The Gargano is a coastal area of extreme beauty on the Adriatic Sea in Puglia, an Italian region. Puglia, sometimes known in English by its ancient Latin name Apulia, is in the south-east of Italy, is the “heel” of the Italian boot, opposite Albania.
Monte Gargano is a mountain that forms the backbone of the large peninsula, called in Italian Promontorio del Gargano. Most of it is now a national park, the Parco Nazionale del Gargano.
The Gargano Promontory lies in the Puglia province of Foggia.
In geological terms, the Gargano peninsula, which is mostly mountainous, was once an island, and is still separated from the mainland by a plain called Tavoliere delle Puglie. On the east it forms the Bay of Manfredonia.
Gargano’s peculiar nature, which determined its characteristics and the customs of its people, lies in its geographical independence from the Appennine Mountains and the rest of the Italian peninsula.
North of it is the group of the Tremiti Islands, other renowned resorts.
The remoteness of the Gargano region from well-travelled areas has resulted in the advantage that its beaches are not so crowded, and to holiday in its resorts not so expensive as in other parts of Italy.
The Gargano is a promontory of stunning beaches, cliffs and forest on the Adriatic coast, admired for its rugged beauty and rough, unspoilt appeal.
Gargano is known for its mountains and the Parco Nazionale del Gargano, but even more for its 200 kilometres long coastline. A coast of sandy beaches, pine woods, bays, coves, cliffs, dunes, caves, and not least the famous faraglioni, white rocks emerging from the turquoise blue of the sea in the Baia dei Mergoli (also called Baia dei Faraglioni) and the Baia delle Zagare (pictured right).
Deep woods and Mediterranean vegetation cover the Gargano peninsula. Its Mediterranean landscape is dotted with olive and citrus groves gently descending to the seashore and mountains diving into the waters of cobalt blue.
Many of the coastal towns in Apulia and the Gargano promontory are very picturesque, whitewashed villages with a Greek feel to them.
The main town and resort in the Gargano peninsula is Vieste.
Vieste has a 13th century castle built by Frederick II. One interesting feature of this area is its castles, built in a characteristic style of architecture, the Apulian-Romanesque, some dating back to the 13th century.
Manfredonia, dominating the bay by the same name, is a historic town with a long, glorious, proud past, a true guardian of the southern entrance to the peninsula.
Manfredonia is the second largest town of the whole province of Foggia, second only to Foggia itself. It is named after the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II’s son Manfred (Manfredi in Italian), the King of Sicily, who built the town in 1256. He chose a location from which the view can embrace a large tract of the Puglia coast.
The origins of Manfredonia are linked to the ancient city and port of Siponto (Sipontum in Latin), about 2 km from the historic Manfredonia and now incorporated in the urban area of Manfredonia as a residential district. Siponto, which later became Manfredonia, is one of the oldest Italian cities and was one of the most important Roman colonies for the strategic position it enjoyed.
Siponto suffered heavy destruction due to the earthquakes of 1223 of 1255, that left the city in ruins. The town was then slowly rebuilt by Manfredi, the King of Sicily, after which it took its name from him and was called Manfredonia. The symbol of Manfredi’s became the castle, built in 1256, which still today can be admired in all its splendour.
Subsequently, after resisting repeated raids from the sea, in 1620 Manfredonia suffered a bloody attack by the Muslim Turks who occupied, sacked and burned it down; only the castle and city walls survived.
Siponto has now become a popular seaside resort known as Lido di Siponto. An interesting archaeological site of the ancient town can also be seen.
Manfredonia is a very pretty town overlooking the stunning Bay of Manfredonia, south of the Gargano peninsula, and is one of the leading shipping and port cities of Apulia. It has several buildings worth seeing, and is a seaside resort with over 20 kilometers of coastline equipped with bathing facilities.
The narrow streets of the old town are full of many craft workshops where you can watch sailors while weaving handmade nets as they once did, and buy traditional local handicrafts like ceramics, woven baskets made with cane, and sculptures made with inlaid wood.
In Manfredonia wander about the old part of town, walk along the seafront until you’ll find yourself in the lively harbour, where at sunset a thousand boats form a spectacular picture against the aquamarine background of the sea.
Manfredonia also offers beautiful buildings from its glorious history. Among them, not to miss are the Castello Svevo-Angioino, a mighty quadrilateral castle going back to the 1200s, now home to a major Archaelogical Museum; the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore di Siponto church, a jewel of Apulian-Romanesque architecture; the Duomo (Cathedral), destroyed by the Turks in 1620 and then rebuilt the next century; the churches of Santa Chiara and San Benedetto; the Palazzo Comunale, former Convent of San Domenico; San Leonardo in Lama Volara.
Other palaces whose facades you can admire include Palazzo Mettola, Palazzo San Domenico, Palazzo De Nicastro, Palazzo Delli Gloves, Palazzo Celestini, Palazzo De Florio.
But on top of all that Manfredonia is a seaside resort, with superb beaches and stunning sea views over the Manfredonia Bay, Gargano Peninsula and Puglia coast, due to its strategic position.
Mattinata has one of Gargano’s most beautiful beaches: kilometres of pebbles washed and made smooth by crystal-clear waters from which to sail to the many grottos, coves and cosy beaches accessible only from the sea. Nature’s wonders like the Faraglioni of Baia delle Zagare, Vignanotica beach and Mattinatella beach are all nearby.
Mattinata is an entirely whitewashed village amidst olive groves, almond trees and prickly pears degrading to the sea. Derived from the ancient town of Matinum, it is built on two hills, Castelluccio and Coppa della Madonna.
It is surrounded by mountains: Monte Sacro, known in ancient times as Monte Dodoneo, and Monte Saraceno, where are the remnants of a necropolis (large cemetery or burial town) dating from the bronze age. Near the tourist harbour the remnants of an ancient Roman villa can be seen, and on the Monte Sacro is what remains of the SS. Trinità Abbey.
San Giovanni Rotondo is immersed in the greenery of the Parco Nazionale del Gargano, near the Umbra Forest. Cast in a splendid natural scenery, it represents the other face of Gargano, the mountain, calm, tranquil, fresh side of this beautiful peninsula.
San Giovanni Rotondo, at 600 metres above the sea level, is on the peak of Monte Gargano, a wonderfully peaceful place.
The mountain air from the nearby forests is pure, fresh and aromatic.
Despite its mountainous location, San Giovanni Rotondo is very close to the renowned seaside resorts of Vieste, Mattinata, Peschici, Rodi Garganico. From San Giovanni Rotondo it is easy to get to the beaches on the Garganic Riviera, which are at a short distance.
San Giovanni Rotondo is the town of the Church of Beato Padre Pio da Pietralcina.
Behind the monastery, on the cliffs of Monte Castellano, is the monumental Via Crucis, adorned by shrines of solid granite, which cherish bronze statues of the 14 stations sculpted by the famous artist Francesco Messina.
Other towns and resorts in Gargano Peninsula are Apricena, Cagnano Varano, Carpino, Ischitella, Lesina, Monte Sant’Angelo, Peschici, Rignano Garganico, Rodi Garganico, San Marco in Lamis, Sannicandro Garganico, Serracapriola, Vico del Gargano.
Gargano is still an intact, unspoilt land, a place of close communities remaining faithful to ancient local traditions and to a rural life holding on to its image of wild, rough territory.
Apulia itself is is an ancient land, still containing Roman remains.