Gorgeous Gargano

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    Sep 04, 2012
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Driving towards Vieste and you’d be forgiven for thinking you were on a fairground ride such are the roads that twist their way up, down and round whilst at the same time providing spectacular views of the azure ocean below that awaits you. On arriving in Vieste and its surrounding area, you won’t be disappointed. Unspoilt and situated approximately 100 kilometres from Foggia, the Gargano sticks out like the shape of an ear on Italy’s Adriatic coast, Vieste of which is known as the “capital” of the Gargano. The town, which has a population of approximately 12,000 and is on the easternmost part of the Gargano plays host during the summer to thousands of tourists who bathe on one of the glorious beaches during the day and take a wander in the pleasant town centre at night. Shops during the summer are open until late and there are a variety of restaurants, bars, ice cream parlours and pizzeria’s to choose from that all tempt the taste buds.

The Gargano that is today a tourist’s paradise, was once part of an isolated area and was usually only visited by pilgrims heading towards the shrine at Monte Sant’Angelo. Vieste itself has a fascinating history. During the 15th and 15th centuries, the town was heavily under attack by pirates from all parts of the Mediteranean, in particular Turkey. In fact, in the heart of the centro storico a rock can be found called chianca amara or bitter stone where thousands of Vieste’s inhabitants were brutally killed by the Turkish leader. Some say that the town was built in the honour of the goddess Vesta, hence its name. Others claim that the name is said to either derive from a sacred temple at nearby Vesta or from the Latin Apeneste.

Exploring the town further and its appeal really comes to light. The centro storico that lies on the rocky point of San Francesco is typically captivating with its charming 11th century cathedral that was built on the site of a pre-existing church and has a series of steps that lead up to its entrance. The inside of the cathedral depicts marble portraits of the Madonna with child and Stories of Christ and the Virgin. Not far from the cathedral and proudly standing 43 metres above sea level is the castle, one of many built by Federick II in 1240 which was altered in the 16th century to fend off the pirate attacks. At night the castle becomes attractively illuminated by the alluring light. It is also in the centro storico where you have the opportunity to admire the town’s noticeably white apartment blocks and appreciate stunning views of the sea. One particular fine view is at the Punta di San Francesco, a short walk from the cathedral which offers a panorama towards Mattinata, another of the Gargano’s appealing towns whilst also providing a beautifully photographic opportunity. The centro storico and the main town square, Piazza Vittorio Emmanuele with its series of tourist shops and restaurants are divided by a succession of steps, one set of which has more than 100 steps.

It’s worth taking a walk to the west of the main town centre along Via Cristoforo Colombo to the attractive port where just before arriving you see a view over the cliff of Sant’Eufemia and the important lighthouse that represents a landmark for ships in the Adriatic seas. Once thriving, the port was important for trade with Greece. Today it hosts many yachts and is the point of booking tours to the nearby Isole Tremiti and Croatia.

Once the town centre has been visited, the outer district has many pleasing sights. One is the impressive limestone monolith of Pizzomunno along the seafront. Once a 26 metre high cliff, coastal erosion made way to form its monolith shape and an ancient story suggests that the monolith is actually a young fisherman who was turned to stone by mermaids in jealousy for his love for Cristalda, a sea god’s daughter. The myth states that every 100 years on the night of a full moon, the two young lovers meet up again.

As you head even further along the seafront back down the twisty roads, you find sandy beaches that are divided into lido’s, the parts of the beach which are privately owned and charge for use of sun loungers and parasols, and the spiagge libere, the parts of the beach that are open to all. At every part of the beach you usually come across grotto after grotto that are worth a visit either by swimming your way across when its possible, or perhaps taking one of the many organised grotto tours. To the north of Vieste is the Grotta del Salata, the Salting grotto and the Grotta di Caprarezza that have vaults dug out of the rock walls. An hour by boat from Vieste is the Large Bell grotto that rises 47 metres above sea level and for a few minutes at sunrise the grotto is filled with a rainbow of glorious colours.

Probably one of the most spectacular sights of the Gargano’s jagged coastline is the Arch of San Felice, an arch that stands a proud 129m high and is often referred to as the Testa del Gargano, the head of the Gargano with trees topping it. When the sun shines and reflects on the beautifully clear seas, it’s easy finding yourself taking yet more photographs of the remarkable scenery and admiring the surrounding bay Baia di Campi, a tranquil spot sheltered by 2 small islands and pine forests.

To examine the Gargano and its treats even further continue along the coast road that leads you to towns such as Pugnochuiso, an unspoilt area and a bay with more characteristic grotto’s. Then there’s Mattinata, one of the Gargano’s southern most towns that is surrounded by a mountainous range and stretches towards the sea. The town has a relatively small shingled beach and typically clear seas that lead to a series of caves such as the “bell cave” also known as the Pantheon of the Gargano. Out of the town centre is Monte Saraceno and its excavations of over 400 tombs that date back to the 7th century.

In the opposite direction, heading further north into the Gargano are towns Peschici and Rodi Garganico, two small yet charming towns with more golden beaches and historical town centres. Peschici overlooks the sea and has a 17th century castle and Rodi Garganico is perched on a small headland encircled with orange and lemon trees.

To experience nature first-hand, you might want to visit the Umbra Forest in the heart of the Gargano. Owned by the state, the forest stretches over an area of approximately 15,000 hectares where you can spot Beech trees and Adriatic oaks as well as over 60 species and subspecies of orchids. If you’re lucky you might get to spot the rare Gargano roe deer, foxes and badgers.

The Gargano and its beaches, grotto’s and seas is such a varied and interesting part of Puglia that once visited, it can really make you feel that you should go back for more just in case you missed something the first time around.

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Tamzin Hardy enjoys writing articles for InterestingArticles.com. View the Tamzin Hardy Author Profile

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