axel Munthe’s chapel.

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Potted urns along the walk.

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Herbal garden, leaves and trees.

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Hedges and shrubbery grown over decades forming fences.

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Another angle of the sphinx’s view.

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A tiny boat leaving the shore.

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The clouds and mist find each other.

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Because of Axel Munthe’s tireless advocation for the exotic array of birds who migrate to the island each year, Capri is now one giant bird sanctuary. Bird hunting is outlawed. The beautiful song of many different birds can be heard from morning to night, when the nightingales come out. It is then when I can feel Keats poem, Ode To A Nightingale, alive in the air.FH060023

I worry some of the pictures are a bit repetitious but they were all beautiful reminders of being there. Even a subtle angle change is reminiscent of walking through the grounds and seeing the beauty unfold a step at a time. And believe it or not I am actually restraining myself.

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A semi hidden niche at the end of Villa San Michele’s labyrinthine gardens and loggias.

This was part one of the Villa San Michele series shot on portra 35mm film, velvia film slides and vintage kodak. The history of San Michele, more garden rambles, the cafe and interior of the villa, the flora and fauna of the grounds and excerpts from Axel Munthe’s book on his Villa to come in following posts. For visitor information visit: villasanmichele.eu . If you find yourself on Capri, even for a day, you must take a convertible taxi or the bus up to Anacapri (because it’s less crowded, lovely and full of hand painted tile, jewelry and sandal artisans) and it is the home of the Villa San Michele! You won’t regret it!

More to follow! These photographs and travel essays are copyright Rebecca Price Butler, alovelettertorome.com

That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees
In some melodious plot
Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,
Singest of summer in full-throated ease.