The Gargano is a territory located in the northernmost part of Apulia. The ‘spur of Italy’ is washed on three sides by the Adriatic Sea. While maintaining many of the common characteristics of all Apulian territories, the Gargano is very different from the Valle d’Itria and Salento: there are lush green areas, “mountain” scenery, a Unesco heritage forest, hundreds of kilometres of coastline with long beaches, and caves. There are lush green areas, “mountainous” scenery, a Unesco heritage forest, hundreds of kilometres of coastline with long beaches, caves that creep into the limestone cliffs and villages overlooking the sea.
What to see in the Gargano
In the central-eastern part of the Gargano we find the Foresta Umbra, a protected area that falls entirely within the Gargano National Park. It is located at an altitude of about 800 metres. The name “umbra” comes from the Latin: sombre, shady, due to its dense vegetation. Since 2017, its beech forests have become part of the UNESCO heritage. The territory of the Umbra Forest falls within the municipalities of Vieste, Peschici, Vico del Gargano, Carpino and Monte Sant’Angelo.
The Gargano and the Umbra Forest can be defined as “the kingdom of biodiversity” because they are home to more than 2,000 plant species, as well as numerous animal species such as the native Italic Roe deer. The Gargano forest is the largest Italian deciduous forest with beech trees.
The Gargano coast
The Gargano coast, especially the southern stretch from Vieste to Mattinata, is considered one of the most beautiful in the world.
Beautiful bays and beaches such as Baia delle Zagare and Vignanotica alternate with marvellous sea caves that are the result of the incessant action that water and wind have imprinted on the limestone cliff over the centuries. Sea caves are tunnels carved out of the limestone cliff in unusual shapes. Thanks to the filtering light and its reflections between the rocks and the Mediterranean scrub, the water acquires enchanting shades of colour, giving us a characteristic spectacle.
Another karst attraction is the San Felice arch, a fascinating natural arch just a short distance south of the centre of Vieste. Vieste is also home to the Pizzomunno,
an imposing 25-metre-high limestone cliff. This monolith is located at the beginning of the beach south of the centre: the Scialara. Because of its charm, it has become the very symbol of the Gargano town. There are some legends linked to it in which Pizzomunno is a young fisherman transformed into stone, petrified by jealous sirens envious of the beautiful Cristalda, a girl loved by the young Pizzomunno.
The villages of the Gargano retain many of their ancient medieval features, agricultural villages in the inland areas and seaside villages along the coast.
They are all fascinating in different ways: from the coastal villages of Vieste, Peschici and Rodi Garganico to the mountain villages of Vico del Gargano, Monte Sant’Angelo and San Giovanni Rotondo.
The most famous is Vieste, the queen town of Apulia in terms of tourist arrivals and presences.
The historic centre of Vieste, usually called ‘Vieste Vecchia’, is built on a rocky outcrop overlooking the sea that runs from the castle beach to Marina Piccola beach, and has San Francesco Point at its end. The village, of medieval origin, retains its original features almost intact, with its characteristic irregular alleyways, open spaces overlooking the sea and old houses with Mediterranean charm.
Other seaside villages are Peschici, with its castle overlooking the sea, and Rodi Garganico, on the northern side.
Equally picturesque are Vico del Gargano, to be visited especially on the occasion of Saint Valentine’s Day, the town’s patron saint, Monte Sant’Angelo with its mystical sanctuary dedicated to Saint Michael the Archangel, and San Giovanni Rotondo, the town of Padre Pio.
The Gargano Lakes, Lesina and Varano
Another peculiarity of the territory are the Gargano lagoons, where birds find an ideal habitat: in the north we find the Lesina and Varano lakes, lagoons surrounded by a spectacular rural landscape, in the south the Salso lake, near Manfredonia.
Where to sleep on holiday in the Gargano
The tourist offer in the Gargano is very wide. There are many holiday homes, some with beautiful sea views like La Banchina, in Vieste.
There is an equally wide choice of hotels and holiday villages, such as the Villaggio Camping Oasi, directly on a beach between Vieste and Peschici, an ideal place for families and kitesurfers alike.
All you have to do is set out to discover this marvellous land of sea, nature and culture.