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Touring Puglia from North to South.


The northeast tip of the Puglia region is the GARGANO. A luscious promontory covered by forests that steeply descend into the Adriatic sea, uncovering long white pebbled beaches and ancient small sea towns. Part of the following itinerary is the TREMITI islands, located right in front of the GARGANO, in the middle of the Adriatic, and easily reachable by boat.

The GARGANO is a stand-alone area, mainly undiscovered by mass international tourism and far from Puglia's famous attractions of Salento.

An itinerary of unsuspected beauty worth a visit, especially during May, June, September, and October.

Suggested itinerary:

  • start from Monte Sant'Angelo (half day)

  • continue toward Mattinata and descend toward the beaches of

  • Spiaggia di Baia dei Mergoli (Baia delle Zagare) and Vignanotica (full day)

  • stop by Pugnochiuso (one hour)

  • reach Vieste (full day)

  • Peschici (a few hours)

  • Vico del Gargano (few hours)

  • Rodi Garganico (a few hours)

  • visit the Varano Lake area (Natural reserve - Capoiale - Ischitella - Carpino - Cagnano Varano) (full day)

  • enter the Foresta Umbra (half-day)

  • descend toward San Giovanni Rotondo (arrive in the evening - spend half a day)

  • spend three to four full days in the Tremiti islands

San Giovanni Rotondo is an enchanting hilltop town in Gargano, the northeastern area of Puglia. It's in the province of Foggia, approximately 40 km away from the province's capital.

San Giovanni Rotondo is known for its religious significance. It's the home of the famous Catholic saint, Padre Pio, and people worldwide visit his shrine and pay their respects. But even if you're not particularly religious, you'll be struck by the peacefulness and serenity of the place. Profound spiritual energy envelopes the town that touches every visitor, no matter what religion or beliefs they carry.

Padre Pio, also known as Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, was an Italian Catholic priest and friar who lived in the 20th century. He was born in Pietrelcina, a small town near Benevento in the Campania region of Italy, in 1887.

Padre Pio is best known for his stigmata, which were wounds that appeared on his hands, feet, and side that corresponded to the wounds of Christ on the cross. These wounds appeared on Padre Pio's body in 1918 and remained with him for the rest of his life. Many considered them miraculous and attracted thousands of people to San Giovanni Rotondo to witness them.

Padre Pio lived in San Giovanni Rotondo from 1916 until 1968. During his time there, he founded the Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza, a hospital still in operation today and considered one of Italy's best medical facilities.

Today, San Giovanni Rotondo is an important pilgrimage site for Catholics and people of other faiths who come to pay their respects to Padre Pio and seek healing and guidance. His tomb is in the crypt of the old Santa Maria delle Grazie church, a beautiful and peaceful place to visit.

Site of ARCHITECTURAL interest*

Il Santuario di Santa Maria delle Grazie, the New Dome of San Giovanni Rotondo, is a stunning architectural masterpiece designed by the world-renowned architect Renzo Piano. Built between 1994 and 2004, it symbolizes modernity and innovation in this ancient town.

Interior view of Santuario di Santa Maria delle Grazie designed by architect Renzo Piano
Interior of the Dome, designed by architect Renzo Piano

The Dome was built as an extension of the existing church of Padre Pio, which had become too small to accommodate the growing number of pilgrims coming to San Giovanni Rotondo. Renzo Piano's design was inspired by the shape of a crown of thorns, and the church is supported by 28 slender columns that give it a sense of lightness and grace.

The Dome is made of reinforced concrete and is covered with white ceramic tiles, which reflect the sunlight and give it a bright and luminous appearance. It measures 98 feet in diameter and reaches a height of 148 feet at its highest point. It is divided into three levels, each with its unique character and purpose.

The first level is the main church, which can accommodate up to 6,500 people. The space is light-filled and airy, with a soaring ceiling and an intricate skylight system that filters the natural light. The altar is made of bronze and marble and is surrounded by a large nave perfect for congregational worship.

The second level is the crypt, where the tomb of Padre Pio is located. This space is intimate and peaceful, with a simple and elegant design that encourages quiet reflection and prayer.

The third level is the balcony, which offers stunning views of the surrounding landscape. This space is also used for concerts and other events.

The mosaics illustrating Padre Pio's life are located in the basement of the Dome. These genuinely breathtaking works of art capture the essence of this remarkable man's life and legacy. They were created by the Slovenian artist Marko Ivan Rupnik and his team of artisans and were completed in 2004.

The mosaic by artist Marko Ivan Rupnik in San Giovanni Rotondo
The mosaic by artist Marko Ivan Rupnik in San Giovanni Rotondo

One of the most striking things about the mosaics is how they tell the story of Padre Pio's life through related images and symbols. For example, the mosaic depicting Padre Pio's birth shows him emerging from a cocoon, symbolizing his transformation from an ordinary man to a holy figure. Other mosaics show Padre Pio surrounded by images of flames and angels, representing his spiritual devotion and the miracles that he performed.

The mosaics are also notable for their use of unconventional materials and techniques. Some mosaics use gold leaf to create a shimmering effect, while others use small pieces of broken glass to create a mosaic-like texture.

The new Santuario di Santa Maria delle Grazie is a marvel of combined modern art and architecture and a testament to the enduring legacy of Padre Pio. It is a must-see for anyone visiting the town and a source of pride for the local community.

But that's only part of what San Giovanni Rotondo has to offer. The town is charming, with winding streets and beautiful vernacular architecture. There are plenty of shops and cafes where you can stop and take a break from your sightseeing, and the locals are friendly and welcoming. Recommended food is a local sandwich made with pizza dough and vegetables resembling a friar monk's sandal named "Paposcia."

View of San Giovanni Rotondo
View of San Giovanni Rotondo with its hospital (center) and the Dome (left)

Monte Sant'Angelo

Monte Sant'Angelo is a charming hilltop town in the heart of the Gargano area northeast of Puglia, Italy, only 25 km from San Giovanni Rotondo. With its stunning views of the Adriatic Sea and rich mythological history, Monte Sant'Angelo is worth visiting.

Monte Sant'Angelo historic center
Monte Sant'Angelo historic center

One of the town's main attractions is the Sanctuary of Monte Sant'Angelo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This ancient pilgrimage site dates back to the 6th century and is said to be where the Archangel Michael appeared to a bishop, leaving behind a footprint in the stone. The sanctuary is a stunning example of Romanesque architecture and boasts breathtaking views of the surrounding land and seascape.

According to Christian tradition, the Archangel Michael visited a local bishop named Lawrence in a vision. The angel told the bishop that a cave on the Gargano Peninsula, near Monte Sant'Angelo, was a sacred place where he and other angels had appeared.

The bishop was initially skeptical, but the angel repeatedly appeared, urging him to visit the cave. Finally, the bishop relented and set out on a journey to the shelter. When he arrived, he found it a dark and forbidding place, filled with the stench of sulfur and brimstone.

As he entered the cave, he was suddenly confronted by a terrifying apparition of a dragon, which he recognized as a manifestation of Satan himself. The bishop prayed for protection and called out to Archangel Michael for help.

The archangel appeared, wielding a flaming sword. He battled the dragon and drove it away, saving the bishop from certain death. The bishop was filled with awe and gratitude and vowed to build a church on the site to honor the archangel.

The church of Monte Sant'Angelo was built in the 6th century and became a place of pilgrimage for Christians seeking protection from evil and demonic forces. It is still a popular destination today for visitors seeking spiritual guidance and inspiration.

The town has several charming streets and squares to wander and soak up the local atmosphere. The historic center is filled with narrow streets, whitewashed buildings, and colorful flowers, making it a photographer's paradise.

Site of ARCHITECTURAL interest*

The Junno district, after the name of the mythical king Pilunno, is characterized by an urban-architectural plot with houses almost always formed by a single room and preceded by a small courtyard in front of the road. The homes, equipped with cisterns, resemble elegant Arab-type housing with bizarre chimneys; they are built in clusters, leaning against each other and connected by arches and stairways. It is a spontaneous construction of a rural type, determined by a social structure in which the sense of community and the need for solidarity are essential.

The area so-called Junno in Monte Sant'Angelo
The Junno district in Monte Sant'Angelo

Foodies will also love Monte Sant'Angelo, as it's known for its delicious cuisine. The town is famous for its olive oil, which is considered some of Italy's best. You can also sample local cheeses, cured meats, and fresh seafood at one of the many restaurants and cafes.

Monte Sant'Angelo is known for its typical bread and traditional dishes such as pancetta with broad beans and various vegetables, a unique variation of polenta made with semolina, orecchiette with turnip greens with the addition of fried anchovies and garlic and laine, fresh tagliatelle with chickpeas and cod sauce.

Monte Sant'Angelo is also a great starting point for exploring the Gargano National Park, home to stunning beaches, the famous Foresta Umbra, and hiking trails. It is also home to a Norman-Swabian-Aragonese castle, a few steps from the cave, which was the home of the Emperor of Swabia, Bianca Lancia, and today it is said that her ghost still roams the halls of this building.

If you are interested in history, you can visit the Museum of arts and popular traditions, known as the Tancredi Museum, located at the former convent of the church of San Francesco, the Lapidary Museum, located inside the Basilica of San Michele and the Devotional Museum also situated within the sanctuary.

In addition to its rich history and culture, Monte Sant'Angelo is a great and quiet place to enjoy the natural beauty of Italy. The town is in a splendid panoramic position on a spur South of the peninsula, with a breathtaking view of the Gulf of Manfredonia. It is also close to the Valle Carbonara that opens between Monte Sant'Angelo and San Giovanni Rotondo, the largest and longest valley in the Gargano, explicitly dedicated to crops.

Spiaggia di Baia dei Mergoli, also known by the locals as Baia delle Zagare (The Zagare bay beach), is hidden in the Mediterranean scrub of the Gargano in Puglia, in the municipality of Mattinata, along a wild stretch of coastline characterized by cliffs overlooking the sea, small coves, and sea caves.

Situated on the SP53 (Strada Provinciale) toward Pugnochiuso and Vieste, the beach of Zagare Bay is one of Italy's best-kept secrets, named among the most beautiful beaches in the Mediterranean. If you're looking for a hidden gem to add to your Italian travel itinerary, this beach is to be noticed. It features two rock stacks from the sea made of white limestone.

Located in the heart of the Gargano National Park, Baia dei Mergoli is a little paradise that combines crystal-clear waters with unspoiled natural scenery. The sea is evident and blue, inviting a refreshing dip. Snorkeling enthusiasts will also appreciate the abundance of marine life in the area, from colorful fish to octopuses and starfish.

Rock stacks beach in Spiaggia di Baia dei Mergoli
The famous rock stacks at Baia delle Zagare

Baia dei Mergoli offers a peaceful atmosphere. Unlike other famous beaches in Italy, this hidden gem remains relatively undiscovered, making it a perfect place to relax and unwind. The lack of crowds means you can enjoy the area's natural beauty without being disturbed.

Take a walk along the coastal paths, explore the caves and caverns that line the cliffs, or sit back and admire the breathtaking views.

This beach can be reached by sea, through daily boat trips leaving from the nearby town of Mattinata, or by land through two hotels, the Baia delle Zagare Hotel and the Baia dei Faraglioni Hotel, going down straight to the beach with an elevator built into the rock. The Hotels offer the services of a beach club.

It is recommended to visit the Tourist Information Office of the City of Mattinata to get permission to enter the beach during the high season if you are not staying in one of the two hotels.

Another beautiful beach nearby is SPIAGGIA DI VIGNANOTICA. It can be reached by walking approximately 3 km on a mountain trail, departing from Spiaggia di Baia dei Mergoli.

The white pebble beach of Vignanotica in Gargano, Puglia
The unspoiled beach of Vignanotica

The Vignanotica beach is located between Mattinata and Vieste, from which it is respectively about 20 km and 25 km away.

It is located right along the Provincial Road n.53, and you can get there by bus from Mattinata with line 744, by sea, by private boats, or in your car.

In the latter case, you must take the Provincial Road n.53 and detour to the "La Montagna" restaurant, then park the car in private parking areas, continuing with the shuttle service.

If, on the other hand, you love walking in nature, you can also reach the Vignanotica beach on foot, following the Sentiero dell'Amore, which, in about 3 km, connects the Baia delle Zagare (or Mergoli) to the Vignanotica bay itself.

It is considered one of Gargano's most spectacular trekking routes and starts just 2 km after the Baia delle Zagare, always from the Provincial Road n.53.

Get ready to walk on a dirt mule track among Aleppo pines, olive trees, and Mediterranean maquis scented with mastic, prickly pears, and wild rosemary.

Ascending 140 meters along the peninsula's side, the Sentiero dell'Amore follows a gentle up-and-down path with a wooden railing that offers breathtaking panoramic views. From here, you can admire the stunning stacks of Finestrella dei Sogni and the Arco of God of Baia delle Zagare and even catch a glimpse of the Beach of Vignanotica.

Vignanotica beach, for most of the year, is very similar to those northern shores lashed by the winds and the sea, isolated and remote. In winter and autumn, there is no service on the beach, and if you want to enjoy it out of season, bring a supply of water and food with you because you won't find any bars or kiosks here.

During the summer, Vignanotica Bay sees Castlemany tourists who flock to the beach. However, some sections of the beach remain freeislands' for a more authentic and unspoiled experience. For those who prefer the comforts of a beach club, two are available, offering rentals of deck chairs, sunbeds, umbrellas, showers, and refreshments.

Vignanotica Bay is perfect for confident swimmers and water sports enthusiasts, such as windsurfers. Children can also enjoy a dip in the sea, provided they wear armbands and floats for added safety.

The seabed near the coast is deep and ideal for snorkeling, revealing an underwater world of beauty.

The waters at Vignanotica Beach remain crystal clear, even during rough sea conditions, showcasing a stunning range of blue hues.

Aside from basking in the pleasant sea and sun, visitors can explore the nearby sea caves, which are said to be the dwelling place of the mythical sirens. These caves, including the Grotta dei Sogni, Grotta dei Colombi, Arco Ricamato, and Grotta della Campana Grande, can be explored by canoe, with the bonus of discovering small neighboring sand spits.

The Grotta della Campana Grande, in particular, is a must-see as it houses a small hidden pebble beach, accessible by crossing a vast 5-meter opening. Once inside, take in the picturesque cocove'seauty, with its deep cobalt blue waters and rocky vault where white limestone mixes with reddish Achaia, resembling a bell. The light that enters the cave reflects on the internal rock, creating a glittering effect akin to crystal.

The narrow beach of Vignanotica
The narrow beach of Vignanotica, with its whitewashed rocks

Pugnochiuso is a seaside resort located on the coast between Vieste and Mattinata, 20 km from the town of Vieste.

The resort was envisioned by Enrico Mattei, a politician and entrepreneur who discovered these verdant bays while flying over the Gargano coast in 1959.

The construction of Pugnochiuso in the 60s gave way to the tourism industry on the Gargano.

The Pugnochiuso beach is located within The Hotel Il FaFaro'sccommodation facility and is accessible only through the resort or "sea.

About 200 meters long, it has a sandy bottom and is surrounded by greenery.

The panorama seen from the nearby Torre dell'Agliodell'Aglioreathtaking.

The beach of Pugnochiuso

Vieste rests at the eastern end of the Gargano Promontory, in the province of Foggia; it's a plait'sich in history and traditions, overlooking the sea in a fantastic stretch of coast.

Vieste is a picturesque town and a perfect destination for anyone looking for a relaxing and authentic Italian experience.

The so-called "pearl of "he Gargano" is famou" for countless reasons. Its historic center, dating back to the Middle Ages, captivates with its white houses, alleys, and small squares that open onto the Adriatic sea.

The Castle of Federico II and the Cathedral, in Apulian Romanesque style, among the oldest in Puglia, dominate the village. The coast is lovely, with high white cliffs, sea stacks, and long stretches of golden beaches.

Among the narrow streets of the charming historic center of Vieste, it's easy to come across the "Chianca Amara" (The Bitter stone), commemorating the massacre of thousands in July 1554, when the Saracen Draguth with his army besieged, plundered, and destroyed the town.

A plaque above this "chianca" recalls the bloody historical episode that unites Vieste with other Apulian coastal towns, such as Otranto, which were victims of the terrible incursions of Saracen pirates.

The Cathedral Basilica of Vieste, dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta, appears through a maze of alleys. It dates back to the 11th century, with a beautiful Baroque bell tower, an arcade with ten chapels, and many works of art.

In the cathedral you can see the representations of San Giorgio and San Michele, considered the protector of the Gargano. From here, every year on September 29th, a nocturnal pilgrimage leaves on foot toward the vault of Monte Sant'Angelo. The Norman-Swabian Castle of Vieste, dated 1242, is one of the military architecture constructions wanted by Frederick II in his Imperial Puglia. The spearhead ramparts are a later modification by the Spanish. It still retains its original military function; the Navy manages it. Guided tours with volunteer archaeologists are available.

From the stretch of sea in front of Vieste until a few centuries ago, you could see the walls erected to defend the city. Only a few original rooms remain on the ancient city walls of Vieste; in the past, these spaces were warehouses for grains or oil. Today they have found new life through accommodation and catering businesses, where visitors can discover the typical products of this land.

Behind the castle is "Pizzomunno," a whitewashed rocky monolith emerging from the sea. Located on the Scialara beach, this is Vieste's definitive and best-known symbol.

According to legend, Pizzomunno was a young fisherman in love with a beautiful girl named Cristalda. The sirens tried to bewitch him when he went fishing. Jealous of the young man's attention reserved only for the beautiful Cristalda, they dragged her to the depths of the sea, leaving Pizzomunno petrified by his loss.

Pizzomunno, the whitewashed rocky monolith emerging from the sea in the beach of Scialara
The monolith Pizzomunno on Scialara beach, in Vieste

The medieval quarter of Vieste was founded in 1438 as a monastery of the Poor Clares, but the Turks destroyed it several times over the centuries. Currently, the Church of San Francesco embraces the St. Anthony of Padua cult and houses a beautiful statue made in Dubrovnik in 1498 by the sculptor Marino di Lorenzo Dobricevic. Also in the church is a canvas from 1589, which represents the deposition of Christ from the cross with the Virgin and Saint Francis.

The lighthouse of Vieste is one of the most important in the Mediterranean, located on the rock of Sant'EufemSant'Eufemiman'Vieste'sategic position between the Middle and Lower Adriatic coast. It was a sacred place since ancient times, used as a lighthouse, with fires at night to warn arriving boats. The current lighthouse was designed in 1867 and functions as a Navy base.

The coast of Vieste is dotted with many "Trabucchi"" characteristic fishing sheds that date back to five centuries ago. Due to the dangerous presence of Turkish pirates, they met the need to fish from land rather than from the sea.

The "Trabucchi" are wooden platforms supported by poles fixed in the rock; they have winches that lower and lift the nets through antennas.

“Trabucchi,” characteristic fishing shed in Vieste, Gargano
a traditional Trabucco

This fishing system was used until the last century, then abandoned. Today their fishing activity is different from what it used to be. The city of Vieste aimed to preserve their full functionality, renovate them as restaurants, and make them into one of the most beautiful gastronomic experiences of the Gargano and Puglia.

But the “Trabucchi" and the "Chianca Amara” are not "he only reminders of Vieste linked to the Saracen threat. At least a thousand years earlier, many colonies of Christians arrived in Vieste from the Middle East to escape Arab persecution.

Of their passage today remains the most majestic and evocative cemetery complex of the Adriatic: the Necropolis of Salata, also called Salatella, due to its proximity to a source of salty water.

The origin of this and other necropolises of the Gargano dates between the 7th and 8th centuries. Necropolises, like the Roman catacombs, represent the cemetery of some Christian communities. The Necropolis of Salata is also particularly important for its landscape because we find karstic aspects, springs, and extraordinary monumentality. Nowhere in the Mediterranean do we find other necropolises with as many as ten burial orders.

The territory that houses these catacombs is a WWF Protected Area. Besides indisputable archaeological importance, it has remarkable geological, botanical, and faunal characteristics. The two streams of karstic origin represent only one of the many riches of the Gargano.

The sea has given Vieste another great treasure, represented by the Malacological Museum inaugurated in 1984 by the passion of a collector and his wife.

Thanks to the collaboration with the Municipality of Vieste, today it houses over 15 thousand specimens of shells and shell fossils, with many rare shots that only some museums in the world can boast. It is one of the most exciting places to see, especially for children and nature lovers.

The Arch of San Felice — also known as Architiello — is another of the symbols of the Vieste coast. Near the arch, you can also see the remains of coastal towers, used to communicate from one point to another to signal any attacks by the feared Saracen pirates.

The Arch of San Felice — also known as Architiello — is another of the symbols of the Vieste coast.
The Arch of San Felice, better known as Architiello

Many striking caves are along the stretch of the coast between Mattinata and Vieste. Testa del Gargano, the extreme tip of the Vieste's promontory, there is the Grotta dei Contrabbandieri, with two entrances, one from the north and the other from the South; the Grotta Campana (The "bell" cove), which is accessible after a long corridor of a couple of meters, about thirty meters wide and so called due to its shape.

In the Baia di Campi, there are three caves: the Warm Cave, where you can enjoy warm water even in winter; the Grotta Sfondata, for its opening to the sky, large enough to enter by boat; the Grotta dei Due Occhi, with the two doors on the top, almost hidden from the outside by the pine trees that shade the karst landscape.

In Cala, della Sanguinara opens the oldest cave known by the Viestani: the Grotta dei Colombi.

Grotta dei Colombi, in Cala della Sanguinara, near Vieste
Grotta dei Colombi, in Cala della Sanguinara, near Vieste

Peschici is in the heart of the Gargano National Park, known for its natural beauty and ancient history. This city offers a wide selection of attractions, from the historic center, with its Norman castle, to the Mother Church of Sant'Elia,Sant'Elia, to the Kalena Abbey and natural caves.

Peschici competes with Vieste for the title of "Pearl of "he Gargano." Besides "he beaches with crystal clear sea, there is much to see and do. The nightlife is particularly intense during the summer, and there is a wide choice of local cuisine, shopping, and accommodations.

View of Peschici and its castle

The historic center of Peschici, located on a 90-meter rocky outcrop, portrays white houses with domed roofs, typical of oriental architecture. The narrow and winding streets of the ancient village lead to the Castle, built by the Normans at the end of the 10th century. Despite many restorations, the Castle retains much of its original form and often hosts exhibitions. The panoramic terrace of the Castle offers a breathtaking view of the sea and the Tremiti Islands.

Another attraction is the Castle of Peschici, built between the 10th and 11th centuries by the Normans; it defended the coasts from the constant attacks of the Saracens and pirates. Frederick II modified the Castle and built the tower known today as Rocca Imperiale.

Today, after a restoration, the court is open to the public and hosts exhibitions and events, including the Torture Museum. Not far from the court is the Mother Church of Sant'Elia,dating back to the 13th century. The saint is the city's patron, and his celebration day is July 20th.

A visit to the 13th-century Kalena Abbey is recommended for history and architecture lovers. This imposing structure is located a few kilometers from Peschici. Furthermore, for nature lovers, a trip to the sea caves of the Gargano formed millions of years ago is an unforgettable experience.

Peschici, a fishing village in the Gargano area of Puglia
Winding streets of Peschici

Nicknamed the "town of love," Vico del"Gargano is one of the municipalities named among "The most beautiful villages in Italy." Its origin is very ancient; the evidence is the discovery of prehistoric settlements near the Umbra Forest and the site of an Iron Age graveyard on a hill called Tabor, from which, according to tradition, the inhabited center of Vico del Gargano would develop.

Vico del Gargano built by Frederick II in the 12th century
View of Vico del Gargano

It was a colony of Slavs who came from the eastern coasts of the Adriatic and mingled with the residents in the fortified center called "vicus," or "group of houses, village."

Frederick II conquered the town during the 12th century, making it a hunting area and favoring its rebirth. Testimony of that period is the characteristic historical center, a true labyrinth of narrow streets and alleys overlooked by distinctive houses and buildings. Along this route, a small suggestive corner, a meeting place for couples in love, is the famous "Vicolo del kiss": a narrow passage, no more than 50 cm wide and about 30 cm long, which forces lovers to "touch each other" to be able to pass. The alley is one of the most romantic alleys of the small Gargano town, with Saint Valentine as its protector.

Vicolo del bacio in Vico del Gargano
Vicolo del bacio in Vico del Gargano

The Vico area, including the close Rodi Garganico, is famous for its citrus groves. The autochthonous citrus fruits of the species “Arancia blonde del Gargano” and “Limone Femminello del Gargano", due to its quality, have recently obtained the guarantee mark IGP (Protected Geographical Indication).

Vico, today, still retains its natural and environmental prosperity: within its territory falls a large part of the Umbra Forest, considered the green lung of the Gargano National Park.

Rodi Garganico is on the north coast of the Gargano peninsula, facing the Tremiti islands. With its orange and lemon gardens, Rodi Garganico is the small citrus capital of the Gargano. The town also depends on fishing and trade, especially with the Dalmatian coast. The monuments to see are the churches, the portal of the ancient Castle of the Marquis of Cavaniglie, and the bell tower of San Nicola di Mira, in Byzantine style.

Rodi Garganico beach
The beach in Rodi Garganico

Nestled on the hill by the sea, Rodi Garganico is a charming coastal town with beauty and tranquility. It is often likened to a rose still in the bud, waiting to bloom and reveal its full glory to visitors. The town offers a range of tourist attractions and activities, from exploring the historic center to wandering through the alleys of the districts of the seaside village that lead to the port. The Vucculo, for example, is a district whose name comes from the cry of women calling their husbands to come home from fishing. Here, visitors can discover the old fishing village and the Chepabbash, a maze of alleys, arches, and secret squares that lead to secluded courtyards and panoramic terraces.

The historic center of Rodi Garganico is a well-preserved example of an ancient village typical of the Gargano. The narrow streets and old buildings are a delight to explore, and visitors can discover some evidence of the seventeenth century that remains in the area.

San Menaio is a Municipality of Vico del Gargano station and is a popular tourist destination. This village boasts one of the most beautiful beaches of the Gargano, which bathers, vacationers, and campers love. It is set in a green valley, with villas scattered among orange groves and a renowned pine forest. This is the perfect location for visitors who want to enjoy the area's natarea'seauty.

After San Menaio, the coast of Rodi Garganico is a succession of curves, each offering a different and wonderful panorama with many things to see and do. After a long uphill stretch and another hairpin bend, the road widens and becomes a terrace overlooking the infinite. Visitors must stop here to take in the stunning views. In front of the deck stands the tower of Monte Pucci, an ancient bastion built long ago when these places were subject to Saracen invasions. To the left, pleasant pines reach out to hide the fearful precipice at the foot of which the deep sea glitters with a thousand scales of gold. To the right of the tower of Monte Pucci, below you and over the gem-colored sea, a rock spur stretches out on which beams and nets intertwine: the 'Trabucco.' This ancient fishing tool derives from the time of the Phoenicians. When one of the beams rots, it is replaced with a new one, so the original construction remains unaltered.

Rodi Garganico is also renowned for its cuisine. The town offers the typical dishes of the culinary tradition of the Apulian region, which are simple, tasty, and colorful. These dishes reflect the genuineness and richness of the Mediterranean diet. Visitors can enjoy dishes such as 'panzerotti,' deep-fried dough pockets filled with ricotta cheese, 'carciofi alla romana', artichokes stuffed with breadcrumbs, and "pizzette," small pizzas.

To reach Rodi Garganico by bus or train, visitors can check the website Plan your trip to this beautiful town and discover the beauty, history, and culinary delights of the Gargano!

Lake Varano extends in the northern area of the Gargano, in Puglia, and borders the municipalities of Cagnano Varano, Carpino, and Ischitella. Located in the province of Foggia, Lake Varano is the largest Italian coastal body of water and the largest in the whole of the South: it extends for a width of over ten kilometers. It is enclosed between Rodi Garganico and Mount Elio. The lake has always played a central role in the area's economy thanks to fishing and, in recent decades, to rising tourism.

Lago di Varano
Coastal view of Lago di Varano

The northern side of the lake is separated from the Adriatic Sea by the "island", a narrow strip of land ten kilometers long and only one kilometer wide. The lake, up to more than five meters deep, communicates with the sea through two canals, the mouth of Capojale to the west and Varano to the east, but it is also supplied with fresh water from some underground springs. On the "island" is the state nature reserve of the island of Varano: the body responsible for protecting the area was created in 1977 and is part of the Gargano National Park.

The lake and the island of Varano are characterized by incredible biodiversity, which manifests itself in the rich and varied flora, with its weeping willows, eucalyptus, stone pines, and umbrella pines, and with the equally conspicuous fauna. Many species of birds can be encountered along the shores of the lake: flamingos, kingfishers, cormorants, grebes, herons, tufted ducks, coots, and snipes. On the surface of the lake water, we find many water lilies, which give the lake a magical atmosphere.

The area lapped by the waters is close to three beautiful villages that we recommend you visit! Let's start with Cagnano Varano, a town of about 7,000 inhabitants, located on a hill from which it is possible to observe the lake. Portions of the ancient defensive walls and some important religious buildings have survived, among which we point out the convent of San Francesco, built in the XIII century, which was used as a place of refuge and refreshment by the numerous pilgrims who visited the Grotto of San Michele. Legend has it that St. Michael the Archangel appeared in this suggestive cave of karst origin.

In the oldest part of the city, we find the church of Santa Maria della Pietà, built between the 15th and 17th centuries, and the complex of buildings that represent the ancient heart of the town, collectively designated with the name of Caut (literally "hole" ). These white buildings, organized around narrow alleys, were partially obtained from caves, which also served as stables for animals.

We then move to Ischitella, a small but famous inhabited center located on a hill within the Gargano National Park: located over three hundred meters above sea level, from Ischitella, it is possible to have a breathtaking view of Lake Varano and the Adriatic Sea. The oldest part of the village, called "old land," is characterized by very narrow alleys and low white houses, one leaning against the other.

The ghost town of San Nicola Imbuti is a fraction of the municipality of Cagnano Varano, in the heart of the Gargano National Park. It is a locality located where a strip of land flows into the water, precisely forming the shape of the funnel from which it took its name. It was used as a landing strip for a military compound during world war II.

San Nicola Imbuti airport
The former airport of San Nicola Imbuti

From a naturalistic point of view, the whole territory is characterized by plants and shrubs typical of the Mediterranean maquis; first of all, the olive tree is one of the main crops of the entire area.

During the first and second world wars, the area was the site of a seaplane base dedicated to Ivo Monti; this consisted of about thirty buildings that symbolized the greatness of the entire project, which was to house a piloting school for the squadrons used during the First World War, and as a point of defense against the Austrians coming from the opposite side of the Adriatic.

Furthermore, between 1918-20 in San Nicola Imbuti, the Church of Santa Barbara was built to encourage worship for the officers and all the personnel who lived in the seaplane base.

Things to do in the area:

Watch the sunset on the Gargano from the Crucifix of Varano (map)

Visit the "Cavuto," the medieval historic center of Cagnano Varano (map)

Visit the wetlands in the isthmus of Varano, of great importance for the local and migratory fauna (map)

La Fontana restaurant to try the typical fish dishes of the lagoon, capitoni (eels), and stuffed mussels. (map)

Also, visit the Agriturismo Biorussi, the rural atmosphere of the olive grove countryside surrounding the lake, where you can try the earthy dishes of the surrounding villages, such as Carpino. (map)

Ischitella (map) has numerous buildings of great historical value, both religious and civil. We suggest you visit the convent of San Francesco, the church of Sant'Eustachio and the splendid church of SS. Annunziata, also known by the name of the church del Crocefisso di Varano, was initially built around the 10th century. Also, visit the Palacio de Cata and the Castle, dating back to the 12th century. Ischitella has become, over the last decades, one of the most loved destinations in all of Puglia, thanks to its mix of history, breathtaking landscapes, and delicious food!

To conclude the itinerary, reach Carpino (map), a town of over 4,000 inhabitants known for its excellent agricultural production, especially broad beans, and olives. The city is known for the very popular Folk Festival, a music festival dedicated to popular music, and its excellent extra virgin olive oil! Also, Carpino has no shortage of buildings of great historical-religious value: visit the San Cirillo and San Nicola di Mira churches.

Located in the heart of the Gargano National Park, the Foresta Umbra Natural Reserve is a protected area that spans over 10,000 hectares. Its name, "shady forest," is due to the thick vegetation that casts a cool shade in many areas. The forest has a rugged geography, with reliefs that reach up to 800 meters above sea level and some parts that extend close to the coasts.

In 2017, the beech forests in the Umbra Forest were included as part of the transnational UNESCO site "Primordia" beech forests of the Carpathians and other regions of Europe," which earned it the status of a World Heritage Site. The Gargano and the Umbra Forest are known as "the realm"of biodiversity" as they "old 40% of the Italian flora and 70% of the birds nested in Italy, despite covering only 0.7% of the national territory.

The Umbra Forest is characterized by macrosomatism, meaning the plants are larger than usual. As a result, visitors can come across various specimens of monumental dimensions, including Aleppo pines, beeches, holm oaks, and yew trees.

With over 2,000 plant species, the Umbra Forest is the largest Italian deciduous forest with beech trees, some of which are botanical monuments, reaching over 40 meters and diameters greater than one meter. The forest is also home to various noble species such as Maple or Palo, White Hornbeam, Field Maple, Sycamore Maple, Manna Ash, and Yew, to name a few.

The forest houses diverse fauna, including the Italian roe deer, wild cat, wild boar, badger, weasel, dormouse, and various birds like the eagle owl, long-eared owl, woodpecker, 'Allocco (Owl), Magpie, Woodcock, and more.

Feudal properties owned the Umbra Forest, but in 1861, it was handed over to the State Forestry Administration. Today, it is a popular destination for nature lovers of all ages. One of the most popular attractions is the easy path around the artificial lake, where visitors can spot carp, catfish, turtles, and toads feeding on breadcrumbs.

Another popular area in the forest is the Daini (deers) area, where visitors can interact with protected deer through a net. Near the Daini area, visitors can also check out the visitor center and the "Gio Bosco"" a magnificent wooden playground surrounded by nature.

Deers roaming in the Foresta Umbra
Deers roaming in the Foresta Umbra

Many paths in the Umbra Forest can be explored on foot or by mountain bike, including the "CARITATE-SFILZI", which takes around 3 hours. The "LAGHETTO D'UMBRA-FALASCONE" takes around one hour and is another popular option. Visitors can find a map with all the itineraries in the Umbra Forest made available by the Hotel Ponte.

To reach the Umbra Forest from Vieste, visitors can take the Garganica state road 89, which covers about 9 km, and then turn onto the SP52 Bis (direction Monte Sant'Angelo). Or, visitors can take the 52Bis from Scialmarino Bay, which offers a stunning forest view from the first step. Finally, taking SP43 in Cagnano Varano will lead visitors to San Giovanni Rotondo through the forest.

Foresta Umbra, Foggia, Gargano, Italy
A natural well in the woods of Foresta Umbra

The Tremiti Islands are approximately 25 km from the northern coastline of the Gargano and comprise an archipelago of five isles, including San Domino, San Nicola, Capraia (or Capperaia), Cretaccio and Pianosa. They boast a Marine Nature Reserve that falls under the Marine Protected Area of Gargano Park and feature one of the fascinating habitats in the Mediterranean. The area spans just over 300 hectares and offers breathtaking views of cliffs and inlets that are not to be forgotten.

The islands' dialect is quite similar to ancient Neapolitan. In 1843, Ferdinand I of Bourbon banished a group of unwanted men and women into internal confinement on the islands with no hope of escape. The Tremiti Islands received their name from frequent small seismic shocks that caused them to tremble. According to ancient origins, they were likely a single island that shattered due to an earthquake.

The first contact with the continental localities happened during Greek civilization expansion. Legend has it that the Greek mythological hero Diomedes landed on the islands after the fall of Troy. In these marvelous and lost places, he ended his days. The island of San Nicola still features what is believed to be the Tomb of Diomedes, a burial from the Hellenistic era that could belong to the Achaean hero.

The Tomb of Diomedes later became the Grotto of the Madonna, where the Virgin appeared to a Christian hermit called San Nicola, who landed at the Tremiti. The hermit asked to build a church in honor of the Virgin in the same place. The chapel became a pilgrimage destination, favoring the islands' first inhabitants. Various popes sent Benedictine and Cistercian monks to work on the islands, and they built a castle and an abbey within a few decades.

San Domino is the best-equipped island in terms of tourism and accommodation. It is the only green island with pine forests, holm oak woods, and Mediterranean scrub covering a large part of the surface. The jagged coast of the island is full of coves, hidden bays, and caves that are best appreciated from the sea with a boat. The Grotta del Sale, the Grotta delle Viole, the Grotta del Bue Marino, the Grotta delle Murene, and the Grotta delle Rondinelle are some of the caves worth visiting.

There are many coves for swimming, sunbathing, and diving into the beautiful Tremiti sea. However, the only equipped beach is in Cala delle Arene, in the northeastern part of San Domino.

Indeed, other beaches, such as Cala degli Inglesi, Cala Tonda, Cala di Spido, and the enchanting and famous Cala Matano, also deserve it.

San Nicola, the second largest island in the Tremiti archipelago, is an island that lacks greenery but boasts the most significant historical heritage of the Apulian archipelago. San Nicola's high rock ridges make it challenging to access. Still, once there, visitors can explore the fortress of Castello dei Badiali and the Abbey of Santa Maria a Mare, both of which are protected by an imposing wall and defensive towers, including the circular Aragonese Tower from the end of the 15th century and the Torre del Pennello, a quadrilateral bastion.

The Church of Santa Maria a Mare, built by monks in 1045, is also located in San Nicola. The church has three naves and a mosaic floor and preserves an ancient wooden statue of the Madonna of the sea, which is said to have originated from an old Dalmatian convent. Every year, on July 2, the Madonna is celebrated with a procession to the sea to commemorate the date on which Benedictine monks settled on the island in 1016, transforming it into a fortress.

Alongside the church is a beautiful fifteenth-century cloister of Tuscan origin. Also, between the church and the abbey is the crucifix of the "Great Christ," a Byzantine-Middle Eastern tradition with an inscription that says, "In the year 747 brought here from the Greek beaches, by sea, ship the cross, Helmsman I." While the authenticity of the crucifix is not certain, experts believe it could be a precious crucifix of the Pisan-Lucca school.

On San Nicola, visitors can also explore a necropolis with cave tombs from the Hellenistic era, where, according to tradition, can be found the grave of Julia the Minor, granddaughter of the Roman emperor Augustus, exiled to the island of Tremerus for adultery and remained there until her death.

Capraia, also known as Capperaia, is an uninhabited island with abundant production of capers and wild aromatic herbs. It is a perfect destination for visitors who love nature and exploring beautiful bays and caves by boat.

The Architiello, one of the best-known natural scenery on Capraia, offers a fantastic experience. Still, if visitors are lucky enough to explore this tiny island, they can also discover the Sorrentino Grotto, the Turquoise Grotto, the Grotta dei Misteri, and the Grotta della Vedova. After experiencing these caves, visitors can stop on the beach of Cala dei Turchi.

Various options are available to reach the Tremiti Islands, such as ferries, fast boats, and motor vessels. The frequency and timing of these connections vary according to the season. For those traveling from the north, boarding from Termoli (Campobasso) or the Abruzzo ports of Vasto and Ortona is more convenient. For those already in Puglia, the ports of Gargano, Vieste, and Rodi Garganico are the best options. During the summer, there are also local connections with boats and excursions departing from Peschici, Manfredonia, Lesina, and other Apulian towns.

Most ships dock at the San Domino pier, now the main docking point, while San Nicola is regularly connected to the others by private boats for hire.

Vehicles cannot be brought to the islands but can be parked before embarking on the ferry. To explore the beautiful caves and coves on the islands, renting a boat or dinghy from one of the many businesses that offer these services is advisable. Water taxis and hire with a skipper are also available on the island. It is recommended to reserve accommodation and boat rentals in advance, even during the low season.

The Tremiti Islands offer various accommodation options, such as hotels, B&Bs, tourist villages, and campsites, but free camping is not permitted. It is essential to book well in advance for any accommodation, as places for the summer months tend to sell out quickly, usually around spring.

The best period to visit is April, May, June, September, and October.

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