There is far more to Italy than the tourist hotspots, and the Gargano National Park is comparatively neglected by overseas visitors. Covering most of the Gargano Peninsula, this is the part of Puglia, in the far south of Italy, that sticks out like a spur on the heel. It is an area that deserves to be better known: a beautiful region with plenty to see and do.
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Walking, Cycling And Wildlife Spotting
As long as you don’t mind hills, the Gargano National Park is an ideal place for walking. There are footpaths everywhere and many of the country roads are quiet enough for a peaceful stroll. Much of the peninsular is covered by the woodland of the Umbra Forest, an enormous area that is well supplied with footpaths, car parks and picnic sites. The forest is popular with cyclists, too, providing welcome shade from the sun during the steep uphill sections!
Or you can walk part of the ancient Pilgrim Trail along the coast from Monte Sant’Angelo towards Vieste. Wherever you walk or cycle, look out for the abundant wildlife of the area. The coastal wetlands in particular are a great place for birdwatching; elsewhere see if you can spot the elusive wild boar or wild cats that are said to roam the forests. And in spring your way will be lined by a multi-coloured carpet of wild flowers.
Explore The Gargano Hill Towns
This is a mountainous region and, where there are hills, there are hill towns. One of the most famous is Monte Sant’Angelo, with its UNESCO designated sanctuary and hilltop castle, but you might also like to try Vieste, the regional capital, or Vico del Gargano, an old walled town with a castle and numerous churches.
Wander the narrow passages and stepped streets, dip into old churches and soak up the atmosphere of places where time seems to have stood still. While away the time in a local bar or enjoy a leisurely meal at a family run restaurant.
Hit The Beach
I’m not a beach person myself but there is no denying that beaches are one of the attractions of the Gargano Peninsula, and one of the reasons why the Italians themselves choose to holiday here. It’s easy to see why: the miles of shimmering yellow sand, blue sea and southern Italian sunshine are a winning combination.
I arrived before the start of the season (it wasn’t quite hot enough for serious sun-worshippers at the beginning of May), and watched the beaches being prepared for visitors. A man was driving a tractor over the sand to make it glisteningly clean, and rows of brightly coloured deckchairs and umbrellas were being set out. But I preferred to step over the uncombed sections to look for shells and seaweed.
Sample The Food Of The Gargano Peninsula
The keynote of food in Puglia is simple, fresh ingredients. Whether it is fruit and vegetables, locally produced ham and cheese, or the mussels for which the region is renowned, everything is of the highest quality. Even a plain meal of pasta and tomato sauce is transformed when the sauce is made with tomatoes ripened on the vine and topped with fresh basil that tastes as if it has just been picked.
Even if you don’t want to buy anything it is a pleasure to walk around the food markets and to see what is on offer. And of course you will want to try some of the region’s restaurants. There are no chains or fast food restaurants here – instead you will get friendly service and freshly cooked food.
If you have any more ideas for things to do on the Gargano Peninsula, I’d love to hear from you.