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Gargano in September/October


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Our original plans for autumn 2019 had to be scrapped so in the end we had two or three days to decide on a destination for three weeks from early September. We wanted to travel by car and after some intensive map-peering we decided to visit the Gargano peninsula in Puglia since it was reasonably quick to get to by car from the North of Italy where we live and also seemed already to be low season so easy to find cheap accommodation. We spent 5 days at Foce Varano during the second week of September. During our stay in Foce Varano we visited Lake Lesina, Lake Varano and Cagnano Varano, Vico del Gargano, Rodi Garganico and Peschici. The weather was just about ideal for us, warm to hot and sunny during the day but with cool air at night. Our apartment didn't have air-conditioning and it wasn't necessary. The beach just across the road from the apartment was practically deserted. We were just east of Foce Varano and there were just a few people here and there with their own beach equipment whereas walking along towards the Lido del Sol area there were beach bars and facilities.

The beach on the seaward side of Varano lake between Foce Varano and Foce Capoiale is part of the nature reserve so is empty, wild and very pleasant, one or two people occasionally, some seagulls, peace, wind, nature, beautiful for long walks along the firm sand.
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The beach was the best thing about our stay there. The sea shelves down gradually so it should be good for going into the water even if you are not a good swimmer, but during the whole of our stay there it was quite windy and the waves were quite big so I didn't try. There were some really spectacular sunsets!
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It was already low season so few people around but a few local supermarkets were still open. Everything felt very quiet and peaceful. Reasonably priced accommodation in the area was easily available but eating out seemed expensive so we cooked because the apartment was really well equipped. We visited Rodi Garganico, a small town with a good Dok supermarket, a poor and grimy daily town market with just 2 or 3 stalls and a tiny and nothing special historical centre. Vico del Gargano was disappointing, despite being one of the 'Borghi più belli d'Italia' the historical centre was largely abandoned in a depressing and unpoetic way, although there were one or two nice corners we felt it was overrated and would not return.

Peschici is spectacular from afar, the white houses perched on the cliffs above the dark blue waters, less so in the centre which is full of touristy shops selling nothing special and without many viewpoints of the coast around except for the castle area at the end of the village.

Lake Varano and Cagnano Varano made for an interesting afternoon, and were the places we liked the most. We happened by chance, driving through the olive groves, on the Sanctuary in front of the Varano Crucifix in the lake, which was a very poetic place.
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Just below Cagnano there is a free ethnographic museum about life on the lake which is worth a stop, they are also planning a route to walk along the lake. Cagnano itself had a well-cared for old centre of white washed houses beyond the gates of Palazzo Baronale which was pleasant to wander around.

We also stocked up with excellent friselle, bread, taralli and a cake made from mosto at the untouristy and reasonably priced Panificio La Fonte del Pane.
All in all, a five day stay was about right considering we like walking on the beach but didn't spend a whole day sitting there. And 5 evenings for 5 splendid sunsets....
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We then moved on to Vieste for a week, the third week in September 2019. We stayed in a Villaggio called Sabbiadoro which was a very convenient and inexpensive solution. The apartments are small and basically equipped but set in small groups surrounded by trees and bushes so there's a feeling of relaxation and contact with nature. The village is family run and the owners were very kind and friendly. It's about 5 minutes walk to the free beach and the price of the bungalow includes beach facilities - an umbrella, a deckchair and a sun-lounger. This is to say we didn't spend our week in Vieste rushing around visiting places. The Scialara or Castello beach which we were near is just under three kilometres long with fine golden sand which is firm and ideal for walking on the shore, clean gently shelving water ideal for a dip, with the spectacular Pizzomunno at the end

so the day we arrived (Sunday), Tuesday and Wednesday which were hot and Thursday which was unsettled we just enjoyed walking to Vieste and back for some shopping, wandering around the historical centre and along the promenade of Vieste itself,

walking up and down the superb Scialara beach and taking advantage of the free beach facilities to sunbathe, read and relax.
Anyway, this is the best thing about Vieste. It doesn't make a good base for touring around because the roads in and out of Vieste in all directions are quite narrow, and with a lot of bends. Don't decide to stay there to visit Monte Sant'Angelo or other places further afield, it's just too time consuming. Stay there to relax and enjoy the fine beach!
Nevertheless we also hiked along the coast between Sfinalicchio and Cala dei Turchi in the stretch of coast where there are lots of Trabucchi on the Monday, this was one of the best days of the week there, it's not so easy to find hikes along the coast but we found this one on Wikiloc and it was nice because it took us just along the coast, hardly anyone around, splendid coast line and of course the Trabucchi

On Friday we explored the coast road between Vieste and Pugnochiuso, this made for some nice landscapes and photo opportunities but it consisted in driving, parking, a short walk, taking photos, back in the car. Not what we really enjoy, on the other hand partly due to the rugged coast line itself and partly due to severely fenced off private areas it just wasn't possible to hike this stretch of the coast.
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Probably the most unexpectedly enjoyable day of the week in Vieste was the trip to the Foresta Umbra with a walk to Sorgente Sfilzi on the Saturday. I live in the mountains so forests are not high on my to see list when I'm travelling but the Foresta Umbra really is beautiful, silent, tall trees, a wealth of ferns and lichens, a magical place.

It was the third week in September and beach establishments were starting to close up for the season, there were still some people around and it was easy to find an empty stretch of beach if you wanted but the weather was still excellent - the sea warm, daytime temperatures up to 27, a pleasant cool breeze some of the time and cool at night. We had one day of wind and some rain. Most shops, restaurants and facilities etc in Vieste were still open and it was a very pleasant and relaxing week. For a beach holiday combined with the day's hiking along the coast and Foresta Umbra I would definitely return to Vieste......
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10+ Posts
Mattinata Hiking
Our next stop was at Mattinata, on the south coast of the Gargano peninsula. This is not the best beach location in the Gargano! The whole north coast, practically, has miles of sandy beaches from wild and natural on the seaward side of Varano lake to the regimented umbrella land of Peschici. Vieste has its own long beaches, especially Scialara, and other beautiful bays. In comparison, the coast near Mattinata is difficult to reach, access is monopolised by private Lidos and expensive parking, all to get near a narrowish strip of something shingly between cliffs of various heights and. I admit, yes, transparent and clean sea.
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We stayed 5 nights in Mattinata not for its beaches but as a base for visiting the very beautiful villages and historical religious sites in the area, also combining some hiking. The first day we visited Monte Sant'Angelo with its UNESCO sanctuary, Santa Maria church and Tumba dei Rotari and characteristic old Rione Junno quarter.


Monte Sant'Angelo is just an easy half hour drive from Mattinata and well worth at least a half day, we stayed until early afternoon and we combined it with a quick visit to the San Pio Sanctuary in San Giovanni Rotondo, another half hour by car, more of a religious pilgrimage destination than anything else. We then drove back directly via the outskirts of Manfredonia.
Manfredonia itself is just 20 minutes through the tunnel on a good and straight road from Mattinata. It's worth a look at the castle and the Maddalena chapel (both free entry) as well as a walk along the sea front and round the centre.

There's a very good local market every morning in the Monticchio area Via Santa Restituta with good prices for fish and very cheap fresh local fruit and vegetables. The rambling Tuesday market on a sort of wasteland surrounded by rubbish was instead disappointing, especially as at 11.30 many stalls were already packing things up and leaving. There's also a large Conad supermarket and shopping centre of the tangenziale - ring road, which is open all day and very convenient.

Mattinata is also good for hiking and I've prepared a more detailed post on that here.
There are actual trail running routes and there's a map and description available, also in English, in most tourist offices in the Gargano area but we just did some of the Sentieri Natura which are part of these longer routes. In particular the Sentiero Natura Mergoli - Vignanotica which is an easy walk along the coast with splendid views,

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Monte Saraceno to the Daunia necropolis and Monte Sacro, another easy walk high up in the woods to the ruins of a Benedictine monastery.

The best day was undoubtedly when we hiked from the countryside above Manfredonia to the Abbey of Santa Maria di Pulsano, clambering up the rocks of the narrow valley where there are the ruined hermitages on rocky and sometimes inaccessible outposts. This was an absolutely fantastic place.


It was a full five days, Mattinata in itself is a quiet and small town and apart from a mass in a tiny chapel on Sunday afternoon, the best thing about the town itself was the ice-cream and cappuccino one afternoon at the smart and family run Gelateria Gabrielino. All in all it was a good base for exploring the surrounding area.


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10+ Posts
Margherita di Savoia, Barletta and Trani

For our last few days we chose Margherita di Savoia as a base, mainly because we found a nice apartment there at a good price. On the way we stopped at Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore in Siponto. The Basilica is an unusual shape and quite striking.
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To the left of the church excavations brought to light the remains of an early Christian Basilica, with three naves and a semicircular apse and mosaic floor. Here, in 2016, the artist Edoardo Tresoldi created a fourteen-meter high wire mesh installation that reconstructs the ancient basilica in 3D exactly above its remains, it's also called the "ghost church" which very much sums up the impression it gives, especially when arriving round the back of the actual church. The drive from Siponto to Margherita di Savoia is through flat fields used for farming, mostly for growing vegetables, it would seem. Margherita di Savoia itself is nothing special, convenient for shopping but all the beach establishments had closed and the season had definitely finished. Once we eventually found a way onto the beach we had a nice walk though.
One excellent find in Margherita was Pasticceria Fiamma just below the apartment. I had pistacchio cheesecake and Andrea an ice-cream half chocolate pear and ginger and half almond and rosemary. I'm not that keen on ice-cream but this really was spectacular......


10+ Posts
On Saturday we went to Barletta. Parking was easy, there's a free area just after the castle in the direction of Trani, although I later saw that the pay parking down on the lungomare is just 2 euros per half day. The highlights in Barletta were the Basilica del Santo Sepolcro which is in the centre just behind the mysterious Colosso. The Basilica is in the style of many churches in Puglia, clean, pale stonework and vertical unadorned walls, uncluttered by Barocco decorations. The bronze Colosso is indeed huge....

We also had a look at the church of Sant'Andrea, the same style, up steep steps with an interesting carved wooden side altarpiece and old organ. The Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore opposite the castle is also beautiful, recalling San Nicola in Bari and the castle itself is also worth a visit, there’s something going on so we get in free. The castle has been restored and all the stonework is very clean and altogether the environment is impressive.
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It's also nice just wandering around the historical centre which is clean, quiet but at the same time inhabited, not a tourist attraction and not abandoned. Bars and restaurants are mixed with ordinary shops and many other churches.

The beach is wide and sandy, all the Lidos are closed and boarded up but there's a fresh breeze and a few people around but no sign of anywhere for coffee. So we wander back to the centre and find a bar open between the castle and the basilica for cappuccinos and pasticciotto. Later, we drive all along the Barletta beach road, there's a speed limit of 30 kilometres until the Lidos run out, the bushes start and the beach starts to be the reign of the kite surfers. It's always fascinating to watch their antics. Seagulls on the sand and men flying.
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A more complete description of our day here
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10+ Posts
Some places are just special, and for us, Trani is one of those special places. We had visited before, on a day trip from a week in Bari in April 2017, but just to be vaguely in the area meant we had to return..... The tall light simple beauty of the Cathedral with the sea behind had left a desire to return and savour its atmosphere anew.
It doesn't disappoint. There are four areas to visit, the lower church which is accessed on the ground floor with a few frescoes and arches and columns which would be beautiful enough in itself, the San Nicola crypt behind with its tall columns, the San Leucio ipogeo area below which we hadn't seen when we visited before and then the upper church - the sense of sheer space and light and uplift is something special for me. One of the most beautiful churches I've ever visited.
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We take it slowly and then wander the historical centre, much has been restored and the usual clean pale stone interspersed with occasional flowers and balconies and unexpected little squares and churches make for a relaxing morning.
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After mass in the cathedral we go along the port and through the centre to Carpe Diem which is open Sunday lunchtime. Here we strike lucky. In search simply of a good but cheap focaccia instead we find a full Sunday lunch on offer, lasagne, melanzane alla parmigiana, next out of the kitchen the typical local dish riso patate cozze. Impossibile to resist our favourite dishes lovingly prepared in single portions at very cheap prices. An elderly man also advises us to wait because fritto misto di pesce usually appears at some point. It's supposedly take away but there are a few comfortable and clean tables with an excellent view of the latest dishes coming out of the kitchen :) So, two portions of lasagne, one of melanzane alla parmigiana, a double riso patate cozze, a very generous 'single' portion of fritto misto, two large glasses of dry white wine and one beer for just over 22 euros, all tasty well cooked and good quality! We are full and happy.
Back at the port we sit at the same bar as the last time we visited which still has the sofa with view for a couple of coffees, there are a lot of people around, very different from the end of season let me shut up shop feel in the Gargano area. Afterwards we go to the Villa Comunale, i.e. the splendid gardens right next to the sea, to relax in the cool.
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The gardens next to the sea are well-cared for and clean, there's even a clock with below the date written in grey pebbles which someone must change each day.
After a longish rest we wander in the direction of a sort of tower that marks the entrance to the port and which can only be accessed from there.

There are local people strolling around, the occasional tourist, all enjoying the warm balmy late September sun, just below the walls a restaurant is playing absurdly loud music of the easy listening makes you want to dance variety which wafts up onto the sunbaked tower while towards Trani harbourside the sun glitters and reflects off the calm water. It's a moment of illogical and absolute beauty and peace. Perfect.
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10+ Posts
Your photos are wonderful! Now that we no longer have school-aged children and aren't locked into school vacations, we do most of our travel in either May or September (we were Calabria about the same time as your trip). I think those are the best times to be in Italy.

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