Gargano Italy: How to Explore (Northern) Puglia’s Hidden Gem

The Gargano, Italy is one of the most fascinating areas of Puglia.

Most tourists decide to visit “the spur of Italy” for its incredible beaches and breathtaking views. However, the Gargano offers so much more.

Gorgeous medieval towns overhanging the sea, huge evergreen forests, and unforgettable sunsets. The variety of the territory is one of the main reasons why visitors who spend time here fall in love with it.

In this guide, you’ll discover the best places in the Gargano to include on your Puglia trip, as well as a Gargano map, how to get here, and Gargano hotels.

Gargano Italy: (Northern) Puglia’s Hidden Gem

Gargano Puglia Italy Arch of San Felice

The Gargano peninsula is a promontory located in the northern part of Puglia, in the province of Foggia. (Puglia is the region along the Adriatic coast in the “heel of the boot.”) Bathed on 3 sides by the Adriatic Sea and encompassing Gargano National Park, the peninsula is full of pristine nature and historic sites.

With its 85 miles of coastline, the Gargano area has countless sea caves and beaches, mountains, forests, and some of Italy’s most beautiful villages.

Ideally, you should spend at least 4-5 days in the Gargano to experience the best that the “spur” of Italy has to offer.

Most travelers to Puglia don’t put the Gargano at the top of their itinerary which is understandable given how many amazing places there are to visit in Puglia. But even if you have just a couple of days to spare, I recommend taking the time!

The contrast between Gallipoli and Lecce in the Salento, Ostuni and Alberobello in the Valle d’Itria, coastal towns like Monopoli and Polignano a Mare, and the towns of the Gargano highlight just how diverse the history, culture, food, and landscapes are in Puglia. All of which are worth discovering!

And if you’re looking for one of the best places in Puglia where you can truly slow down, the Gargano is it. A successful trip here is about enjoying the local cuisine and culture while letting the restorative powers of nature wash over you.

The best months to visit the Gargano are May, June, and September. The weather is perfect, sunny and warm – but not too hot! – and southern Italy is not invaded by tourists, as happens in the months of July and August.

How to Get to the Gargano

The first thing to know is there are no airports in the immediate vicinity of the Gargano or the north of Puglia. The nearest one is Bari Airport, just outside of Puglia’s main city of Bari, about 115 miles from Vieste, one of the main cities in the Gargano.

Once landed, you can pick up your rental car directly at the airport and make your 2 1/2 hour drive to get to Vieste. You’ll likely drive north near the Adriatic coast passing places like Trani and Barletta before turning east onto the Gargano promontory.

If you want to get to and around Gargano, Puglia, having a vehicle is a must. In fact, the promontory is not crossed by railway lines. The only public transport is the local buses that connect the different coastal towns, but it will make your trip challenging.

In the individual locations, you can move easily on foot or by bike.

ProTip: Wondering how to fit the Gargano into your Puglia itinerary? One option is to consider it at the end of your Puglia trip. From Vieste, you could drive to the airport in Naples or Rome which will have more international flight connections. The drive will take between 3 and 4 1/2 hours respectively. I chose to drive to the airport in Rome.

What to see in Gargano, Italy

The incredible variety of the territory makes the Gargano the perfect to explore this lesser-known area of Puglia.
I have selected the best towns and beaches to visit if you plan a vacation in Gargano, Puglia or if want to include the area in your Italy itinerary.

Vieste

Vieste Gargano Puglia Italy

One of the most characteristic towns in the Gargano peninsula, Vieste is an incredible mix of old and new. The Centro Storico (old town) is dominated by a medieval castle from which to enjoy a fabulous view of the sea.

Stroll through the network of alleys and irregular streets, enter the Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta, and finally stop in one of the many shops to buy the “mazzetto del gargano”, a traditional lucky charm that will make for a great souvenir. Along the sea, you’ll also notice the trabbuco, historic fishing platforms that use a net, poles, and ropes to catch schools of fish.

Once you’re done exploring Vieste Vecchia, you can make your way to the new part of the town, full of restaurants and bars. Together with the selection of Vieste hotels, the town is a great pick as a base. Not to mention, it’s one of the places you can access one of my favorite spots, the Tremiti Islands. (More on these islands below.)

The magic of Vieste continues along the coast with the Spiaggia del Pizzomunno. The Pizzomunno is an 80+ feet high slab of limestone standing along the beach’s shoreline for an absolutely breathtaking landscape. When you go, be sure to make a full tour around the Pizzomunno and make a wish. Local lore says it will come true.

From Vieste, you can also easily and quickly reach the gorgeous Arco of San Felice or Architiello, one of the most famous and known natural features in the area. The Architiello is an arch carved into the rock, shaped by the wind and the sea over thousands of years. A legend tells that the Nymphs and the Tritons created the arch in honor of the time spent in the Gargano by the god Neptune and his wife.

Both the Pizzomunno and the Architiello are just two of the many characteristic carved rocks and stone stacks that make the Gargano so beautiful.

Peschici

Peschici Gargano Puglia Italy at sunset

Peschici, together with Vieste, is one of the most popular places in the Gargano, as well as one of the best towns in Puglia. The two are just a 30 minutes ride away. Peschici is tiny but is another excellent base for exploring both the coast of Gargano and the Gargano National Park, as well as the Tremiti Islands.

The town is renowned for its beauty: perched atop a cliff, the historic center made of white houses creates that drool-worthy wonderful contrast with the crystal blue waters.

Walk the narrow stone streets until you reach the Byzantine-Norman Castle of Peschici, from which you can admire a beautiful view of the coast, and do not miss the Abbazia di Santa Maria di Càlena.

This abandoned abbey is roughly 1 mile outside the town center and dates back at least 1000 years. Although you can’t go inside, the remains are an important historical site in Puglia and Italy, as it could be one of the oldest Abbeys in the country.

After a stop in one of the many restaurants in town, perhaps even dining at il Trabucco di Monte Pucci located on a trabucco itself, descend to the marina from which the boats depart for the wonderful Tremiti Islands.

Peschici has been awarded the Blue Flag, which recognizes the beaches for their cleanliness and excellent services offered to the clientele. Among the beaches you could visit in Peschici, there are the Spiaggia di Manaccora and the Spiaggia di Zaina, only a few tenths of a mile away from each other.

Manaccora is a small hamlet of Peschici, and its beach has many accommodation facilities and is well equipped with a variety of services, making it an ideal destination for families. The clear waters are perfect for snorkeling.

Spiaggia di Zaina is mainly frequented by young people intent on diving from the rocks and renting canoes and surfboards. The Spiaggia di Zaina is quite popular: stop by in the evening and grab an aperitif like the locals!

Monte Sant’Angelo

Sanctuary of San Michele Arcangelo UNESCO Monte Santangelo Puglia Italy

Monte Sant’Angelo is located in the northern part of the Gargano National Park, in a truly unique setting. It is one of the most famous villages of the Gargano, mainly known for the Santuario di San Michele Arcangelo.

The historical sanctuary has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it still is the destination of numerous pilgrimages. It is said that the village was built after the archangel Michael appeared in a cave and began talking with the Longobards, people who had settled in the Gargano.

Near the sanctuary is also the Monte Sant’Angelo Castle. It’s also known as Castello Normanno Svevo Aragonese and was built to protect the village and its cherished sanctuary. For just a couple of Euros, you can walk through the castle grounds and for a few minutes feel as if you’ve transported yourself back over 1000 years.

In addition to visiting the sanctuary, and the castle if you have the time, stroll through the charming old town, specifically the historic Junno district, with its winding lanes and white houses. And be sure to taste one of the typical sweets of the area: ostie ripiene. They are made of 2 circular wafers filled with almonds, honey, cinnamon, and sugar. A true local treat!

Monte Sant’Angelo also houses the Spiaggia di Punta Rossa, a place of natural beauty and tranquillity due to the fact that this beach is not widely known. The beach owes its name to the presence of reddish rocks which is even more beautiful when the sunlight hits them.

ProTip: If you’re driving to the Gargano from the south of Puglia, you’ll drive past Monte Sant’Angelo on your way to places like Vieste and Peschici. You can choose to visit on your way or make it part of your travels once you’re settled on the Gargano.

Mattinata

Baia dei Mergoli Gargano Puglia Italy

In the little coastal town of Mattinata, you will find the most beautiful beaches on the entire Gargano promontory.

Only one hour away from Vieste by car, Mattinata is located in a wonderful location: a small valley where the hills of Castelluccio and Coppa della Madonna join. The town is completely surrounded by olive, almond, and prickly pear trees, creating a wonder for the eyes (and the nose!).

In Mattinata you will have plenty of options when it comes to the beach! Some of the best beaches are Spiaggia di Mattinella, Spiaggia di Vignanotica, and Baia delle Zagare. Honestly, they are all incredibly gorgeous, it’s hard to choose just 1 to visit!

There are also several hiking and running trails that start in Mattinata. Just be sure to check trail maps for distance. Some of the trails are quite long!

Between a walk in the historic center and a refreshing and relaxing stop on one of the beaches, do not forget to grab something to eat in one of the village institutions, the Locanda del Maniscalco.

Vico del Gargano

Vico del Gargano Puglia Italy

The Gargano promontory is not only sea, and Vico del Gargano is the charming proof of that. On the hills of the Gargano rises this small town which is also part of Gargano National Park, and along with Mont Sant’Angelo, is recognized as one of Italy’s prettiest villages.

ProTip: Visiting these recognized “most beautiful” villages in any part of Italy is a great way to support tourism outside of super-popular places and guarantees you’ll experience a more local feel. I’ve loved exploring some of these places on my many trips to Italy.

Vico del Gargano is also known as “the city of love” because the town’s patron is Saint Valentine. On February 14, there is a festival where lovers meet in the Vicolo del Bacio (the “Alley of the Kiss”), a narrow street only 20 inches wide that leaves those couples who enter no choice but to “touch.” The tradition requires a kiss with the alley walls.

It’s likely you won’t visit Vico del Gargano on San Valentine’s Day, but walking through the Vicolo is part of the experience.

In the village, you can also visit a historic castle and many medieval monuments which will take you back into history. Yet, the true beauty of Vico del Gargano is to meander the historic center and enjoy feeling as if you’ve found a spot all your own.

Foresta Umbra

Foresta Umbra Gargano Puglia Italy

From Vico del Gargano you can reach Foresta Umbra, in the heart of the Gargano National Park. The name comes from the Latin word for “shaded”, just as the undergrowth of this large natural park appears. There are nearly 25,000 acres of beech trees and other greenery to explore on foot along hiking trails, while mountain biking, or on off-road vehicles.

From Rifugio Sfilzi, a restaurant and lodging point, there are trail heads that lead into the forest. Inside, besides numerous plant species, you have the chance to see various animals like the wild boar and deer.

The Umbra Forest is an incredible space of deep silence, only sometimes disrupted by the noise produced by the wild animals that inhabit it, and an absolute solitude that clashes with the vivacity of the touristy coast.

If you are a nature lover or if you want to experience the Gargano promontory from a completely different angle than from its beaches, rocky coasts, and mountains, then you need to visit the Foresta Umbra!

Tremiti Islands

Isole Tremiti San Domino Puglia Italy

While technically not on the Gargano peninsula, the Isole Tremiti are a group of tiny islands off the coast and part of Puglia. Between June and September, ferries depart from the Gargano for the Tremiti Islands from Vieste, Peschici, and Rodi Garganico.

The island archipelago is situated 12 1/2 miles off the Gargano coast. Of the group of 5 islands, San Domino and San Nicola are the main islands to visit. The other 3 islands have a protected marine reserve, as well as areas where you can snorkel and scuba dive.

The beaches, hidden coves, and views of the turquoise waters are spectacular, especially combined with the rocky and pine-covered terrain of the two main islands.

July and August are the busiest months but if you go in June or September, you’ll feel as if you’ve stumbled upon your very own island paradise!

Honorable Mentions! If you’ve made it to the Gargano, you’re already off the beaten path in Puglia, so to speak. This guide highlights the top places not to miss but if you meander there are places like Rodi Garganico and San Menaio. Both are known for their spectacular beaches, but stick around and you’ll discover citrus groves, ancient churches, and a protected lush pine forest between San Menaio and Vico del Gargano.

Experiences in the Gargano

Olive Tree Plantation Gargano Puglia Italy

If you’ve made time for Gargano travel, you have the opportunity to not only visit popular places along the promontory but also embrace the local traditions of the area. I love learning from the locals when I travel. It’s a great way to make new friends and glimpse life through their eyes.

Olive oil is synonymous with Italian cuisine. I’ve certainly enjoyed my fair share! Why not learn more about the process?

On this extra virgin olive oil experience, a local guide will drive you to his olive groves and explain the process behind growing olive trees and making olive oil. You’ll also be treated to an oil tasting, as well as taste local foods and wine.

Did someone say wine?!? One of the things I’ve loved learning while traveling extensively in Italy is about the wine. And not just the popular names like Barolo or Valpolicella. It’s the discovery of local grapes and wines that are specific to a region and/or aren’t exported out of Italy.

Visit a local vineyard to learn about the wines of the region and the wine-making process. You’ll be guided by a local winemaker who also includes tastes of local bites and a sunset walk through the vineyard.

The use of the trabucco in fishing goes back to ancient times and it is still in use today in the Gargano. This unique fishing experience allows you to learn from the fishermen who use the trabucco. Historically and culturally speaking, I think this is one of the most authentic experiences in Puglia.

The Gargano coastline is a spectacular natural paradise and the best way to see it is from the water! By doing so, you not only can appreciate the jagged rock formations but you can also discover the many grottoes (sea caves) in the area.

This grotto tour takes you along the coast and even into and through some of the area’s sea caves. You’ll also discover some secluded beaches and bays that can only be reached by boat. You can also opt for a private boat tour to explore good beaches and the variety of the landscape along the Gargano coast.

Gargano Hotels

Peschici Gargano Puglia Italy

There is no shortage of accommodation options you can choose from when it comes to overnight stays in the Gargano.

The two best towns to use as the base of your holiday in the Gargano are Vieste and Peschici, given that they offer more services, and you can pick a traghetto from their ports to go to the Tremiti Islands.

The B&B Monsignore is located in Vieste Vecchia, among its tiny streets of white houses and iron balconies. The B&B is 650 feet from the Cathedral, a 3-minute walk from the Castle, and only 10 minutes away from the Spiaggia del Pizzomunno.

Sunset Bed & Breakfast is in Peschici, just a few minutes’ walk from the beach. Rooms are spacious and air-conditioned and include free parking and free Italian breakfast. Second to none is the hospitality at this Bed & Breakfast! From welcome drinks to helping arrange activities, the host goes above and beyond to ensure you have a pleasant stay.

The coast of the Gargano is a succession of sandy beaches, lush forests, cliffs, beautiful coves, and incredible towns. The Gargano in Foggia province is without a doubt Northern Puglia’s hidden gem! Consider visiting this wonderful destination to experience the sea, its nature, and its culture as you plan an unforgettable trip to the region of Puglia!

So, what are your questions about Gargano, Italy?

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