To get an in-depth look at the island, I teamed with Aprea, a local guide (http://www.caprileisure.com) recommended by Mara Solomon of HomebaseAbroad.com, a villa rental and vacation service. Solomon praised Aprea's prices and knowledge; I agreed with her on both counts. His island boat tour cost about $100 less than the going rate.

But before I took the sea tour, I wanted to see the island by land. I didn't want to spend much time at high-end boutiques; there were dramatic views, graceful gardens, bright flowers and historic ruins to see. Because cars are banned in the main city, we walked everywhere, Aprea filling me in on his island's history and characteristics as we strolled.

Finally we hopped on a bus, ascending — which included several daunting hairpin turns — to Anacapri, which caters mainly to tourists but offers a more casual face to visitors and has its own attractions.

At the top of the list sits Villa San Michele, home to gracious gardens and spectacular panoramic views of Capri's coastline, the Sorrentine Peninsula and Mt. Vesuvius. The complex, on a ledge about 1,000 feet above the sea, was built on the ruins of an ancient chapel around the turn of the 20th century.

Next up on my tour was Mt. Solaro, at the summit of the island. We could hike up the hill, a 90-minute walk, Aprea said, or take a chairlift, which makes the trip in 12 minutes. After two days of walking the hilly, cobblestone paths of Capri, I voted for the chairlift. Suspended from its lofty swinging seat, I could see the island's rural charm: sweetly scented lemon groves, sun-bleached stucco farmhouses and banks of brilliantly colored bougainvillea.

Capri's rural areas are the main allure for some visitors to the island, who come to hike and commune with nature instead of hitting the shops. Miles of ancient trails crisscross the countryside, stone pathways that are marked by the wear of 2,000 years of foot traffic. Smart travelers hike these charming, lonely trails from 11 a.m. to 4 or 5 p.m. each day while day-trippers swarm the island and clog the streets of Capri Town and Anacapri.

Another way to while away those hectic hours: See the island from the sea. My friends and I did just that, boarding Aprea's gozzo, a classic wooden boat used for lounging and sightseeing along the coast.

Our first stop was the Blue Grotto, a sea cave known for its ethereal blue light. The cave, Capri's best-known attraction, has a low, narrow entryway and can be accessed only from the water. To enter, we transferred from the gozzo to small rowboats. The boatman told us to lie on the floorboards.

When the tide was right, he hunched down in the boat too and maneuvered it through a cleft in the rocks on an incoming wave. We flew through the low opening and entered a new dimension where a shaft of sunlight streaming through the cave entrance flooded the grotto with brilliant blue light.

We spent about 10 minutes in the cave, looking into its silvery waters and listening to our boatman sing an echoing version of "O Sole Mio." Then he cautioned us once again to lie on the floorboards to avoid smashing into the cave wall as we exited the grotto on a retreating wave. Touristy but fun and exciting too.

Then it was back to the gozzo for a half-day cruise around the island. The din of Capri Town faded as we swam in sea caves, lounged on the boat's deck, spotted mountain goats clinging to the hillside and marveled over spectacular views and scenery.

Yes, my friend the author had a point, I thought, as I drifted under a blue sky. Capri's rugged seascapes, chichi piazzas, cool cafés and charming countryside had cast their spell. Home? Perish the thought.

travel@latimes.com