Thursday, April 18, 2013

Vieste and the Gargano

Lungomare of Vieste, tourist mecca of the Gargano
We have read about Gargano in books, heard stories from friends and seen pictures. We needed to experience it and see if the place warranted a longer stay in the future. If you look at Italy’s “heel”, just north you see a little spur of land. That is the Gargano. It is the most rugged part of Puglia and truly the most scenic. It contains the Forestra Umbra which is now also within Parco Nazionale di Gargano. 

This area is heavily dependent on tourism, especially in summer--just like the west coast where we live. It seems they have a 4-month season, May-August, compared to the 2-month season in Calabria. We think it is because more international visitors seek Gargano. The majority of places are closed now, but a few campgrounds had guests.

First, though, we had to get there. To do that from here, we had to drive the width of Italy (which, thanks to the ankle of the boot, isn't that bad--about 5 hours). First the drive takes you to the rolling farmland of Basilicata and the high bridges Guido loves so much.

Dropping down into Puglia, north of Melfi, the landscape begins to flatten and become more agri-businesslike...complete with wind generators. Note: the landscape architect in the car thought these "windmills" were placed in an appropriate place for a change!

As we once again caught a glimpse of sea, we knew we were getting close to Vieste. Seaside towns in Italy have a way of presenting themselves dramatically and promisingly:

Our 5-hour trip that turned into 7 hours given lunch stops, photo stops and driving around looking for the B&B when we arrived in Vieste. After two laps around town and some “coaching” from the navigator, I realised you cannot drive to the hotel – it is a 400 meter walk from parking just like here at home. Duhh.

The tourists in this area seem to be mostly German. We heard that language and something Scandinavian. No English anywhere, which was an interesting change. Restaurant staff switched to English if a German struggled with Italian. We were proud that none of the waiters broke into English for us! We did discover the Pugliese dialect. It is softer than what we hear here, but no more understandable. When I told a bar owner buona giornata, his response sounded like “lampa”. Listening to another conversation, a guy ended with “va bini” instead of va bene. Our local dialect would be “va bo”.  All of them mean ok, all is well.

The Osteria degli Archi may be one of the best restaurants in Vieste. Great food and kind people. Here, I learned more about Pugliese wines. I liked the Bolonero rosso from Castel del Monte, a winery near Bari. There are good red wines from this region!!

Di's favorite morning walk--with caffe in hand
All of these towns are very tidy and clean. I opened the bath window Sunday morning at 0630 and a guy was sweeping the street below. I guess when you have a bigger town and tax base, you can have a cleaning crew fulltime. We usually have to do it ourselves here – something to keep us fit!
Our B&B was in the historic district, as we like. One of the owners we found during our stay also has a large sailboat for charter trips to Greece and Croatia if you are in the mood! Two other places had better views, but they were closed. If you are interested in staying in historic Vieste, we recommend also looking at Hotel Punta San Francesco or Hotel Seggio -- both are perched above the sea. Our place was nicely done with 5 rooms and good modern facilities. I understand the vaulted ceilings are a typical feature in this area.

We always play “what-if” when we travel and ask ourselves if we could live in this particular town, not that we are looking to move. In Vieste, if we could find a nice house with a view and terrace like the place next to the Hotel Seggio, it could work. The other advantages to the seaside towns of the Gargano are their proximity to the hills and forest. We live in the largest park in Italy, but there is little recreational development. The Gargano (Forestra Umbra) has had recreation facilities for generations including marked trails, campgrounds, visitor centers, etc. I also found the town of Rodi Gaganico to be appealing because it looked like the people were proud of their town! The seaside part of the equation may be a little less pristine than we are used to and perhaps too crowded.

All of the coastal Gargano towns have large hotels on their flanks for the summer. We realised that summer, especially August, would not be a time we would come with the traffic and crowds. Areas between the towns are the most developed seaside areas we have seen in Italy… mostly campgrounds, all tastefully built and maintained.  We found a couple resorts with private beaches and bungalow style housing that we will look into more for May or June visits. More our style than the high-rise hotels.
At the outlet of Lake Varano, which is connected to the sea, we found two fishing boats unloading hundreds of kilos of cozze (mussels). We hear the area is famous for those shellfish. We also watched kite boarders near Vieste. Sail boarding and kiting have become popular attractions also.

One our biggest problems, when traveling, is finding places to eat. It happened Sunday when about every place we found was closed. We discovered Hotel Piccolo Paradiso near the port of Peschici. A helpful, friendly couple runs it. We were the only customers at the time, though. We’d recommend the place for location, quality customer service, etc. 

Extensive olive groves merge with the stands of pine above.

On the return trip, we wasted 50 minutes driving around Melfi looking for a restaurant. Almost like Keystone cops at times. A little further down the road in the smaller town of Rionero in Vulture we found a hotel with restaurant by using the iPad internet map to locate restaurants. Saved by technology and a smaller town to search.

The drive back through the forest was very relaxing. Very few vehicles on the road this time of year and plenty of spring vistas including those that reminded us of our former home in the USA.

We liked Gargano and will return. We recommend it to all traveling that way.

E’ stato un buon viaggio.

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