Gargano: the Unspoilt Spur of Italy’s Heel

We arrived in Puglia after a sleepless night, a noisy flight and a few hours drive across Italy – from Rome Ciampino airport – braving gales and hailstorm on the Apennines. We were battered. Our host Giuseppe Romondia welcomed us at his Pizzicato bar in Vico del Gargano with an aperitivo of expertly mixed cocktails (ask for the Gin Zen, thank me later) and a platter of finger-food and pastries made by their own bakery. With this stroke of hand he swiftly wiped the fatigue off our brows.

What we like of Italy is that, even when the travel is made difficult by road traffic or train delays, the destination is always adequately rewarding. A process that the warm welcome of the people we met in Puglia made even easier.

Pasties Pizzicato Bar Gargano

These guys are waiting for you at Pizzicato Bar

Vico del Gargano

After quickly settling at Pizzicato Eco B&B, in the large flat we would have called home for the coming days, we set off to visit Vico. The old town is charming, a place standing still in time, with its stone houses crowding on narrow pebbled alleys, where surprised dogs bark at us and locals smile and nod.
The town is quiet, sleepy, but there’s a palpable feel of expectation, like something is going to happen. “During the low season we’re really few people here” explains Giuseppe “and those actively taking part to social life are no more than 200”. But the summer is getting close, and with it will come not only sun and warmth, but tourists, friends and family, making it a very busy season.

The next day was sunny, the air was crisp and clean, ideal for a drive along the coast. The Gargano promontory, much of which is national park, is divided between rocky coasts towering a crystal clear sea and the hilly area covered by the ancient Umbrian Forest. An astonishing change of scenario just a few miles inland.

Of Fishermen and Shepherds…

The first stop is Peschici, a whitewashed fishermen village, perched on a cliff along the sea. We got lost in the tortuous alleys of the medieval town centre, some leading to claustrophobic yards other opening up to perspectives on the blue sea, framed by balconies and wooden shutters. Not far from it we reached one of the trabucchi, symbol of the regional coast. Vincenzo shows us the imposing fishing frame, legacy of an centenary tradition and still functioning. In fact the fish they catch with it is served, only few meters away, at their restaurant Al Trabucco da Mimì.

Trabucco Puglia

The structure of a “trabucco”

After lunch, following an incessant stream of paper signs, we parked the car on top of a high headland, at which feet lays the famous “hippie” beach Zaiana. We enjoyed the view over the blusterous sea until the strong wind made it difficult to breathe. Driving back towards the main road we got stopped by a herd of goats, imperviously grazing the spiky grass. The shepherd was standing in front of our car piercing the windshield with his weathered eyes: a friendly invitation or a hostile challenge? There was only a way to find out.
Are those goats yours?” I shout, he nods eagerly “And what do you do with them?” his white walrus moustache stretches in a naughty grin “Do I really need to tell you?” he jokes. He was clearly looking forward to a chat and, throwing to the wind our plans to get to Vieste early enough to have time to visit also the XIII century Sanctuary of Monte Sant’Angelo, we turned off the engine. What are the chances of meeting an authentic goat in 2015? He proceeded telling us his whole life, from saucy comic anecdotes to lysergic re-interpretations of religious stories. We part ways, us on our car, him following his dogs, as white as his hair.

Processione di Pasqua Vieste

Easter procession… and musical

The Pearl of Gargano

We reached Vieste, the “Pearl of Gargano” as the sun was setting. Which is a beautiful moment to visit it but also meant that we couldn’t spend much time and we had to cut the Sanctuary from the itinerary. Vieste is a beautiful town spread along a coast ranging from sandy beaches to rocky white strips piercing into the Adriatic sea. The old town centre is another tangle of narrow alleys, flanked by stone houses sometimes so close that facing neighbours might be able to shake hands from their windows. The bars and gelaterie around Marina Piccola were still closed so we went for a drink in a dodgy bar, far from the glamorous seaside. And we thought of how surprising that day has been, sipping a Campari while a woman next to us was reading Tarot cards to a worried-looking girl, and some old men were attentively watching Terminator on TV.

 

Accommodation

We stayed at Pizzicato Eco B&B (Via Antonio Bucci 11-13, Vico del Gargano), a beautiful property with several flats, comfortable and clean.
The manager, Giuseppe, is attentive and experienced, which is an incredible added value, especially in Italy. Visit their website (www.pizzicatobeb.com) or contact them by email ([email protected])

 

Restaurants

Pizzeria La Giara (Viale Cappuccini 13, Vico del Gargano). A couple of minutes walk from Pizzicato B&B makes great pizze and paposce. What is a paposcia? There’s only one way to find out…

Restaurant “Da Alduccio” (Corso Carmine 58, Vico del Gargano). Traditional cusine and fresh local products, cooked with professional skills and served with great courtesy

Restaurant “Al Trabucco da Mimì” (map). The fish here is so fresh that you can actually see it being fished while waiting at the table. Its location is great for a summer evening aperitivo.

Osteria Pane e Vino (Along the SS 89 between Vieste and Peschici, www.osteriapaneevino.it).  Traditional family-run restaurant serving typical food and usually outdoor BBQ. Cheap and peacefully located between olive groves.

More photos from Gargano, Puglia

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After being in Rome a few times without even looking at the Coliseum I realised that there's more to travel than sightseeing: meeting the local culture is what, 10 years later, determined the birth of this blog.

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