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Travel Feature

Cancun Sellout

The first time I went to the Xel-ha Eco Park, it wasn’t there. Back in 1969 or ’70, I was just a kid getting myself ready for puberty and my parents and grandparents on my father’s side had taken my two brothers and I to an almost completely unknown island called Cozumel, just of the east coast of Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula.

From our hotel, which presumably isn’t there anymore, one could see the mainland, so near the end of our visit, my parents made arrangements to take a boat over. It wasn’t large boat, it didn’t have a cabin, but had ropes for passengers to hold on for dear life on  one of the of the roughest sea journey’s I’ve ever been on.

Finally, after what seemed to be many hours of tossing and turning, we got there. A delightful bay in front of a water-filled cave called a cenote. It was cool and fresh and perfect for getting off the sweat and salt before going off to explore the mysterious interior. We didn’t find much. A couple of tiny temples built by the ancient Maya and a few sea turtle carcasses, one of which gave it’s skull to as a souvenir. The trip back was even more harrowing, with the pitch and roll of the boat threatening to capsize the tiny craft.

When we got back to dry land, my mother commented: “ This is just like those articles in the New Yorker.” It was indeed.

We went back to the following year, only this time we flew to the Yucatan from Cozumel. There were no airports of note in the territory of Quintiana Roo back then, so we had to fly to Merida, the capitol of Yucatan State, a colonial city far to the west of the   peninsula.

From there we drove south to Uxmal and the east to Chichen Itza, both built by a lost civilization that was both fascinating and mysterious. The guides told us stories of peaceful utopia made up of people who were fascinated by time and sports. The cities had been mysteriously abandoned well before the Spanish arrived, but their descendents lived on still, and in fact the signs had a third language besides English and Spanish… Mayan.

We climbed the fabled pyramids while Mom worried about us breaking our necks. It was a boy’s own adventure, even though we had to go with our parents….

Meanwhile, in Mexico City, very rich men, looked covetously at the virgin paradise that was Quintiana Roo, and in particular a group of sandbars surrounding a picturesque lagoon somewhat to the north of Cozumel. Their plan: Turn it into a world-class resort called Cancun.

Flash-forward a third of a century: There I am on the internet deleting spam from my email reader. There’s another one. The title bar advertises a free trip to Cancun. I like replying to these things sometimes, and I asked how much this “free trip” cost. I’d been invited to go for free before and they always seem to charge several hundred bucks in addition to the time-share pitch.

The reply came back with a plaintive: “it is free!!!!!!”. She was from the PR firm that had the Cancun tourist board account. I talked to some friends and they were more skeptical than I. So I called the Mexican embassy in Washington to check these guys out.

They were legit! Sonofabitch! I immediately sent them a “sign me up immediately!!!” email reply. This was a promotional press junket. I’d been hoping to be invited for these for years. All those year of doing movie reviews for almost nothing had finally paid off. What made it even better was that that the theme of this “fam [for familiarization] trip was archeology and I’ve been a big pyramid fan for years.

I’m going to be a sell-out Coool!

The agenda was pretty filling. From our base in Cancun, we would take all the archeological-type day trips one could take within a space of four days. No probs, I’ve done this lots of times.

Cancun is in Mexico, but it’s not OF Mexico, or at least not the Hotel Zone, the part everyone thinks is Cancun. It’s Las Vegas on the Caribbean. The HZ looks something like this: /_7, with the top bar and most of the diagonal littered with hotels one after another. Big hotels, expensive hotels, all of which have a beach and a huge swimming pool. The HZ is the myth of the place, the home of eternal spring break, where the parties last forever and the booze flows like water.

I’d been there before and couldn’t afford the place, so I spent the first night of my previous trip at the CREA Atencion de la Juvenad, arguably the WORST youth hostel on the face of the Earth. This monstrosity is in the HZ and has a nice beach. But the inside looks like it was supposed to be a prisoner of war camp or a prison and while I was there, I think I was the only guest. You had to practically beg for service.

I checked out and went over to Cancun proper, and Hostelling International has a place which is actually pretty good. Downtown is Mexico at it’s best. The area in downtown Cancun, (not downtown HZ, which is something else entirely), is full of shops and restaurants, where you can get some fantastic local food. This is a real city.

But I wasn’t going to stay in Downtown, I was going to stay in the HZ, at a place called Villas Tacul Boutique Hotel & Marina, which is a bunch of bungalows right there on the beach and air conditioning so powerful you almost need a sweater. Just the thing for Cancun in August.

The people on the junket were almost all travel writers, the singular exception being one lady who was doing seminars on singles’ travel for older women or something like that. Most of them were there because expense accounts aren’t always available, and keeping travel guides updated is an expensive business. This was a nicer bunch than I should have expected. They were all extremely experienced at this sort of thing, and were professionally proficient enough to questing for the lost world of the Maya.

How the Maya lost their world was for centuries a mystery. In recent years thanks to the cracking of their writing system and good old fashioned spade-work, we know that these peaceful philosopher/astronomers were in fact a bunch of warlike, power-hungry bastards who destroyed the environment so badly the common people gave up on civilization at least twice.

The glory of the Maya was from the 400s AD to around 930, when the whole artifice collapsed in a heap. This is called the “Classical” period. The Toltecs invaded from the north sometime later and helped start a “post-classical” civilization. This collapsed around 90 years before Columbus. There were a couple of cities left when the Conquistadors arrived in the 1520s. But if you’re at all interested in the subject you should have known this by now. One should always do their homework before leaving, if only a back issue of “Maxim” magazine’s spring break issue. But….

If you’re on the lazy side, Maya ruins aren’t that difficult to find. There was a town right there on the HZ during the “Decadent Postclassical period,” which is what the archeologists call the time period right before and during the Spanish conquest. It’s not all that big, but the ruins are quite picturesque and “El Rey” as it is called is good place to contemplate the fate of mankind while recovering from a night of hard partying.

But if you actually want to see the “real thing,” you have to go out and find it. There are lots of kiosks and storefronts in the downtown HZ area around the convention center, which will take you on a day trip to Chichen Izta, the great Postclassical city of the second millennium. This is where you want to go to look at a real, pyramid. “El Castillio” is the second most famous one in all Mexico and the reconstruction is almost perfect [they left one of the stairways as they found it]. The rest of the ruins are in a greater state of disrepair, and that’s all to the good, there’s a huge number of them, in fact, one can spend several days and not see it all...

That’s why they have quite a few hotels in the area. Far more than when I was a kid. The Mayaland Hotel, which has been there since the 1930s, has been joined by dozens of smaller and cheaper residences. What’s interesting is that the Mayaland owns the land on which Chichen Itza sits but not the ruins themselves. The Mexican government does things like that.

A few dozen miles east of Chichen is Ek Balam. At first, it’s not nearly as impressive. The ball court and the other buildings aren’t that big and there aren’t that many which have been excavated with as much care. That is except for the pyramid, which doesn’t exactly look like a pyramid, but more of a perverse office building. About half way up the grand stairway, there’s a grass roof, which protects something really special, a huge stucco frieze that looks like a pagan parody of the interior of St. Peter’s basilica in the Vatican. Warriors and priests flank a giant snake head while a large pile of rubble has been preserved in order to keep the whole thing from collapsing in a heap.

At the top of the pyramid one can see Chichen and the ruins of Coba in the distance. It cannot but impress.

South of Cancun are Coba and Tullum, the last Mayan city.

Coba is for the most part unreconstructed. This is the way most of the great Maya cities were found, piles of rubble among the trees. There are some major excavations going on but nobody will tell you exactly where. Archeologists generally hate tourists with a passion and they don’t want to be disturbed. The pyramids that are open to the public are pretty impressive and a bit on the dangerous side, but you  can rent bikes or tricycle-rickshaws and go from one group of ruins to the other underneath a canopy of trees. Really quite lovely.

Tulum on the other hand, is not. They’ve done a good job here. The city was still in good working order when the first reconnaissance missions arrived from Cuba in the 1510s. Compared to most of the other ruins in the area, this is brand spanking new! There’s also a beach, something you can’t really find anywhere else besides maybe El Rey.

Tullum is about as far south as one can go for a day trip from Cancun. There are other sites, but for that you have to stay down there and go on the next day. From Tulum, it’s actually possible to get all the way to Florez in Guatemala, but that takes an entire day (and I mean by getting up at 4:30 in the morning!) If you’ve got the time, it’s worth the effort, Tikal, Copan in Honduras and Palenque in the Mexican State of Chiapas are astounding. But generally people only can afford a week or so.

And, dammit it’s the Caribbean, where being in the area without going for a swim would be a crime. If you’re staying in the Mexican part of Cancun, there’s always the public beach in the southern part of the HZ, but then there are a couple of theme parks between Cancun and Tulum. They’re called Xcaret [the ‘X’ pronounced ‘ix’] and Xel-ha [the ‘X’ pronounced ‘sh’].

Xel-ha has changed a great deal since I was first there in 1968.

There’s a restaurant there now, as well as changing rooms and a beach, boardwalks and helpful signs to show you the cultural and “enhanced” natural landmarks. The birds and the fish are real, and some of the parrots, too. But they don’t have a floor show, and what’s Cancun without a friggen’ floor show?

For that there’s Xcaret.

It’s far the more “disney-fied” of the two. They have restaurants [which serve great food], a slow motion flume ride, and picturesque actors in Mayan costume, as well as professional “Ulama de Cadera,” players, imported from the state of Sinola, where the ancient ball game is still played,  who play a few matches in specially built stadium as well as during the aforementioned floorshow.
 
 The floorshow is an educational extravaganza, resembling a those 4th of July specials that they show on PBS every year. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s actually very entertaining. The audience, who were mostly Mexicans [Cancun is filled with vacationers from Mexico City in the last week of August and the CVB had a hell of a time finding us rooms] sang along and had a real blast.

The official price for these two is expensive. Xcaret is almost a hundred bucks US per adult. But the dozens of tourist kiosks to be found in downtown HZ generally have discounts that range from 25 to 60%, so it pays to go shopping.

The junket lasted five days. That’s not really enough to do it right, but then again, it was a fam trip. The price was right and I wanna do another one.

An Off-Festival Guide to Palm Springs and Beyond

For a while there, Palm Springs was looking pretty creaky -- God’s Waiting Room in the desert. Rat Pack martinis had long since yielded to frat boy kegs, and the only Hollywood celebrities in sight were retirees or golfers. The Palm Springs International Film Festival signaled the town’s revival when curtains came up two decades ago, and it’s since reupped its mid-century glam. Nowadays the stars are dropping out of the skies.  

Little else is. Girdled by mountains, Palm Springs spots 354 sunny days a year, and what passes for winter here means lowest temperatures well above freezing. So it’s no surprise that the Festival – which unfolds in January – has become part of a larger travel route for adventurers lured as much by the films as by the sun-dappled canyons and parks. Before, during or after the PSIFF (this year’s edition runs January 5-18, 2010), festival-goers can work off their popcorn amid Palm Springs’ retro facades or out in the Coachella Valley wilds. Tramway Gas Station Palm Springs
 
For a taste of California Modernism, the Tramway Gas Station is as good a place as any to begin surveying Palm Springs’ classic buildings of the late 40s-60s. Tricked out with a flying-wedge roof, the 1965 landmark at the northern edge of the city now serves as the Palm Springs Visitor Center. Its co-architect, Albert Frey, also crafted a glass and aluminum retreat for himself west of Tahquitz Canyon Way and a home for Coca-Cola bottle designer Raymond Loewy

There’s also the Kaufmann House, Richard Neutra’s steel, stone and glass affair from 1946 considered a gem of the International Style. Twin Palms, the Rancho Mirage house Stewart Williams fashioned for Frank Sinatra and, as it turned out, for Ava Gardner, is yet another desert rose to behold. The 1947 vintage home and piano-shaped pool can be rented for a cool $2,700+ a night.
 
The local gallery scene has traditionally favored T-shirts, seascapes and things Southwestern, but in recent years Palm Springs has sprung several alternatives, notably along Palm Canyon Drive. One is Galeria Dos Damas Dos, which owner Robert Menifee devotes to new and emerging California and Mexican artists. Another is former Disney suit Randall Erickson’s space in the Campbell building, specializing in such artists of the Americas as Rufino Tamayo and Roberto Matta. Native American art gets a fair shake at the Palm Springs Art Museum, whose permanent collection also dangles the work of Robert Motherwell, Helen Frankenthaler and Edward Ruscha, among other modern and contemporary artists, sculptors and architects from the West Coast and around the country.
 
A different sort of cultural shrine honors the indigenous art of living. At the 52-acre oasis of Two Bunch Palms, this translates as spa treatments for stressed Hollywood types. Scarface himself -- Al Capone – allegedly took the artesian mineral waters here.
 
Southern California has plenty of eye-bugging scenery, but the High Desert country of the Mojave probably takes it for topography. Joshua Tree National Park, an hour’s drive northeast of Palm Springs, makes hanging out with rocks and plants considerably more fun than it sounds. This is especially true for the eponymous Joshua trees, which are among the few living things in Southern California that win points for their advanced age.
 
The easiest and most scenic way to hit Joshua Tree, the comparably pristine Santa Rosa Mountains and the palm oases of the Indian Canyons is via ecological tour company Desert Adventures. (They also do a pre-dawn run to San Andreas Fault.) If this outing isn’t in the cards, a less eureka but still creditable alternative is The Living Desert. Gazelles, zebras and meerkats jazz up its nature conservancy -- as do desert plants its Palo Verde Garden Center -- a mere 15 miles southeast of Palm Springs.
 
An hour south of town on Highway 111 is the Salton Sea, an unlikely inland ocean that flowed from an engineering goof back in 1905. California’s version of the Dead Sea is salty enough to buoy water skiers and swimmers, assuming January’s mercury isn’t a deal breaker. Nearby Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is California’s largest tax-paid park. Hopping with critters from jackrabbits and coyotes to chuckwalla lizards and kangaroo rats, its 600,000-acres are also a bird nut’s Eden, with 150 flapping species. For goat lovers, the San Jacinto Mountains come warmly recommended. Palm Springs’ Aerial Tram climbs the 8,516 feet to the top of San Jacinto Peak for a trek along the trails and down to a wildlife preserve.
 
If the desert exploits rev the appetite, 16 miles west of Palm Springs the Morongo Band of Mission Indians run Hadley Fruit Orchards, home of the original trail mix. Or hell, if just reading about it all has the stomach growling, order online!
 
Tramway Gas Station
Palm Springs Visitor Center
2109 North Palm Canyon Drive

Palm Springs, CA 92262

760-778-8418

Raymond Loewy House
600 Panorama Road
Palm Springs, CA
 
Kaufman Desert House
470 West Vista Chino
Palm Springs, CA


Twin Palms
1000 Frank Sinatra Drive,
Rancho Mirage, CA
Contact HomesRun Inc.
866-370-5343
http://www.sinatrahouse.com/press/tc.pdf
 
Galeria Dos Damas Dos
388 N. Palm Canyon Drive
Palm Springs, CA  92262
760-416-2186
 
Randall Erickson Contemporary Art
436 N. Palm Canyon Drive
Palm Springs, CA 92264
760-416-9660
 
Palm Springs Art Museum
101 North Museum Drive

Palm Springs, CA 92262-5659
(760) 325-7186
www.psmuseum.org
 
Two Bunch Palms Resort and Spa
67425 Two Bunch Palms Trail
Desert Hot Springs, CA 92240
760-329-8791
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
 
Joshua Tree National Park
74485 National Park Drive 

Twentynine Palms, CA 92277
760-367-5500
www.joshuatree.org
 
Desert Adventures
74-794 Lennon Place, Suite A
Palm Desert, CA 92260
888-440-5337
www.red-jeep.com
 
The Living Desert Zoo & Gardens
47900 Portola Avenue

Palm Desert, CA 92260-6156
(760) 346-5694
www.livingdesert.org
 
Salton Sea
100-225 State Park Road
North Shore, CA 92254
760-393-3052
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
www.parks.ca.gov
 
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
200 Palm Canyon Drive
Borrego Springs CA
760-767-5311
www.abdsp.org
 
Mt. San Jacinto State Park
Mt. San Jacinto State Wilderness
800-777-0369
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
www.parks.ca.gov
 
Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
One Tramway Road
Palm Springs, CA 92262
760-325-1391
 
Hadley Fruit Orchards
800-854-5655
48980 Seminole Drive
Cabazon, CA 92230
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
www.hadleyfruitorchards.com

For a related FFtrav story go to: http://filmfestivaltraveler.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=311:the-21st-palm-springs-international-film-festival&catid=43:previews&Itemid=29

In the Footsteps of The Young Victoria

The teen-to-queen story inspires. And an arranged marriage where girl meets boy and actually falls in love has its charm. But it's Britain's royal palaces and scenery that make The Young Victoria, a costume drama about Queen Victoria’s 19th-century ascent to the throne and betrothal to Prince Albert, such a lush and atmospheric production.

The film stars Emily Blunt as Victoria and Rupert Friend as Albert, her husband and consort [see upcoming interview with Blunt], who felt regal just visiting its grand locations. Though some viewers may find the story a tad flat or have had enough of the queen-exploitation genre, but-- to misquote Her Majesty -- "we are amused" by the lavish interiors and English gardens, and itch to do some palace hopping of our own. 

Granted though, the average tourist won’t have Sarah Ferguson to broker special arrangements, as she did for the 50-day shoot in 37 UK locations. 

And not even Fergie could use her pull to retrograde the look of residences like Westminster Abbey or Kensington Palace, which required body doubles to stand in for their Victorian-era selves: Lincoln Cathedral played the former; Ham House, the latter. And Blenheim Palace did its Buckingham Palace best, with interiors shot at Belvoir Castle, Ditchley and Lancaster House. For Windsor Castle, Arundel Castle had a chance to shine, and Belvoir Castle showed what it could do as Windsor Great Park.
 
Whether the original or the movie stand-in, the centuries-old residences of British kings and queens will summon footloose romantics from the cinema to the airport. As director Jean-Marc Vallée put it to a native, “We have shot at some of the most beautiful locations imaginable -- Lincoln Cathedral, Blenheim Palace, Wilton House, Arundel Castle… I love them all. I even love your horrible weather.”
 
Many of the monarchs’ mansions are open to the general public:   
 
Buckingham Palace
Buckingham Palace was the true site of the Coronation Ball, where on June 28, 1838, 19-year-old Victoria feted her new status as queen. Today it does double duty as the office and London residence of Her Majesty The Queen and as the administrative seat of the Royal Household. Its 19 State Rooms, where paintings by Rembrandt, Rubens and Poussin preen alongside sculpture by Canova and Sèvres porcelain, can be visited during August and September, when the Queen makes her annual rounds in Scotland.
The Official Residences of The Queen
London SW1A 1AA
+44 (0)20 7766 7304
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
 
Ham House
When a 17th-century painting took some hairspray meant for Emily Blunt, the keepers of this Stuart mansion were reportedly up in arms. But Ham House has seen considerably darker days. From Civil War politics to Restoration court intrigue, the reputedly haunted house on the Thames packs a history that’s as wild as its garden mazes. For hours of operation, contact the National Trust.
Richmond, London TW10 7RS
+44 20 8940 1950
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-hamhouse
 
Frogmore House
Set in the private Home Park at Windsor, Frogmore House comes with 18th-century gardens and a lake. ”All is peace and quiet and you only hear the hum of the bees, the singing of the birds,” is how Queen Victoria described its allure. She was such a fan that she built a mausoleum there for Prince Albert when he died of typhoid in 1861, reserving an adjacent plot for herself. The interior House walls showcase several generations of artwork by the royal family.
Windsor SL4 2JG
Berkshire
+44 207 799 23318
For August and September tours, pre-book at +44 (0) 20 7766 7321
http://www.thamesweb.co.uk/windsor/frogmore/frogmore.html


 


Windsor Castle
The world’s biggest and oldest occupied castle dates back nearly 1,000 years, to William the Conqueror. Its 15-acre sprawl contains a royal palace that served as Queen Victoria’s principal residence. The Blue Room has the dubious distinction of being where Prince Albert died. Visitors can tour the Castle precincts, the State Apartments, Queen Mary's dolls house, St George's Chapel and the Albert Memorial Chapel. During the winter months the route includes five more rooms, called the Semi-State Rooms.
West of London
Via Windsor/Eton Rail, Windsor, UK
+44 (0)20 7766 7304
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
 
Osborne House
Tucked away on the Isle of Wight, Osborne House was the perfect place for Queen Victoria to skulk following Prince Albert’s death. Albert himself had designed the manse, with a nod to an Italian Renaissance palazzo. After its completion in 1851, it served the royal couple as a summer home and rural getaway. Victoria favored its “cheerful and unpalacelike rooms” over Windsor’s gloom, but after her death (at Osborne) her heirs fobbed it off on the state. Today it – and its museum dedicated to England’s longest-reigning monarch -- is the charge of the English Heritage, and can be visited from spring through autumn. 
East Cowles, Isle of Wight
+44 (0) 870 333 1181
http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/server.php?show=nav.14479
 
Osterly Park and House
Posing as Buckingham Palace, Osterly Park House made a fine sitting room and ante room for Emily Blunt’s Victoria. It began life as a manor house in the 1570s, among other then fashionable country retreats west of London. In the 18th century, architect Robert Adam gave it a neo-classical makeover, prompting art historian Horace Walpole to deadpan that its drawing room was "worthy of Eve before the fall."  Now under the care of the National Trust, the House is open to the public from March to November, with additional dates for other Osterly Park sites.
Jersey Road, Isleworth, Middlesex TW7 4RB
+44 1 494 755 566
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-osterleypark
 
Hampton Court Palace
Southwest London’s Hampton Court was built under King Henry VIII in 1514. Queen Victoria put her stamp on it with a nip/tuck to the Great Hall, but, like other kings and queens after George II, never called it home. Questers are invited into the palace and out to its 60-acre grounds, where the 17th-century Wilderness Garden maze awaits their confounding.
Surrey  KT8 9AU
+44 (0)20 3166 6000
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Lancaster House
The movie set for the Coronation, Lancaster House is every bit as over-the-top as the venue it fronted for. This wasn’t its first gig as Buckingham Palace; National Treasure: The Book of Secrets was. Gossip has it that Queen Victoria once commented to her host at London’s finest townhouse, "I have come from my House to your Palace.” Ground broke on the neo-classical residence in 1825, three centuries after the site was joined with St. James's Palace complex. Today HM Government uses Lancaster House for official receptions. Like St. James’s Palace, it’s closed to the public, but worth catching from the outside if you’re in the West End neighborhood.
London SW1A 1AA
+44 (0)20 7766 7304
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
 
Kensington Palace
Victoria’s birthplace was where she was told on the predawn of June 20, 1837, that her uncle, the king, had died and that she was now queen. Until then the almost-18-year-old had slept on a cot by her mother, as part of an overprotective hysteria known as the Kensington System. Yet memories fade, and in 1899, the Queen celebrated her 80th birthday by opening The State Apartments to the public. The restored walls were decked out with pictures and exhibits, especially of her reign.
5 Prince Of Wales Terrace
London W8 4PX
+44 (0) 20 7937 9561
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
http://www.hrp.org.uk/KensingtonPalace/building/stateapartments.aspx

Balmoral Castle
Adored by Queen Victoria and purchased by Prince Albert, Scotland’s Balmoral Estate houses the castle whose foundation stone she set in 1853. Balmoral Castle has since served as the private residence of The Queen, and HM and her family summer there in August and September. Beyond looking pretty, Balmoral Estate does its part for the environment and local Aberdeenshire economy. The 65-acre Estate grounds, gardens and the Castle Ballroom welcome visitors from early April through July.
The Estates Office, Balmoral
Ballater, Aberdeenshire
Scotland AB35 5TB
+44 1 3397 42534
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
www.balmoralcastle.com

For a related FFTrav story go to: http://filmfestivaltraveler.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=359:emily-blunt-the-young-victoria&catid=31:general

Italy’s Island of Capri

For anyone still planning a decadent New Year’s escape, Italy’s Island of Capri could be just the ticket. Since Tiberius and Caligula indulged their darker pleasures there, the island resort has helped fun seekers pass the chillier months, and its lusty charms persist in heating the soul.

A veritable Who’s Who of writers, artists and composers have staked out Caprese crags in more recent times. Even your mom knows the song, “The Isle of Capri.”

All of four square miles, the Bay of Naples’ glammest island is easy to get around. From Naples, it’s a 40-minute hydrofoil or 80-minute ferry, and half that from Sorrento. A funicular railway hoists comers from either of Capri’s two marinas – Grande in the north or Piccolo in the south – to Piazza Umberto I, diminutively called the Piazzetta. No self-respecting tourist leaves without cadging a shot of its historic Clock Tower or sipping overpriced drinks in its café bars.

Blue Grotto
Capri’s signal attraction is the Blue Grotto. Whether this azure-watered cavern is open to winter visitors depends on the sea and the skies. (In amenable conditions, hours are roughly 10 AM – noon.) Should umbrella conditions prevail, simply imagine the nymphaeum that decorated its flanks in antiquity, and sourgrape that it wouldn’t have been on display anyway, even had the elements cooperated.     
 
http://www.capri.com/en/grotta-azzurra

Faraglioni

A stack of rocks jutting out of the sea iconicize Capri’s north vista. Never have landslides and erosion so ignited the imagination as with this limestone clump, partly named after a sea lion who sunbathed there centuries back.   

http://www.capri.com/en/faraglioni

Belvedere of Tragara
To properly gawk at the Faraglioni, this leafy road gives quite the view. Its name, which means “goats” or “pen,” invokes Capri’s early days as a Greek colony. Today's Villa La Certosella stands where the Roman residential complex once began, the only remnants of which is the marble floor now in St. Stephen's Cathedral’s Chapel of the Rosario. From the Piazzetta, reach Tragara by a 20-minute trek along Via Vittorio Emanuele and Via Camerelle.

Certosa di San Giacomo
The Charterhouse of St. James was a 14th-century monastery founded by nobleman and royal advisor Count Giacomo Arucci as his end of a divine bargain to produce a male heir. Today this exemplar of Carthusian architecture in all its monkish wonders hosts a museum, library and screening hall.

Via Certosa
+39 81 837 6218

Cerio Museum
The Cerio Museum holds everything from fossils and shells to animals and plants in its 20,000 natural and archaeological exhibits. Largely hoarded in the 19th century by Dr. Ignazio Cerio, the depot is housed within an old palazzo located on the Piazzetta.
Piazzetta Cerio, 5 - 80073  
+39 81 837 6681; 081-8370858
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
www.centrocaprense.it

Gardens of Augustus

Landscaped among Roman ruins, this horticultural showcase was bequeathed to the town of Capri by Friedrich Alfred Krupp. One of its evergreen flourishes is a statue of Lenin by Italian sculptor Giacomo Manzu.
Near Via Krupp
www.capri.net/en/t/augustus-gardens-via-krupp

The Church of St. Michele Arcangelo
San Michele (St. Michael) ranks right up there in the island’s must-tour list. Its main event is a majolica tile floor depicting Adam and Eve in an Eden enlivened by unicorns and other mythical beasts. The frequent buses and chairlifts that shuttle between the villages of Capri and Anacapri, where the 17th-18th-century church and its surrounding Piazza San Nicola are perched, mean that trippers needn’t feel stranded. Another chairlift A chairlift from Anacapri’s central square, Piazza della Vittoria, transports the non-acrophobic to the top of Mount Solaro for a postcard-ready view of the Mediterranean.

Piazza San Nicola
Anacapri
80071 

+39 081 837 2396

Villa St. Michele
Just off of Piazza della Vittoria is the cliffside house and garden of Villa St. Michele. It was built amidst Roman ruins by Swedish doctor and animal lover Axel Munthe, whose 1929 memoir, The Story of San Michele, became a global bestseller. After recovering from the panorama of the Bay of Naples, browse the museum’s antiquities, including a head of the Medusa, a marble bust of Emperor Tiberius and an Egyptian sphinx.
Via le Axel Munthe
34 80071
Anacapri 

+39 - 081 – 8371401
www.sanmichele.org

Villa Jovis
Villa-hopping gains momentum at this 1st-century BC spread. Sited at the spur of Capri’s much-trumpeted Viale Amedeo Maturi, Villa Jovis is what remains of the palace where Ceasar Tiberius ruled the Roman Empire for a decade. Its perch at cliff’s edge afforded him privacy, security, and, a spit down the road at “Tiberius’s Leap,” a spot to dispatch unruly servants and guests. The villa grounds also house the Church of Santa Maria del Soccorso and a statue of the Madonna photographable from the sea below.
Via Tiberio
+39 81 837 0381
www.capri.com/en/villa-jovis

Villa Lysis aka Villa Fersen
Down the street from Villa Jovis is Villa Lysis, a Neoclassical beauty named after the young consort of Socrates mentioned in Plato’s Dialogue on Friendship. The columned and tiled residence is also known as Villa Fersen in honor of its first owner, Count Jacques Fersen d'Adelsward, a French poet and writer who overdosed on cocaine in 1923. Check out the basement Chinese Room, which was an opium den.
Via Tiberio 80073

Related FFtrav stories:
http://filmfestivaltraveler.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=336:14th-capri-hollywood-film-festival&catid=43:previews&Itemid=29

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