About Puglia: Gargano
The Gargano is the spur above Italy’s heel: a huge limestone mass thrusting out into the Adriatic, pitted with grottoes, crevices and the sink holes typical of limestone country. Its coastline is an almost uninterrupted succession of headlands and narrow coves, with triangles of firm clean sand in tiny inlets. Along its coast natural rock-arches and detached pinnacles stand out. Particular features are the top-heavy offshore monoliths, undercut by the sea, which look in danger of crashing 50 metres into the water at the next low tide. This truly beautiful promontory, often compared to the Sorrentine, is most impressive in the evening and in winter, when a softer light brings out rosy tinges in the cliffs and blue-green streaks in the sea.
The Gargano was always accessible as a spectacular introduction to the versatile region of Puglia for those travelling south down the Adriatic shore; yet its coastline remained unvisited by tourists until recent times. Now it is even easier to reach the best places to visit. The A14 motorway borders its landward side. Tourist development proceeds unchecked and the roads marked are busy one at weekends.
Two religious celebrities preside over the Gargano: the Archangel Michael, who appeared in person at Monte Sant’ Angelo (see Monte Sant’ Angelo, below); and Padre Pio, the stigmatized friar of San Giovanni Rotondo (see San Giovanni Rotondo, below). Both places belong to the Gargano hinterland, where the limestone crown and its coiffeur of twisted wild olives reach 1,055 m.
A sinuous highway, magnificently engineered, replaces the precipice paths by which, not long ago, the Gargano coastal villages communicated with each other. The villages themselves, rising in tiers on stony bluffs, each more picturesque than the last, are besieged with camping parks and tourist complexes but have not yet been stripped of their character or their preoccupation with the lifestyle they pursued in bygone ages. The highroad, by the way, has a bad accident record: the scenery is a distraction. It detours to the two sacred spote and to Foresta Umbra (see below), still remote from the world, a delight to picnickers and a revelation to dendrophiles. Allow two or three days if you wish to cover it all.
The temptation to park the car at Foggia or San Severo and ride the Gargano railway is one that visitors seem to resist. It is always a peaceful jog-trot in the little train around half the promontory, unless they are having feast-days at Sannicandro, Cagnano, Rodi or the terminus Peschici, when it fills up with countrywomen in blazing colours and their silent menfolk in that black peasant turn-out which the writer Tucci called the ‘battledress of doom’.
The colour and majesty of the Gargano are best appreciated from the sea and a three-hour trip from Manfredonia to Rodi or vice-versa, calling at Vieste, makes this possible. (It is part of Adriatic Line’s daily service to and from the Tremiti islands.) Every Gargano resort has its small-boat excursions to view the natural formations of the locality.
SITA’s Foggia branch (www.sitasudtrasporti.it), operates buses to San Severo, Vieste, Monte Sant’ Angelo and San Giovanni Rotondo.