La Dolce Vita in Puglia - Italy - Walking the Gargano Peninsula

Where is the Gargano Peninsula?

The Gargano Peninsula is a rugged promontory jutting out into the Adriatic Sea.  It is located in the most northerly part of Puglia the Great Spur just above the heel of Italy‘s boot.

If you are looking for peace and tranquility and a little Dolce Vita, then walking the Gargano Peninsula might just be your perfect trip.

Walking the Gargano Peninsula Map
Walking the Gargano Peninsula Map

This is a quiet area of Italy which is often overlooked by tourists and is all the better for that.  The Gargano Peninsula offers walkers miles of coastline fringed by white, pine clad limestone cliffs.  Paths edged with bright pink mesembryanthemums and wild garlic. lead you down to sandy beaches which you can enjoy all to yourself in late Spring.

The nearest international airport is Bari – a 3 hour flight from London Gatwick.  From Bari, it is a 2 and a half hour drive to Vieste where our 7 day hike of the Gargano Peninsula begins.

Walking the Gargano Peninsula - Vieste Coast
Walking the Gargano Peninsula - Vieste Coast

Day 1 - Exploring the Vieste Coast

Vieste makes a good base for a couple of nights at the start of a trip to the Gargano region.  Overlooking the sea, it is well equipped with restaurants and shops and has a charming Old Town, a marina and a town beach.

The unspoiled coastline is a real pleasure to explore on foot.  You can spend a leisurely day walking 5 and a half kilometres or so from Vieste along the coastal path and back, dropping down to as many of the spiaggias and marine caves as you like en route with the sweet smell of Mediterranean maquis as your constant companion.

Walking the Gargano Peninsula - Viesta Coastline - Trabucchi
Viesta Coastline - Trabucchi

You can’t miss the Trabucchi dotted along the coast.  Constructed out of Aleppo Pine (very resistant to salt water), they are 4 man fishing machines that were once equipped with large nets that were cast out into the ocean and winched back up to the top full of fish.  Though no longer in commercial use, they are protected sites in the Gargano National Park.

You can arrange a visit on this link.

Where We Stayed - Palace Hotel Vieste

A comfortable 4* hotel well located close to the marina and beach.  It has recently been re-decorated in Art Nouveau style. 

Walking the Gargano Peninsula - Palace Hotel Vieste - Camera 410
Palace Hotel Vieste Camera 410
Walking the Gargano Peninsula - Palace Hotel Vieste - Lobby
Palace Hotel Vieste - Lobby

Restaurant Recommendation - Osteria al Duomo

Tucked away down a steep alleyway in the heart of the Old Town of Vieste, the Osteria al Duomo offers a wide range of traditional local delicacies.

Osteria al Duomo Vieste - How to find it!
Osteria al Duomo Vieste - How to find it!
Osteria al Duomo Vieste
Well worth the steep walk down the alleyway

Foodie Firsts

Non chiamiamola carbonara

This is pasta carbonara – but not as you know it.  The pasta was somehow gorgeously puffed up, the bacon deliciously crispy,  the pecorino cheese  delightfully tangy and the egg sauce soft and creamy.  Fortunately – as in true Italian style the pasta is offered as a first course – the portions are small.

Walking the Gargano Peninsula - Osteria al Duomo - Non chiamiamola carbonara
Osteria al Duomo - Vieste - Non chiamiamola carbonara
Capretto Nero del Gargano

Grilled Gargano black kid goat with poached potato.  This is a local delicacy and so had to be tried.  To me, it was rather like a cross between lamb and pork chops.  Very tasty, but with too sparse a meat to bone ratio for my liking.

Walking the Gargano Peninsula - Ostaria al Duomo Viests Capretto Nero del Gargano
Osteria del Duomo Vieste - Black Kid from Gargano
Caciocavallo Cheese

Caciocavallo Cheese is a regional cheese often served grilled as a dessert.  Interesting!

Walking the Gargano Peninsula - Caciocavallo Cheese
Osteria del Duomo Vieste - Grilled Caciocavallo
Semifreddo

Semifreddo is frequently found on the dessert menus in Puglia.  It is a mouth watering part frozen gateau dessert that comes in all sorts of guises in this region.  You just have to love Italy – they really do know how to live La Dolce Vita here.

At the Osteria al Duomo, the semifreddo is made with 70% Guanaja dark chocolate, Valhrona raspberry, caramel heart, raspberry gel and vanilla biscuit.  A mouth watering finale.

Walking the Gargano Peninsula Osteria del Duomo Vieste - Semifreddo doppio cioccolata
Osteria del Duomo Vieste - Semifreddo doppio cioccolata
Puglia Wine - Primitivo

There is nothing primitive at all about the red wine for which Puglia is becoming increasingly famous.  Made from the primitivo grape, it is full bodied, lusciously velvety and – gratifyingly – remarkably reasonably priced. 

The white wine of the region – made from the Greco  grape(100% in this case) is equally palate pleasing.  The Greco grape is the oldest in Europe and yields a complexity that befits its longevity.

Day 2 - Venturing Deep into the Umbra Forest

A short taxi transfer brought us to the start of a long, gently uphill walk through the Foresta Umbra to reach our next base – the Hotel Elda.

The Latin name Umbra  means a dark remote place.  The forest canopy here is so dense that it creates a deep shade beneath it that can be quite eery – and magical.

Walking the Gargano Peninsula - The Umbra Forest
The Umbra Forest - Deep Shade
Walking the Gargano Peninsula - The Umbra Forest
The Umbra Forest - Lake

Covering around 12,000 hectares, it is the largest Italian hardwood forest.  Its giant trees over 40 meters high with huge diameters demonstrate the phenomenon of macrosomatism: thanks to the mild micro-climate, the plants here are much wider than normal.  It was designated a UNESCO site in 2017.

Spring is a good time to visit the Foresta Umbra.  The trees are in full leaf sporting a myriad of greens from the amazing variety of trees that grow here. Deciduous beech, holm oaks, hornbeam maple and elm mix with evergreen hollies, yew and pines to form a dense canopy. 

Walking the Gargano Peninsula - The Umbra Forest - Light & Shade
The Umbra Forest - Light & Shade

On sunny days like today, the sunshine manages to force its way through somehow to dance on the path that gradually unwinds before you.  Along the path, anemones, cyclamen, wild garlic and violets thrive in the shade.  Sadly, I didn’t manage to spot any of the 80 species and 17 different varieties of wild orchids that can also be found here.

Walking the Gargano Peninsula - Foresta Umbra - Cyclamen
Foresta Umbra - Cyclamen
Walking the Gargano Peninsula - Foresta Umbra - Anemone
Foresta Umbra - Anemone

Tips for Future Travellers

The forest is a good 7 degrees cooler than the area outside it, so layers are good to have with you.

Try to plan your walk so you arrive at the Rifugio Sfilzi in time for lunch (1pm).  You can also book a room here if you want to stay longer.

Walking the Gargano Peninsula - Rifugio Sfilzi

Day 3 - Forest Bathing

If you are into forest bathing, then the Foresta Umbra is the perfect place to do it.  It offers a real feast for all your senses.

Today, we took a leisurely 15 kilometre walk into the heart of the forest and back.  Birdsong accompanied us all the way, punctuated by woodpeckers, cracking twigs, busy bumble bees and the occasional burst of excited Italian from the (very few) passers by.

Walking the Gargano Peninsula - Forest Bathing
Walking the Gargano Peninsula - Forest Bathing

Wild boar, hare, foxes and hedgehogs all inhabit the forest, but the tiny Gargano roe deer is the native species that best typifies this area – and is the only animal we actually saw here.

Walking the Gargano Peninsula - The Umbra Forest -Gargano Roe Deer
The Umbra Forest - Gargano Roe Deer

As you walk, you can breathe in the comforting smell of the sweet brown earth beneath your feet.  Made from thousands of years of leaf fall, the many layers have built gradually over the years forming pillows so soft you could write your name on them.

Walking the Gargano Peninsula - Forest Umbra
Walking the Gargano Peninsula - Forest Umbra

If you see mushrooms, you should know that it is illegal to pick them here.  You need a licence from the city hall which allows you to pick up to 3 kilos of mushrooms and no more.

Walking the Gargano Peninsula - Foresta Umbra - Mushrooms
Foresta Umbra - Mushrooms

Where We Stayed - Hotel Elda

Our base for this part of the trip – The Hotel Elda – offers a “Forest to Fork Experience” based on locally sourced ingredients.  Think bright green nettle sauce and tiramisu topped with powdered porcini mushrooms. It may not be to everyone’s taste, but it is certainly a little different from the norm, which is always entertaining.

Easily the best part of this hotel though is its location – buried deep in the heart of the forest.

Walking the Gargano Peninsula - Hotel Elda - Foresta Umbra
Hotel Elda - Foresta Umbra
Walking the Gargano Peninsula - Hotel Elda - Foresta Umbra Bedroom
Hotel Elda - Foresta Umbra Bedroom

It is an eco friendly hotel making good use of rainwater.  This does mean that there is no drinking water on site though, so you need to plan ahead and bring your own or plan to buy bottles in the restaurant.  Apart from that, it is a clean and comfortable base in very natural and peaceful surroundings.

Day 4 - The Pilgrim Trail from Foresta Umbra to Monte Sant’Angelo

A short taxi transfer from the heart of the Foresta Umbra brought us to the trailhead for the next section of our journey through the Gargano Peninsula – The Pilgrim Trail all the way up to Monte Sant’Angelo.

Monte Sant’Angelo is perched on top of a cliff 800 metres above sea level, so today was never going to be an easy day!  It was already 19 degrees as we started the trail at 10am, so the heat would add to the challenge.

Walking the Gargano Peninsula - The Pilgrim Trail to Monte Sant' Angelo
The Pilgrim Trail to Monte Sant' Angelo

The trail started in dense woodland and – despite best efforts – we lost the trail for a while.

Walking the Gargano Peninsula
You are Off Course!
Walking the Gargano Peninsula - The Pilgrim's Trail to Monte Sant'Angelo
The Pilgrim's Trail to Monte Sant'Angelo

To reach  Mont Sant’Angelo requires you to walk 4 kilometres deep down into the valley before climbing the remaining 4 kilometres back uphill to the town.  Those pilgrims were a dedicated bunch!

Glad I Packed

I downloaded the GPS maps provided for our walks before we left for our trip.  We hadn’t needed them up to now, but they were absolutely essential today.  There was no mobile phone coverage in the dense woodland, but the GPS navigation worked perfectly to get us back on track.  We chose to access them via the OS Maps App – £34 p.a. very well spent.

I was also very pleased to have a pair of Lekki walking poles in my rucksack for the steep uphill section of the trail.

Where We Stayed - Palace Hotel - Monte Sant'Angelo

Our base for in Monte Sant’Angelo was the Palace Hotel.  It was comfortable enough for 1 night, but not a place I would choose to linger. 

It is supposed to be a spa hotel, but access to the spa is charged at an extra 15 euros per person and even then you are only allowed a limited time.  In addition, you have to rent a bathrobe, flip flops and a swim hat at additional cost.  At the end of the long, hot walk, I would have loved a trip to the pool, but decided against it because the charges seemed mean for paying hotel guests. The shower was a “squeeze yourself in and out” style too.

There is a restaurant in the hotel, but you have to place order everything in advance which again felt unwelcoming.  The staff at breakfast were more concerned with moving the chairs around (loudly) for the next coach party rather than serving coffee.  1 night at the Palace Hotel was definitely enough for us.  Not recommended – look for a better option in Monte Sant’Angelo.

Walking the Gargano Peninsula - Monte Sant'Angelo
The Gargano Peninsula - Monte Sant'Angelo

Trip Highlight - Restaurant Recommendation

Every cloud has a silver lining?  Fortunately, our reluctance to eat dinner at the Palace Hotel meant that we took the time to explore the pretty town of Monte Sant’Angelo in more depth and discovered a gem of a restaurant buried in one of its piazzas.

We booked a table at “li Jalantuumene” Trattoria where Chef Gegè Mangano and his wife served us a most marvellous dinner.  In truth, it was more of a banquet than a dinner.  Each of the seven courses arrived hidden by a pair of entertainingly flamboyant silver serving bells and was revealed with much pleasure by Gegè and his wife.

This is a chef that chooses his ingredients with great care and fills every dish he prepares with passion.  The evening turned out to be a very memorable trip highlight.  Highly Recommended. 

Gargano Peninsula - CASA LI JALANTUÙMENE - Monte Sant'Angelo
CASA LI JALANTUÙMENE - Monte Sant'Angelo - Chef Gegè Mangano
Garganio Peninsula - CASA LI JALANTUÙMENE - Monte Sant'Angelo
Cucina + Passione = Amore

Book via telephone (see below) – Gegè speaks excellent English.  They do have rooms available too – but only 2 (at the moment).

CASA LI JALANTUÙMENE

Address:  Piazza de Galganis, 5 | Monte Sant’Angelo | Gargano

+39 0884565484

info@li-jalantuumene.it

Foodie Firsts

Evo Oil

Italy produces large quantities of extra virgin olive oil.  What I learned from Gegè was that there are many different types of oil and he chooses which he uses for each dish that he creates very carefully.

EVO oil is harvested by hand, choosing only the healthiest, freshest olives at the perfect stage of ripeness.  The olives are then cold pressed at very low temperatures between 12 and 24 hours after the harvest. With low acidity and a slightly spicy “piquant” taste, it was a perfect match for the antipasti.

Primitivo - Chiaromonte 2017

When someone has gone to this much trouble to prepare the finest ingredients the region has to offer, the banquet deserves to be accompanied by the very best wine of the region.

The Chiarmonte was a beautiful ruby purple colour and its aroma was as delicious as its taste.  Think violets, cloves and juicy blueberries with a hint of spice.  Its velvety layers enhanced every course.  Truly sumptuous.

I am reminded of Salvador Dali’s famous quote: “A real connoisseur does not drink wine but tastes of its secrets”.

Day 5 - Monte Sant’Angelo to Mattinata

Another 15 kilometres, but downhill all the way and rewarded by a sweep of bright blue ocean and a string of excellent beachfront restaurants for lunch at the finish line in Mattinata.

Walking the Gargano Peninsula - Mattinata

Mattinata is famous for its orchids (best time to visit April) and its beautiful coastline which can be explored by boat/canoe as well as walking.  It is a very peaceful place to spend a few days relaxing.

Walking the Gargano Peninsula - Mattinata
Mattinata - View from Hotel Il Porto

Where We Stayed - Hotel Il Porto - Mattinata

A really stylish hotel with a beautiful outdoor pool/garden area overlooking the sea.  We had an apartment style room with plenty of space and lovely sea views.  The restaurant is top quality too.

Walking the Gargano Peninsula - Hotel Il Porto - Mattinata - Restaurant Blu Mare
Hotel Il Porto - Mattinata - Restaurant Blu Mare
Walking the Gargano Peninsula - Hotel Il Porto - Mattinata - Apartment Room
Hotel Il Porto - Mattinata - Apartment Room

Ciao Bella!

Italy, we love you.  For your pasta, your pizza, your espresso, your dolce (and your Gabbana, your sunglasses, and your language that turns every conversation into a song.

Oh – and for having the biggest condom vending machines I have ever seen.    No photo – you will just have to imagine – think very large double wardrobes.  Ciao Bella!

Walking the Gargano Peninsula - Ciao Bella!
Ciao Bella!

Grazie Mille InnTravel

Our trip was meticulously organised by Inn Travel.  Grazie mille to them for a great itinerary and detailed walking instructions.  Thanks too to Franco (Lumakar Noleggio)for transporting our bags for us, leaving us free to enjoy all the wonderful walks.

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