The Gargano peninsula, known as the spur of Italy, covers an area of almost 3,000 square kilometers. A veritable limestone island of mountains (between 600m and 1,000m high), the Gargano's very inaccessibility and total independence from the Apennines and the rest of Italy determined its very nature and customs. Once a remote place, unaffected by the outside world it developed, and has amazingly managed to maintain, its charm, traditions, characteristics and unique dialects.
The rugged coastline is dotted with ancient villages, the interior is a mountainous region of deciduous forest. Between the forest and the sea, the landscape is an ocean of olives and pine woods. Along the northern coast two large sea-water lakes are home to all manner of wildfowl and the southern coast is bounded by the Gulf of Manfredonia. The whole being a National Park.
Gargano has 200km of beautiful, primitive, unspoilt coastline, much of it only
accessible by boat. Sandy beaches,
pebbly bays, rocky coves, sand dunes, sheer cliffs, caves and magnificent
stacks; all natural works of art and architecture sculpted by sea and wind.
The Tremiti Islands are jewels in the Gargano crown; surrounded by
crystal clear waters teeming with many species of sea flora and fauna.
NAZIONALE DEL GARGANO
are true natural havens to be found in the Gargano, the Foresta Umbra being the
most famous. The “Shady
Forest”, the biggest broad-leaf forest in Italy, extends over some 15,000 hectares of the heart of the Gargano
mere 15% of what it used to be. In these Gargano woodlands and forests
Beech, Maple, Fir and Chestnut grow to monumental size and beneath these giants a myriad of
flora and fauna abound.
summer you might see a green frog near a watercourse or and emerald toad.
In spring, with a little luck you might spot the mating dance of a newt, and
lizards are never far away from footpaths, though vipers mostly confine
themselves to sunny spots in higher mountain areas. The forests are the
kingdom of the rare Gargano Roe deer, wild boar, wild cats, badgers, hedgehogs,
martens, dormice, foxes, owls and many other creatures.
In summer you might see a green frog near a watercourse or and emerald toad. In spring, with a little luck you might spot the mating dance of a newt, and lizards are never far away from footpaths, though vipers mostly confine themselves to sunny spots in higher mountain areas. The forests are the kingdom of the rare Gargano Roe deer, wild boar, wild cats, badgers, hedgehogs, martens, dormice, foxes, owls and many other creatures.
Numerous species of birds can be seen on the Gargano peninsula, some are permanent residents, some are summer visitors and some are just passing through. Ravens, hoopoes, woodpeckers, cuckoos, golden oriols, bee-eaters, blackbirds, blue rock thrushes, swifts, serins, tree creepers, robins, tits, wagtails, finches, and nut hatches; herons, cranes, flamingos, oystercatchers, avocets, kingfishers, waders and curlews; eagles, buzzards, kites, kestrels, peregrine falcons, and owls (eagle, tawny, barn, and little). These to name just a few.
FLORA The variety of eco-systems in the Gargano and indeed its geographical position, makes for an interesting botanical crossroads. Here Apennine and Central European plants thrive as well as the more distinctly Mediterranean and Balkan species. In fact, the Gargano boasts more than 2,200 botanical species - 35% of all plant species found in the whole of Italy.
Most notably, a Mediterranean record number of orchid species flourish in the Gargano and can be seen flowering between February and September. An ever increasing number of varieties have been identified - 61 at the last count. 47 different species have been classified in the environs of Monte Sacro alone, including the widespread Ophyrs Garganica, Ophrys Bertolonii and Ophrys Apulica.
to its splendid isolation, manual dexterity and creativity are innate in the
people of the Gargano. A huge
variety of objects are still produced according to ancient traditions. The development of local crafts is directly linked to the
agricultural life and many objects were made to ease the burden of work on the
land, at sea, in the stable as well as in the home.
Stone Masonary A craft that is still very much live with many local stonemasons working marbles from Italy and all over the world. Their creations include mullions and sills for doorways and windows, hand carved crested keystones, fire surrounds, garden sinks, troughs, tabletops and decorative plaques.
Wood Work In the Gargano, land of woods and forests, there are a huge number of carpenters. Beautiful pieces of furniture, including the very typical settle, are crafted from some of the many different wood types produced locally. Turned and hand carved bowls, boxes, chopping boards, spoons, and forks too. Olivewood is a major protagonist; the olive tree dominating the Gargano as it does.
Though in recent years numbers have diminished, many villages still
have ironmongers who will make all manner of things, including wrought
iron beds, gates, railings, door furniture, farming implements or copper guttering, ewers and bed
Each village had its own distinguishable style of making and decorating
items such as cooking pots, plates, jugs and jars, large and small, for storing
water, oil, olives and all kinds of preserves.
Small potteries now turn out similar designs as well as new, mostly for
the souvenir industry.
Old wooden looms, though few these days, turn out lengths of cloth, woven
with hand-spun threads then fashioned into napkins, hand towels, pillowcases,
tablecloths and even handbags. Embroidered
decoration is applied, just as it used to be by young girls for their bottom
drawers. Crochet is very much alive
as a craft with inspiration for designs coming from nature, the simple life on
the land and at sea and very often from religion.
Basketry A craft that is slowly dying out, as few of the old craftsmen are willing to give away their secrets and even fewer of the young want to learn. Some wonderful characteristic baskets are still to be found for sale at some of the many regular markets in the territory.
ON THE GARGANO TABLE The local diet, rich and varied, is typically Mediterranean. Fish features strongly as do locally produced olive oil, meats, cheeses, vegetables, tomatoes, oranges and bread. And of course all the usual imported produce mostly from Italy.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil The main oil production region is in the north east of the Gargano (Cagnano, Varano, Ischitella, Vico del Gargano, Vieste). Ogliarola Garganica is the most prevalent variety, many of these trees centuries old with huge girths, but other varieties are also given growing space: Coratina, Peranzana and Rotondella. The olive oil produced in the Gargano is said to be one of the best in Italy, indeed the world.
Cheese Many small shepherded herds of goat and sheep are still commonplace and often block the path of motorised vehicles along the hill roads of the Gargano. It is not unusual to come across a small herd of cattle wandering through the woods unattended, great bells donging round their necks. These "Podolico" cattle, and the rarer buffalo, provide the milk that goes into making some of the best cheeses in Italy: Caciocavallo, Pecorino, Cacioricotta, Mozzarella and Ricotta, to name but a few.
Pasta Despite the availability of excellent dried pastas it is not uncommon to make fresh pasta at home, especially for special feast days. Pasta is made by old and young alike. Flour, water and salt are the ingredients used (egg pasta is rarely made).
The most typical
Pugliese pasta shapes are Orecchiette (little ears), shaped using the thumb;
Maccaroni, traditionally made with the help of a square spoke from an antique umbrella;
Introccioli (short square spaghetti) and Tagliarini (long square spaghetti),
both made with the help of a chitarra (guitar-like cutting instrument).
Fruit Among the many varieties of fruit grown here oranges and lemons are by far the most important, including the Femminello del Gargano, the oldest lemon in Italy, and the Melangolo Dole del Gargano, the sweetest of sweet oranges. Many varieties of fig are grown, as are loganberries (black and white), loquats, prickly pears, pomegranates, walnuts and almonds, among others.
Chard, turnip tops and spinach are favourite greens; cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli too. Broad beans and French are enjoyed in season, whilst pumpkin and many kinds of dried beans and pulses add variety to the table during the leaner winter months. The biggest local crop though is tomato - almost every household here makes their own Passata.
Meat Goat, or rather kid, is by far favourite. The native Capra Garganica, recognizable by its long black hair, large stocky head, quiffed forehead, bearded chin and arching horns, is particularly well adapted to the territory it grazes freely. Sheep are raised and eaten more and more as the price of goat meat rises and the odd family of pigs can often be seen foraging under the trees, both in woodland and olive grove. Wild boar is hunted for its much-prized meat and is usually only available in restaurants. Beef, or rather veal, is much loved although very little is actually grown here - the free-range grey "Podolico" cattle are more valued for their cheese making milk - although, as demand for the excellent beef that is produced grows, more and more locally produced beef is beginning to appear on the local butchers counters.
Seafood Clams, mussels, cuttlefish, octopus and grey mullet are the varieties most commonly caught locally. If you are really lucky you can buy them directly from the fisherman on the beaches where they work. Other fish, predominantly Mediterranean caught, include anchovy, red mullet, cod, gurnard, sea bass, sea bream, John Dory, turbot mackerel tuna, swordfish, squid, lobster, crab, scampi, prawn, oyster - the list is almost endless.
Natures Larder The people of the Gargano have a passion for wild food and not only because it is free. A variety of greens, herbs, fruits and nuts are collected for the kitchen, many of which are now only known by the older generations. Senape (mustard greens). borragine (borrage), cicoria (dandelion-like chicory), aspargi (wild asparagus), origano (oregano), finnocchietto (wild fennel), melacotogna (quince), nespola (loquat), pera (pear), sorbola (service fruit), nocciolino (hazelnut), to name the most common.
Wild mushrooms are a particular favourite. Between August and November many venture out into the forests and olive groves armed with sticks and baskets (and nowadays licences too) to seek out this highly prized ingredient. From their hunting grounds, fiercely kept secrets, they will bring back Porcini (Penny Bun), Fungo di Carrubo (Chicken of the Woods), Gallinella (Chanterelle), Ovolo (Caesars Mushroom), Chiodino (Honey Fungus), Stecchino Dorato (Wood Hedgehog) and many more. So popular are funghi here that every autumn a fascinating exhibition is held in Vico del Gargano to display examples of the huge number of varieties, both edible and toxic, to be found in the territory.
Liqueurs & Preserves A tradition for preserving all kinds of foods in all manner of different ways was developed not only to conserve the glut at harvest time but also to ensure a varied diet during the harsher winter months. Salted black olives, green olives in brine, olives in vinegar; artichokes, courgettes, wild grape-hyacinth bulbs, chilli peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes, mackerel and tuna in oil. And of course liqueurs - lemon, orange, cherry, bay leaf, walnut, fennel and many more.
& WHERE TO GO
& WHERE TO GO
The most interesting of the caverns include La Grotta di San Michele at Monte Sant'Angelo, La Grotta dei Paglicci at Rignano Garganico with its important Paleolithic cave paintings and perhaps the most geologically spectacular of all La Grotta Pian della Macina at Sannicandro Garganico. Among the many sea caves the most noteworthy are to be found around the Tremiti Islands; La Grotta del Bue Marino, La Grotta delle Viole and La Grotta delle Rondinelle.
The coastline is dotted with these architectural ancient
features, many now sadly falling into ruin.
Trabucco Wooden fishing structure perched on rocks, overhanging the sea, thought by some to date back to Phoenician times. A fascinating WWF run guided tour of the Trabucco di San Francesco near Vieste demonstrates how this traditional fishing contraption is worked.
these Trabucchi jut out over the Adriatic around the Gargano coastline and though
still functional, fish stocks are too low to make them viable - several have now
become restaurants. Though often more memorable for their setting
than their cuisine it is worth visiting at least one - Trabucco di Ziana,
Trabucco di Monte Pucci, Trabucco di San Nicola.
Though often more memorable for their setting than their cuisine it is worth visiting at least one - Trabucco di Ziana, Trabucco di Monte Pucci, Trabucco di San Nicola.
Foresta Umbra A wonderful shady forest. See above.
Tremiti Islands Just 12 km from the Gargano coastline and reached by catamaran ferry, these islands, often referred to as the pearls of the Adriatic, are a beautiful destination for a day trip. Apart from the beaches, worth a visit are the Benedictine Monastery (the Abbazia di Santa Maria di Mare) and the remains of a fortified castle. A boat trip around the islands to see some of the many stunning sea caves is not to be missed and for diving enthusiasts the crystal clear waters have much to offer (by special permission only).
The ferries leave daily from Peschici and Rodi - during the busy months of July and August it is advisable to book your tickets in advance.
VILLAGES & BEACHES
Villa Oleandro is surrounded by the mountain villages of Vico del Gargano (500 asl), Ischitella (300 asl) and the seaside gems Peschici and Rodi Garganico. Each town has its own market day, held every other week.
These small towns each have a Centro Storico (Historic Centres) with characteristic narrow streets and alleyways filled with charming buildings, interesting architectural features such as crested doorways and unusual chimneys. Peschici's medieval castle is worth a visit as is the Trappeto Maratea Museum (Anient Olive Oil Mill) in Vico.
There are many churches well worth visiting (Vcio has 12) though some open just once a year on the feast day of the saints they host. Speaking of feast days, many Festa’s are held in honour of some of the many saints special to the local people. It’s well worth trying to fit one of these festivals into your visit to the Gargano, if only for the spectacular ear-popping fireworks display held at the end of each Festa.
There are some lovely beaches nearby too. Calenella is our nearest and Peschici is just 10 minutes further around the coast. The beach from San Menaio to Rodi, only 10 minutes away, stretches for 3 kilometers (see photo above left).
Monte Sant’Angelo A little further afield but worth a visit. Apart from the Centro Storico, there is an ancient castle that has been partially restored and opened to visitors and the underground grotto shrine of Archangel Michael is a must. During the middle ages this basilica was one of the most famous pilgrimage destinations; kings and popes, St Francis of Assisi and Thomas Aquinas all knelt in prayer here, as well as the Crusaders about to embark for the Holy Land.
San Giovanni Rotondo The home of “Padre Pio” (now Saint Pio), in whose honour a magnificent new cathedral has been erected.
Sannicandro Garganico Of interest is the 12th century church of Santa Maria di Monte d'Elio decorated with Byzantine frescoes; also the Museum of History, Archaeology, Ethnography and Farming. Located in the impressive Fioritto Palace in the heart of the old town, with 13 rooms and more than 3,000 exhibits, the museum helps unravel the history of the Gargano.
Vieste Vieste lies on the easternmost point of the Gargano coastline and has its own Centro Storico. Of interest are the triangular castle, now a naval post, and the cathedral. The beach here is beautiful, wide and clean. The Trabucco di San Francesco and the Necropoli La Salata are nearby.
GUIDED EXCURSIONS The Gargano National Park organizes guided tours to help visitors discover the rich heritage, stunning scenery, history and art offered by the Montagna del Sole (Sun Mountain).
For more information and resevations please contact the Gargano National Park Official Tour Guides Association:
Associazione Guide Ufficiali del Parco Nazionale del Gargano
Via S. Antonio Abate 121
71037 Monte Sant'Angelo (FG)
Tel: 0884 568911
BOAT TRIPS Regular day-long boat trips (depart 9am, return 4.30pm - approximate times) leave from Rodi and travel around the spectacular Gargano coastline. During the busy months of July and August it is advisable to book you ticket in advance.
BEWARE - These boats are completely uncovered so during hot sunny days you will need to equip yourself with adequate protection - sunscreens, suitable clothing and a hat.
Ladies When visiting churches it is advisable to cover up if wearing strappy tops - a scarf thrown over the shoulders will do.
Gentlemen When visiting the underground church at Monte Sant'Angelo, you are required to cover bare knees and shoulders too. If necessary a sarong will be lent to you (free of charge) at the entrance.