The Gargano promontory rises like an island from the flat plains of the Tavoliere. It has a remarkably diverse landscape: beaches and lagoons to the north, a rocky, indented eastern coast and a mountainous, green heartland of oak and beech trees – reminiscent of a Germanic forest rather than a corner of southern Italy. For centuries the promontory was extremely isolated, visited only by pilgrims making their way along the valley to Monte Sant’Angelo and its shrine. Tourism has taken off in a big way, especially around the seaside resort of Vieste, but in 1991 the whole peninsula became a national park, helping to protect it from overbearing development and ensuring that much of the interior remains supremely unspoiled and quiet.
It may seem as though the promontory is one long strip of private beach, but bear in mind that by Italian law everyone has access to the actual seashore, as well as the 50m length between the reserved areas. Check with your hotel – often the price of a sunbed and umbrella at the nearest beach is included in the cost of an overnight stay.Read More
The best base on the Gargano peninsula is Vieste, jutting out into the Adriatic on two promontories. Fifty years ago there wasn’t even a proper road here, but today Vieste, with its excellent beaches, is the holiday capital of Gargano, and the streets and sands are packed in August. Despite the crowds, it is a lively and inviting town, with an interesting historic core and, in summer at least, a fairly lively nightlife.
The old town sits on the easternmost of the two promontories, at the tip of which stands the Chiesa di San Francesco, once a thriving monastery, and a trabucco – used by fishermen to catch mullet. Probably Phoenician in origin, these cantilevered arrangements of wooden beams, winches and ropes are found on the rocky Gargano coast, and further north around Vasto in Abruzzo.
From the church, climb up Via Mafrolla, walking through the old town to Piazza Seggio. Straight ahead, Via Duomo is the site of the so-called Chianca Amara, the “bitter stone”, where five thousand local people were beheaded when the Turks sacked the town in 1554. Further down, past the stone, the Cattedrale, eleventh century in origin but tampered with in the nineteenth, provides a cool retreat from the fierce glare of the sun in the whitewashed streets.
Day-trips from Vieste
Day-trips from Vieste
The most obvious move is to the beaches: head for the small one between the promontories or to the north, San Lorenzo, with fine, soft, gently shelving sand, or finally, just south of town, Pizzomunno, which is also sandy. They all go in for the grill-pan variety of sunbathing with rows and rows of sunbeds. Slightly less crowded, if you’re lucky, is the marvellous Scialmarino beach, 4.5km up the coast towards Peschici. Nicest of all is the small Baia di San Felice, squeezed between two headlands and backed by pine trees, just before you get to the Testa del Gargano, several kilometres south of town.
If you want to swim away from the crowds, consider an organized boat trip to the grotto-ridden coastline around the headland of Testa del Gargano. Boats leave for the three-hour grotto excursion from next to San Francesco church. If you really want to get away from it all, you could rent your own boat for the day.
The interior of the Gargano promontory can make a cool break from its busy coast, and though there’s not much public transport, apart from the odd bus from Vieste, San Menaio and Rodi Garganico, you can rent mountain bikes or fix up jeep safaris or pony trekking. The tourist office in Monte Sant’Angelo should be able to help you organize any of these. Terry at Casa Giulia also arranges tours and rents out cars and mountain bikes.