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.
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.
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.
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.
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])
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”. The restaurant is pretty expensive, a bill that can only be justified by an adequate quality. Unfortunately the restaurant has taken a negative trend towards the tourist trap status. Avoid!
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.