Road Trips

The Glorious Gargano Peninsula

On the east coast of Italy, jutting out into the Adriatic Sea is the rocky Gargano Peninsula, 40 miles (65 km) long and 25 miles (40 km) wide. It is called the spur of the Italian boot. Its sandy beaches and rugged coastline are full of caves, grottos, rocky capes, and ravines. There are 85 miles of beaches with dazzling  clear azure and sapphire blue waters beneath craggy white limestone cliffs.

The rugged landscape of the Gargano is stoney with centuries-old olive trees. Almond, carob and orange groves lined with dry-stone walls dot the area. Agave cactuses are interspersed in the groves. In the spring, fields glow bright yellow as the flowers of prickly pear cactus blossom.

Our base during our stay was Vieste, a small coastal town, dramatically perched onto the spectacular Gargano Promontory, overlooking the Adriatic Sea. Remains of megalithic wall structures attest to its ancient origins. The old town is a jewel with narrow alleys, steep stairways, with whitewashed cottages swathed with lines of drying clothes. This part of town projects out to the Adriatic with spectacular views to the sea. Pressed up against the old town is the new town, with plenty of great restaurants and shopping. You cannot miss the dramatic Building Bridges sculpture. In late autumn, the town was quiet and filled with mostly local inhabitants and few Italian visitors, but in the summer Vieste is filled with tourists from all over the world.

One regret that I had of going so late in the season was that it was too windy for boat trips into the narrow grottos near the cliffs. But we were there for the autumn olive harvest. The town was blissfully quiet and the prices in the grocery stores were the lowest I have seen anywhere! If weather permits make sure to take a private boat all around the peninsula and out to the Tremiti islands which are located in Gargano’s National Park, explore the grottos especially the Grotto of the Violets, named for the submarine flowering plants which give the water and sea floor a violet cast. The grotto is located on the south coast of the island of San Domino. The Tremiti Archipelago, a group of  five tiny islands known as “Garden of Paradise,” are all part of the national park. Don’t miss getting a photo of a trabucco—a vintage fishing platform anchored to the rock made to withstand pirates and rocky seas.

See A Room with a View for an excellent place to stay in Vieste with spectacular views from every room. It is available through Airbnb.



Some of my other favorite sites in the Gargano are:

Monte Sant’Angelo


A picturesque mountain town  known for appearances by Michael the Archangel in a grotto in the late fifth century. An ancient church is built over the grotto. A big Saint Michael festival is held in September. Mont Sant’Angelo boasts great views and walks. The Castle with Giants Tower is also worth a look. Traditional, affordable cafes and restaurants are all around. Many serving the delicious local pasta famous in this region known as orecchiette.

Saint Michael’s Cave

Is an intimate and little-known sanctuary, found within an ancient natural cave, on the side of a mountain near Lake Varano.

Like its complementary counterpart in Monte Sant’Angelo, the Santuario Grotta di San Michele, or Grotto Church of Saint Michael (also known as Saint Michael’s Cave), is dedicated to Saint Michael the Archangel. Legend holds the Saint Francis of Assisi stopped during a trip of faith he made to the Gargano. The “pila di Santa Lucia” – a rocky cavity within the cave  gathers its dripping waters which are said to hold miraculous healing powers for sight.


Like Vieste, the town is within the Gargano National Park. It sits on a Karst (rugged, eroded limestone) spur. It is an ancient fishing village built in the 10th Century one hundred meters above the sea. It is amazingly picturesque with good restaurants and stunning sea views.

Foresta Umbra

“Foresta Umbra” (shady forest) located in the heart of Gargano National Park is UNESCO-listed dark forest thick with old oaks, pine and beech trees. It is a great place to hike or have a picnic and eat al fresco.

On an earlier post I talked about the areas in and around Puglia which are south of the Gargano Peninsula. These include Bari, Polignano, Ostuni, Alberobello. These destinations could also be included in this road trip. You can easily include Matera also described in an earlier post.

Gargano is less traveled than other, more well-known areas of Italy. Except for the wind which prevented our boat excursions, the weather is sunny and perfect even in late fall. Don’t miss this magical part of Puglia which is rich in history and magnificent landscapes!

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