You want an off-the-beaten-track experience? Many people do. Or think they do. The beaten track is clogged with folks touting, teaching and taunting in the English Language. Well, this isn't that.
Indiana Gianni (or Gargano Jones) is a guide to the wonders of the Gargano Promontory's famous Foresta Umbra. He'll take you on a spirited drive through the famous woods and even down a dry torrente, which you can see later on in the short video. You can even sit on top of his vehicle while it lumbers down the stream bed and get a great overall view of this unique forest.
Indiana Gianni speaks Italian. He is so famous amongst eastern Europeans who vacation in Puglia that he's also picked up quite a bit of Czech. But alas, Gianni doesn't speak English fluently. You will see in the video, however, that he can explain things slowly and concisely in Italian, so either you learn a little and meet him half way--or you let the rocks, trees, and grazing cattle and sheep do the talking.
The Foresta Umbra covers some 15,000 hectares. With rainfall reaching 1,350 mm per year, the vegetation in late spring through early fall is dense and lush. Beeches (faggio in Italian) are the most common trees and at times reach colossal sizes.
Within the National park is a demonstration forest, and 120 specimens of Gargano roe deer which has never cross-bred wander the forest just like they did in ancient times. You can see a couple penned in the demonstration forest. Bird life includes the rare lesser spotted woodpecker and the white-backed woodpecker and birds of prey like the sparrow-hawk, lawny owl and eagle-owl. There are also free-ranging Mucca Podolico cows, the milk of which is used to make Puglia's famous Caciocavallo podolico del Gargano cheese.
You can see the extent of the Foresta Umbra in the green of the map below.
The short video below shows a bit of what you might expect. Gianni is taking us down a torrente; torrential rains have deeply etched the soft limestone. The torrente can fill with water in a few minutes, since most of the rain falling on top finds its way into these narrow grooves of the earth and it fills with rushing water very quickly. If you have off-season plans, you might not get taken down the same route we were.
The third picture in our gallery is one of great promise, the newly opened Rifugio Sfilzi Posta Ristoro by famed Gargano food expert Fausta Munno and her husband. Ms Munno operates specialty food shops in Rodi and Monte Sant'Angelo, and her cooking is superb.
The big excursions run from 8:30 to 4:30 pm and include a typical (large) lunch. Shorter tours without lunch can be arranged (3 hours)
Indiana Gianni sometimes calls himself Gargano Jones. You can contact him at [email protected]
If you venture south in the Gargano, we recommend staying in the interesting town of Monte Sant'Angelo. See a list of user-recommended hotels in Monte Sant'Angelo. We enjoyed our stay at the Palace Hotel San Michele which has a great view down to the Adriatic from its breakfast room.
Don't miss an opportunity to eat at Ristorante La Caravella (via Reale Basilica 84), whose current host, Pietro Tomasioulo as a child was present at a meal with Arthur Miller, who wrote a short story documenting his experience at Monte Sant'Angelo. Excellent food at a reasonable price. Get the goat.
These places have makers on our map, above. This activity is part of our Gargano itinerary.