I never tire of a trip to the Gargano penninsula in Puglia. In some ways this little bump on Italy's boot represents the Italy of "how it was", the one we remember in our hearts from the boom years of the 50s and early 60s, when the work was hard and the living was easy, and the music that told the story flowed from America to Italy and back again. So did citrus; locals made a living selling fruit to Americans from the two seasons of citrus the Gargano's unique climate provides. Still today there are endless and fragrant groves of lemons and oranges between the vineyards and olive groves.
In the heart of the Gargano there are ancient things preserved; the Foresta Umbra carries the last remnants of an ancient forest brimming with oak and beech. Once an island, the Mesozoic limestone contains fossil evidence of ancient life. You take a ride on top of a jeep into a giant gorge cut into the forest by a seasonal torrente; a fantastic experience when you're hot and tired of beaches.
It is not enough to see the Gargano for a day. One must experience it. It's all about creative far niente, the act of "doing nothing (productive)" which is what a vacation should be all about. Otherwise, what are you vacating?
Our itinerary assumes you have a car and takes you to the heart of the Gargano. Don't be dismayed at the lack of beach-time in the itinerary, the distances to the coast are short and we have some recommendations below for easy beach visits in your free time.
It's a simple itinerary. Three days (or so) in the "city of love" and three days in a restored mountain refuge run by a woman who really knows the local food. You'll want to stay longer, of course.
Click or tap the map markers to find out more about these points of interest in the itinerary. The itinerary takes you from the north shores to Vico del Gargano, to the green forest and on to the pilgrimage site of Monte Sant'Angelo.
Vico del Gargano is a romantic little town. There are kissing alleys. in July there's a festival called the Vico Love Fest. Vico del Gargano has all the credentials for one of those little out of the way places you're always searching for: it's one of I Borghi Piu Bella d’Italia and it’s la città dell’Amore, city of love.
The nerve center of the village of love is the Bar-Gelateria-Pasticceria Pizzicato. Great eats and drinks, sometimes music. The nerve center of this local institution is Giuseppe Romondia. You don't have to call him that; "Pino" is the name on his apron.
Pino runs the albergo diffuso, a scattered collection of houses and apartments, called the "Pizzicato Eco B&B" where you should stay for at least three days. You'll be sorry if you don't stay longer, because Pino can arrange all manner of activities for you, including excursions to the local free beach and lunch in the garden the Pugliese way amongst the organic produce of his family. Besides, after sitting at the bar with all the locals, checking your email on the free wifi while digging into a pastry for which the bar is justifiably famous, you'll feel at home. In Italy.
While staying in one of the homes or apartments that make up the B&B, you can take an excursion to one of the ancient coastal fishing contraptions called "trabucchi" where you can eat the freshest fish you've ever tasted. Il trabucco di Monte Pucci is a short drive from either the village of Vico or the beach.
Rodi is the epicenter of the peninsula's agrumi miracle. It is surrouned by groves devoted to oranges and lemons. The northern coast of the Gargano is known for the quality of its citrus as well as for the two growing season the unique landscape afford it. It's home to three IGP protected fruits, Arancia Biondo del Gargano IGP, Arancia Duretta del Gargano IGP, and Limone Femminello del Gargano IGP. The Consorzio Gargano Agrumi operates out of Rodi gathering scientific information and informing locals and tourists about what citrus means for this little corner of the world. Citrus is celebrated here with a big party in April that was interesting to attend: The Sagra degli Agrumi.
A hotel that is tied into all the local celebrations is the Villa Americana, a comunity involved hotel that celebrates the traditions of the Gargano every day at meal time and can help you plan a trip around the Gargano. They'll gladly arrange a trip to the Foresta Umbra with Indiana Gianni, which is the next stop on our itinerary.
I got a sneak peek of Fausta Munno's newly remodeled Rifugio Sfilzi Posta Ristoro in the heart of the forest a while back. I was driven there by Foresta Umbra tour leader Indiana Gianni, who sometimes calls himself Gargano Jones. Both are shown in the picture.
We had lunch. Fausta Munno can cook. She is a tireless advocate for the food traditions in the Gargano, and evidence mounted as plate after plate arrived on our table in the shade outside the refuge. Then she gave us a little lesson on making Puglia's iconic pasta shape: Orecchiette, a moment recounted in: Puglia and Little Ears.
You should stay at the Rifugio at least three nights. Since there is no nightlife except for interactions might have with other guests around a digestivo, you'll want to spend your evenings in the pursuit of eating, so go for mezza pensione, which means half-board; lunch or dinner is included. It's not expensive. (Note that mezza pensione is charged per person.)
What do you do here? A hiking trail begins just outside the property gate. The Rifugio staff can arrange activities, including cooking classes. And don't miss Indiana Gianni's Jeep Tour of the Foresta Umbra.
Ever sit down to a plate of sweet, sour, and bitter hyacinth bulbs dripping in some of Italy's finest olive oil? Well, if not, you're in for a treat. Lampascioni sott'olio is a specialty here.
The other specialty specific to the Gargano is called podolic caciocavallo. Podolico refers to the type of cattle raised around the Foresta Umbra and caciocavallo refers to saddle bags, the way the two rounds of cheese are formed and tied with string, similar to the way a saddle bag sits on a horse. You can see it in the picture, which was taken in the Vico market square, where you'll also find an impressive covered fish market.
And then there's the bread. You know what I miss when I'm away from Puglia? Yes, the bread. Best in Italy.
If you're eating shellfish on the coast, an excellent wine with grapes from the Gargano is Bombino Bianco.
Take these specialties, lay them out on a table on your terrace, and you have one of the finest lunches on the planet.
The most famous city in the Gargano is Monte Sant'Angelo, its Sanctuary of the Archangel Michael an ancient pilgrimage destination.
"The Shrine is on the ancient Via Sacra Langobardorum, connecting important Longobard sites, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It's also a major stop on the Pilgrimage route for devotees of the Archangel Michael that connects Mont St Michel in France, La Sacra di San Michele Monastery in Piemonte and San Michele Sanctuary in Monte Sant' Angelo."
When you've finished your excursion to Monte Sant'Angelo, you might want to stock up on some bread for your hiking excursion, and we have a suggestion: Chichino Pane, described in our Making Bread in Puglia blog post.
9km southwest of Monte Sant'Angelo is Abbazia de Santa Maria di Pulsano, a working abbey that allows folks to stay with the new Latin and Byzantine monastic community. Workshops on food and iconography are offered.
The Gargano is a historic, geographical sub-region of Puglia within the province of Foggia. It's hot in the summer, but staying in the Foresta Umbra will offer some respite from the heat. For more on the expected weather, see Foggia Italy Climate and Weather.