Drive around the Gargano Peninsula, in the Puglia region of Italy, and you will see towns and villages perched on the hilltops. With their white-walled buildings many of these towns look as if time has passed them by, providing a glimpse of a way of life that seems to have disappeared from other parts of Italy. I visited two of the region’s most historic hill towns, Vieste and Vico del Gargano. (Read more about another hill town of the region – Monte Sant’Angelo.)
Vieste, Capital Of The Gargano Peninsula
Vieste, the capital of the Gargano region, is the most popular town for tourists. This is partly due to its coastal location, on tall cliffs between two sandy beaches. This makes it attractive to beach lovers and cruise ship passengers. However, the town itself is well worth a visit.
Walk through the leafy town square to the maze of stepped streets and alleyways that make up the old town. Right at the top is the Vieste Castle, a Norman fortress from the early middle ages (the first recorded mention dates back to the 11th century). Although the castle is not open to visitors, you can walk around the outside and enjoy the views.
Nearby is the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta. Built in the Romanesque style in the 11th century the elaborate structure reflects the wealth and the importance of the region in the middle ages. When I visited the cathedral was decked out for the Festa a Maria, one of numerous saints’ days that are celebrated in the region.
As you walk around the town you can often catch sight of the sea and the harbour far below: I had a particularly fine view from the terrace of the Borgo Antico where I stopped for lunch. Or you can take a boat trip to get a view of the town from the water.
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Vico Del Gargano, City Of Love
Set on a hill in the Parco di Gargano, the walled town of Vico del Gargano is often known as the “City of Love”. This is a reference to Saint Valentine, the town’s patron saint. If you visit during February you may catch the Festa di San Valentino, one of Vico’s many saints’ day festivals.
Vico del Gargano has a long history, dating back to prehistoric times. Today you can wander through the narrow streets of the medieval town, which is compact and easy to walk around. Look out for the 11th century castle (now converted into apartments but you can go into the courtyard) and explore the numerous churches. Be sure not to miss the Chiesa di Santa Maria Pura, an 18th century church built a little way down the hill on the site of the Fontana Vecchia (old spring).
Leaving the historic area walk towards the old Capuchin Convent on the edge of the town, passing grape vines and olive groves as you go. Near the convent you will find a centuries old oak tree (no-one is quite sure of its age!), a First World War memorial arboretum, and a viewpoint where you can look out over the hills towards the coast.