Thursday, September 29, 2005

Il Gargano - Puglia

The Gargano is a grey granite mountain sticking out like a knuckle on the southeastern coast of Italy on the northern border of Puglia. It is located on directly on the coast between the major cities of Pescara and Foggia. The promontory is about 3,500 feet high with cliffs dropping directly into the water and is 65 km long and 40 km wide. In 1991 this area was declared a national park and covers 250 square km, half of which forest, and 2,000 species of vegetation.

The locals indicate that at one time the Gargano was actually connected to Tunis and as the continental plates shifted, broke off a piece that became an island, that eventually ended up attached to Italy. The eastern coast toll road runs on the western side of the mountain so to get their you either get off in Pescara and follow the coast to the northern side or go south to Foggia and follow the coast up through Manfredonia for the southern side. The roads are typical mountain roads with beautiful views, winding around the side of the mountain. They also drop straight down into deep gullies or directly into the sea so take this road VERY slowly, no more than 40km an hour.

The Gargano has four primary locations that I love to visit. On the northern side, Vieste, on the promontory Baia delle Zagare, and San Giovanni Rotondo toward the peak, and the Tremiti, small islands that stand like lighthouses just off the shore. This does not mean that there are not other fantastic places to visit, just that these are the places I would usually go to on vacation.

Actually the Gargano is very well known because of Padre Pio, sanctified in 1999, and the hospitals and hospices that carry his name. Every year millions of pilgrims make the trip to San Giovanni Rotondo.

The food is great. Most everything has something to do with fish and the local pasta is orecchiette, little ears, and most families and many restaurants still make them by hand. A typical dinner in this area means several hours and if you happen at lunch on Sunday you can find yourself still at the table when dinner starts being served. Fried in a light batter or breadcrumbs is primarily the way most food will be prepared. So go slow, take your time and enjoy the numerous varieties of fresh vegetables as antipasti, a small plate of the local pasta with fresh tomatoes slightly heated with small pieces of smoked pancietta, followed by some savory fish caught that morning, and before coffee some smoked scamorza cheese. By the way, in Puglia, coffee is sweetened when prepared and it is very sweet. If you can still remain upright after this smorgasbord, the deserts are incredible, their presentation immediately let’s you know this is not something you want to miss.

Local wines are very fruity and usually have a higher grade of alcohol. This is due to the extreme summer heat that drives up the sugar content in the grapes. Be careful, you can easily go overboard on the wine while eating dinner. I usually like to have a glass of mineral water to sip on every once in a while.


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