Puglia (Apulia in English) forms the ‘heel’ of Italy’s ‘boot.’ With hundreds of kilometres of coastline, and centuries-old hill towns and farmland, Puglia offers soothing respite from the masses of tourists in the rest of southern Italy. Moreover, its special brand of arcane treasures and mysterious histories makes for unforgettable memories.
Puglia’s northernmost province, Foggia, can be divided into two areas: Tavoliere delle Puglie, and Gargano, which forms the ‘spur’ of Italy’s ‘boot,’ and which is home to a patch of the ‘Foresta umbra’ Foggia boasts breathtaking natural scenery, and a yearly influx of pilgrims…
San Giovanni Rotondo
This small town, in the heart of Gargano National Park, is a hub of religious tourism. Its walls were built by Emperor Frederick II, known as ‘Stupor Mundi’ (Wonder of the World) for his keen interest in art and science. Here, you’ll find the Sanctuary of Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, Italy’s second largest church. Padre Pio was a Capuchin friar, known for his care for the sick and mystic powers. Millions of pilgrims visit the church every year, as well as the Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, which houses the relics of Padre Pio. • Viale Padre Pio, 5, 71013 San Giovanni Rotondo, FG
Off Gargano National Park’s northern coast, in the Adriatic Sea lie the islands of San Domino, San Nicola, Capraia, Pianosa and Cretaccio. Although all but two of the islands are uninhabited, they remain a haven for scuba divers. San Nicola is home to the Abbey of Santa Maria a Mare (‘Holy Mary on the Sea’), and a trail which encircles the island, and leads to the discovery of several ancient Greek tombs. You’ll also find the remains of a Roman shipwreck from the 1st Century BC, near Punta di Ponente. You can reach the islands via boat from Vieste and Rodi Garganico.
Gargano National Park
At 120,000 hectares, the Gargano National Park could qualify as a region in and of itself. This large expanse of territory covers several protected areas, including the last remaining portion of the Foresta Umbra in Italy (which is over 1,000 years old). There are various activities on offer, including nature trails, water sports, gastronomic experiences and historical walks, all designed to uncover the area’s unforgettable flora and fauna. • Via Sant’Antonio Abate, 121, 71037 Monte Sant’Angelo, FG