Posts Tagged With: vacation

The Great Puglia Road Trip Part 1: Investigating the coast around Pescoluse

 

Buonasera!

I am thrilled to report I had an amazing holiday in Puglia – it has to be one of my favourite holidays. On the Monday I picked up my friend from the airport in Ancona and we headed seven and a half hours south towards Leuca, the very bottom of the boot of Italy’s heel in the beautiful region of Puglia. Puglia has been on my Bucket List for ages and we only had six nights to fit in everything I wanted to do. Truth be told, it was more of a frog march than a vacation but I did schedule in some relaxation time so that’s ok I think? Anyway, I liked our little trip so much I’m going to write it as an itinerary for anyone wishing to do a similar thing. We camped, which is not as popular in Italy as in the UK, but we stayed in some lovely campsites

Puglia has a completely different feel to it than the Italy I’ve come to know. The landscape is full of ancient olive trees, cacti and bright flowers growing out of red earth. It’s completely unlike my very hilly, mountainous green part just a few hours further north.

I won’t count the day spent driving down so the guide starts thusly…

Day 1: Explore the coast around Pescoluse

Stay in a campsite called Grotta Pescoluse. It’s a nice little campsite set a kilometer or so from the beach. You can camp among the trees and there’s a large swimming pool and bar/restaurant area which we didn’t get time to make use of. You can walk down to the beach in half an hour or so (the walk back is a bit more tiring because it’s uphill).

Tip: Beware of the ants. There are many of them. Some campers sprinkled talcum powder around their pitches because ants don’t cross lines of talc!  And always have toilet paper and soap. For some reason in Italy, they don’t feel like they can stretch to providing toilet paper or soap in any of the facilities. Though in this campsite, they did provide a suspicious looking hose attached to the toilet (some sort of personal irrigation system?)

Drive up the coast to Porto Trecase. Trecase is beautiful and has an interesting history.  Puglia has quite a rocky coastline. The water is so crystal clear that you can see down to the seabed. Trecase has a little beach. Follow the coast around to see some kind of old fortification and then you’ll see puddles of salt where the sea water has dried. The sea seems to be very salty in Puglia – it seems quite difficult to sink (which is great until you want to dive down with your snorkel!) Anyway, I recommend a dip here before heading to the next ‘cool’ swimming location.

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This was the view walking down to the little beach from where we parked the car.

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The beach.

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Looking back at the beach.

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They had this odd little fort type structure – this one looked like it might have had guys inside with guns (bows and arrows?!)  back in the day.

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And lots of salty puddles.

Snorkel at Grotto Verde.  I think this has to be one of my all time favourite places in the world. I was actually searching for another coastline grotto (cave) but we couldn’t find it, and because we were melting  in the heat, and had seen a bunch of people in swimming costumes hanging around a little rocky outcrop we decided to have a swimming break. Grotto Verde just looks like a bit of a sheltered little rocky bay. However, when you get into the water you’ll see that you can swim into the cave – it’s dark but you can just make out a gap on the right hand side where there’s a narrow passage that takes you into another cave. This next cave is AMAZING! At first we thought it had been artificially lit from underneath, in fact on further inspection with a snorkel, the light is coming from a couple of feet under the surface – an underwater link to the outside. Have a look at the link above and check out the photos on Trip Advisor!

Tip: Get a snorkel to enable you to see the submerged rocks and avoid nasty scrapes, and besides it’s so pretty under water, it’s like another world. I also suspect you can swim from the “lit” cave to the outside. However, much to my annoyance I chickened out – it was a bit difficult to tell how long the underwater tunnel was (2 metres?) and besides, I kept floating making any underwater swimming a challenge!

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Drive along the coast to Otranto… stop often to take photos. These are some of the photos I took on the way.

Have lunch and explore Otranto. Otranto is a lovely little village on the coast, complete with castle. Puglia seems relatively well fortified with a number of “torre” (towers) overlooking the coastline. To be honest, I would probably have invaded Puglia too, it’s just so pretty! In Otranto they do Ape tours (pronounced Ah-pay, it’s the Italian word for bee). Apes are cute little three wheeled motorised buzzy things. In my opinion the tours were expensive so we didn’t do it but you probably get to see lots.

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This dog seemed to be having a great time

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One of the large piazzas by the sea.

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Overlooking the port.

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The Car & Castle. I think that would be a good pub name.

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And the castle again. They are showing the Steve McCurry “Icons” exhibition there at the moment which I highly recommend (but I’d already seen it in Forli earlier in the year).

Tip: Go inside the church in Otranto and marvel at the really weird and epic mosaic on the floor. I particularly like the deer with a human face sprouting some sort of vegetable from his mouth.

Head further up the coast to Roca Vecchia and the Grotto della Poesia. There are no signs to it so best of luck trying to find it. Basically go up the coast until you see lots of people walking along the side of the road and stop there and follow them! Roca Vecchia is an archaeological site with old stone buildings from the bronze age. You can just about make out the ruins without going into the confines of the site (which was closed of course!).

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Grotto della Poesia is a couple of hundred meters south of Roca Vecchia. It’s another cave which you enter by jumping into about 3 meters or so of water (or walking down to it from the side – but that’s boring, eh?!). The only problem here was the audience! It certainly means you can’t faff around at the top debating your jump because there’s a queue behind you and dozens of people watching! It was quite exhilarating though and it gave me a buzz for the rest of the day 🙂

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This was the jump and accompanying audience!!!

Tip: Don’t park your car at the side of the road where everyone else is parking their car. It’s a trap – you’ll get a fine!

Go back to the campsite in an exhausted heap and then walk to the beach with everything you need for a BBQ and a night swim!

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Here the beach is sandy and the water is warm. It’s like just walking into a warm bath! It’s just lovely!!!!

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So that was all in Day 1. If you have more time, you might want to space it out a little and spend a bit more time in each location!

Tune in for the next post covering off Day 2 and 3 in Monopoli, Lecce, Torre Guaceto, Alberobello and Matera.

x

 

 

 

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Part 1: Getting the beautiful air in Bellaria Igea Marina…

Buongiorno a tutti!

I had a wonderful few days in Bellaria Igea Marina on the Blog Tour last week. I don’t think I’ve ever had such a packed schedule. I stayed in the lovely “San Salvador Hotel”, a 3 star hotel just a minute’s walk from the beach.  The tour included tours of Rimini and Santarcangelo di Romagna, not to mention Bellaria Igea Marina itself. We had cooking lessons, we tried our hand at paddle-boarding, we harvested some vegetables (well, mainly flowers in fact!), we cycled and we danced… All in all, it was a busy week.  So as not to overload you with photos and blurb, I’ll split it into parts!

Firstly, the disclaimer: I do love Blog Tours – they’re like little all-expenses paid holidays where you’re fed and entertained for the duration. Their purpose is to promote the area. However, I’m not obliged by any means to write a good review. That being said, I do really like Bellaria Igea Marina and I think it’s definitely a worthwhile holiday destination. Yet, for us English folk and in fact, probably for many other nationalities, Italy as a beach destination offers a very different kind of holiday to that which we’re used to. Indeed, sadly, there aren’t many English people that visit. With that in mind, I don’t feel like I can properly sell the merits of Bellaria Igea Marina without explaining a bit about the Italian beach culture first.

Why choose Italy as a beach destination in the first place?

We English folk do like our beach destinations. What could be more relaxing that lying back in a little cove or bay, with golden sand and nothing and nobody around for miles? Bliss! The reality of course is that unless you fit within some very specific age ranges (or you’re me), there’s inevitably children or old people in tow that require 24/7 entertainment and relentless toilet trips. Nobody takes a beach umbrella on holiday (hardly worth buying one anyway in the UK is it?) so the true Brit will burn to a crisp within the first hour and spend the rest of the holiday bright red and in pain. There will always be an annoying and stubborn pebbly lump under our towels and if it’s a sandy beach; you, your towel and all your belongings will be covered in the stuff within a couple of minutes.

Italians love beaches too but they do them completely differently. On the face of it, they seem to ruin their beaches by piling them with back to back umbrellas and sunbeds. There are bars every couple of meters, volleyball courts, boules, ping pong tables and pop up market stalls on the beach selling everything from towels and sarongs to sunglasses. There are people that take your children away and entertain them (not in a sinister way I should add!). There are even people that take your bikini clad older people away and make them do “aerobics” (I use the term loosely –uncoordinated joint jiggling? Sadly I was unable to obtain photographic evidence without being obvious. You’ll just have to use your imaginations).

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One of the market stalls looking like it might get rained on soon. It was a wet few days on the whole so my photos all look a bit moody!

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On the right is what I think must be “boules”. This is where the elders seem to hang out!

Italy have commercialised their beaches like nowhere else I’ve ever been to. But the thing is, they’ve made it much more relaxing as a result! It takes a while to get used to and in fact, I was scathing for a long time until I realised that actually, it’s nice to spend time at the beach and drink water without fear of not finding a toilet later. It’s nice to be able to buy something to eat or drink. Or relax on a sunbed and not be burnt to a crisp or covered from head to toe with sand within two seconds of applying sun lotion. Or buy sunglasses because I’ve left mine at home. Women of all ages and shapes parade up and down the beach-front in their bikinis and men do the same in minuscule “slips” (“budgie-smugglers” for the rest of us) and nobody cares! To be honest, I think Italy is a worthwhile holiday destination for that alone! It’s a very liberating experience.  Visiting Italian beaches should be used in therapy. Deep seated paranoia about cellulite or batwings just falls away when you’re just one of a million other people who just seem to be content with what they’ve got, whether that be a “beach body” or a stomach that flops over your knees. In fact, covering up just draws more attention to yourself – you’re sort of forced into being body-confident.

Italians often visit the same “bagno” or “stabilimento” (little patch of sunbeds) every year for a life time. Their parents went, their children will go, and their children’s children will go. It’s a family tradition that seems to be passed down from generations and it brings not only the family together but all the people you’ve grown up with who have the same tradition. If I visit the same place more than once, I feel very guilty – I don’t want to miss out on the rest of the world but actually, what the Italians are gaining by having this tradition and culture is much more important in my opinion: friendship and family, and having a lot of fun whilst they’re at it.

And why come to Bellaria Igea Marina?

For a start, the clue is in the name – Bellaria means Beautiful Air! The beach is golden, sandy and clean. In fact, in the morning someone rakes the beach to clear it of debris. Rock barriers stretch along the coast a few dozen meters from the beach to protect it from large waves. The water is shallow for a long way out making it ideal for children. When I arrived on Wednesday morning it was brilliant sunshine and the water was almost at the temperature I might have a bath!

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See the rock barriers… it’s shallow pretty much all the way out!

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They put a lot of effort into their beach cleaning. Someone comes each morning to rake debris into piles and then this tractor and lorry combo come along to pick it up!

There are plenty of “bagni” to take advantage of – for a few euros you can take advantage of the sunbeds, umbrellas, toilets etc. Here are some photos of the beach…

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The advantage of such a busy beach is that there are lots of well-equipped lifeguards!

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Two ladies having a morning stroll along the beach front. Later on, the beach front becomes a positive super highway of people doing the same!

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As you can see, the beach is well used!

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And taken from the other side.

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This is what I think of as party pier! Boat trips go from the end of it. When I arrived they were on a loud speaker and sounding like they were having a great time!

For anyone liking seafood, Bellaria is THE place to come to for clam hunting. In the morning, the sea is filled with people wandering around knee deep searching for them.

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One clam picker

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This photo is admittedly not a fair representation of the sea being “filled” with clam collectors but I speak the truth, honestly!

And still on the beach theme, you can rent pedalos, canoes and my new personal favourite, paddleboards! They call it SUP here, pronounced “soup”  (apparently it’s an acronym of Stand Up Paddle). Paddleboarding is amazing fun – it was part of the tour so we all gave it a go. I’ve always considered it a sort of surfing for wimps. You have what looks like massive surfboard, and then you stand up on it and paddle your way out using a long oar like you’re a gondolier. It seemed a very ineffective and unstable means of transport and lacks the excitement of catching a wave like in surfing… Oh how wrong I was! It was hilarious! Trying to stand up on this thing is nigh on impossible. You have to make constant little adjustments to your balance in order to remain above water and it uses EVERY muscle! So, it’s actually an amazing workout and I can imagine it must be relaxing when you’ve mastered it and  you’re not in constant peril of falling in.

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Here’s one of our member having a go with Fabio, our instructor, providing moral support.

Bellaria Igea Marina is flat and with large tree-lined roads, it makes for ideal cycling. In fact, everyone seems to cycle everywhere! Our hotel, the San Salvador Hotel, offered the use of bikes and our first afternoon consisted of a cycle tour of the area.

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This was my bike. I loved it! THIS is how bikes should be. Baskets, a saddle bag area, comfortable sitting position, no complicated gear changing (there weren’t any to change!!!).  Alas, it’s a bit difficult to go up hills!

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Lovely tree lined streets pave the way for cycling.

One of our first stops was the La Torre Saracena, one of six towers built in the 17th century to defend the town from pirates and other ‘baddies’. Only two towers exist these days and one is now a private residence so it’s good this one is kept open to the public. Now it’s home to “Il Museo delle Conchiglie”, a shell museum where you can see shells from around the world.

Our next stop was “La Casa Rossa di Alfredo Panzini” (The Red House of Alfredo Panzini). Alfredo was a writer, born in 1863 and who died in 1939. He’s well-known in Italy, although I admit, I hadn’t heard of him before. He was a keen cyclist and once cycled from Milan to Bellaria (well over 300km), meeting people, stopping here and there and writing about his experiences. He bought the Red House in 1909 with his wife, Clelia Gabrielli who was an artist (all the paintings in the house are hers). The house has now been turned into a museum. You can see where Alfredo used to write, his desk, his bike, some of his notes and lots of photos.

On a less cultural note there are some good shopping streets selling all manner of things and wandering around makes for a pleasant evening stroll.

Just a few minutes walk from the hotel is Gelso Park which is a large green park with a lake, playgrounds, a dinosaur area (seriously) and large trees that grow blackberries (in fact, that’s where the park gets its name – Gelso is the name of the blackberry tree).

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These are some of my fellow bloggers taking a blackberry break! You might just be able to see one of our members up the tree.

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Beautiful lake at the park.

The area was affected quite heavily by the war – or at least Rimini was. Our 14 year old Bellaria Igea Marina enthusiast cycle guide showed us one of the last remaining reminders of the war – a bomb shelter hidden behind a fence and sunken into the sand.

So that’s Bellaria Igea Marina itself. The San Salvador Hotel provide a good description if you want to read it here. What makes it such a good location though in my opinion is its proximity to some of my other favourite places (click the links to check out my blog posts about them): San Marino, San Leo, Gradara, Forli, Urbino, Pennabilli to name just a few and then of course there’s Rimini and Santarcangelo di Romagna which I’ll tell you about in the next post.

Stay tuned!

x

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Part 2: Exploring the local area: Rimini and Santarcangelo di Romagna

Buongiorno a tutti,

As promised, here’s the second part of my latest Bellaria Igea Marina Blog Tour Trilogy. (When it’s made into a film I imagine it will be split into 4 films and I will be played by Angelina Jolie). If you haven’t seen Part 1 yet, have a look here.

Santarcangelo di Romagna

Our first out-of-Bellaria Igea Marina visit was to Santarcangelo di Romagna, just a few minutes drive from the hotel. It’s a very pretty town. In fact, they had only just had their “Balconi Fioriti” festa (Balconies in Flower) and all the balconies and houses had blossoms of all shapes and sizes outside. The cobbled streets reminded me of old villages back in the UK.

One balcony did make me laugh though…

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This would be like my attempt at producing a balcony flower display. I did find it strangely pretty though and definitely eye-catching from my perspective at least! I am slightly concerned for the owner’s welfare though. I hope it’s just a case of being a terrible gardener.

Our tour guide showed us around the town, taking us past the Tonino Guerra Museum. Tonino Guerra was a well-known writer, poet and screenwriter born in 1920 and died only recently in 2012. His work often featured butterflies as when he was held prisoner during the war, out of hunger he was forced to eat them. Afterwards they held a special significance to him, realising he no longer had to eat them made him happy.

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A mosaic fountain outside the Tonino Guerra museum. See the butterflies?

Just before the Tonino Guerra museum is the Button Museum. Yes, that’s right, buttons! There’s over 8500 of them in there! Sadly, we didn’t have time to visit.

In the main piazza, Piazza Ganganelli, there’s an archway called ‘l’Arco Trionfale’ or also ‘L’Arco Ganganelli‘. Legend has it that if you walk under the archway, the horns on the arch will move if someone has cheated on you. Ha!

Santarcangelo also has a sprawling man made cave network underneath it. The caves have been used for multiple purposes over the years. Nowadays many have been sectioned into private areas enabling the inhabitants living above to have more space: a sort of underground extension. They were also used as a bomb shelter during the war but their more long standing use seems to have been as a wine storage area as the temperature stays a pretty consistent 12 or 13 degrees. There are some curious parts in the cave system – for example, you’ll see in one of the photos below that some niches have been carved out of the rock. Experts have debated the purpose of the niched room – I think my favourite was a sort of meeting room where each person has their own niche (the explanation was more elaborate than that but that’s the gist!). Back when I used to have a proper job, I’d have enjoyed meetings a lot more if I could have had my own niche.

 

Cantina Tour

After Santarcangelo, we went to visit Collina Dei Poeti, an agriturismo (sort of B&B set in an agricultural setting of some sort) and cantina (wine producer in this instance!) set in some lovely countryside that produces Sangiovese wine, a wine typical of the Emilia-Romagna region. We were given a tour of the estate,  showed the vineyards, olive groves and a couple of rows of Gelso trees (you might remember from the last post that they produce a sort of blackberry). After the tour, we had an opportunity to taste the wine. Now, this is where it’s very noticeable going on a wine tour with Italians. I’m generalising here of course but, Italians are just awful drinkers despite their passion for wine. For example, the guide opened up a bottle of their fizzy Sangiovese wine – shared between 9 of us, the bottle remained half full and  people were questioning their ability to cope with a second, let alone a third glass. IMAGINE! Still, it was good wine and it was complimented with some of their own olive oil doused bread and some other aperitivo style treats. All in all, it was a lovely finish the day, even if I did feel like a raving alcoholic by the end of it!

Rimini

Our final trip was to Rimini. I’ve been to Rimini before and liked it a lot. This time though, we had a tour guide that gave us some insights. Rimini was heavily bombed during the war and many buildings needed to be reconstructed. In fact, some were never rebuilt and remain as ruins as reminders of what happened.

I hadn’t noticed the graffiti in Rimini last time I was there but it really is very good – in fact, calling it graffiti seems to be a bit disrespectful! Have a look at the photos below. I love the old lady in the smoke and if you click on the image of what seems to be an old stone relic next to the water, you might be able to see that it’s just painted like that and it’s not made of antique stone!

Rimini has some fascinating roman relics. In Piazza Ferrari lie the uncovered remains of “The Surgeon’s House“. They know a surgeon lived there because of the tools uncovered that are remarkably similar to the ones still used in the operating theatre today. Mosaics cover the floor. They dug down a couple of meters to discover these relics. It’s amazing to think that under Rimini there could be a lot more. It also struck me how similar it was to our own roman ruins – in fact, I remember visiting a very similar example in Fishbourne Roman Palace in Sussex years ago. The thought that at one point, our nations were so similar and inhabited by the same people, but are now so entirely different is quite mind boggling I think! I live so much in the present that it’s a struggle to imagine this surgeon going about his business in the 2nd century AD. They even know which room he used to meet clients in.

We also explored the “Tempio Malatestiano” which was commissioned by Sigismondo Pandolfo Malatesta around 1450.  The Malatesta Family (known as the House of Malatesta were an Italian family that ruled over Rimini from 1295 until 1500, as well as (in different periods) other lands and towns in Romagna. Sigismondo (what a great name) became Lord of Rimini at the age of 15 and the family has quite the story of deceit and  corruption (like all politicians then!!). The Tempio Malatestiano was originally known as San Francesco, a gothic church but Sigismondo decided it would make a nice personal mausoleum for him, his lover and later his wife. So he organised a sort of extreme makeover style regeneration and the external walls were covered by thick marble carved with Malatestian symbology. It certainly is a very grand church. You can see in the photo below the external marble arches that were built to cover the original stone windows. There’s some very elaborate stonework inside too. I was struck by a creepy looking cherub, photo evidence below. I can’t ever work out if they’re forces for good or evil! And finally, I took a picture of the inside of the church and I was surprised to see the rather ghostly looking white figure in it. I’m sure she wasn’t there when I took the picture… !

Walking around Rimini, our excellent tour guide gave us a very detailed and interesting account of the buildings and history of the city.   The lady with the bike in the photo below is riding through what used to be a fish market. The religious looking chap in the statue below is in Piazza Cavour and is of San Gaudenzo, the patron saint of the city… or is it? No, apparently it’s actually Pope Paul V but the dedication was changed when the anti-papal Napoleonic troops invaded with the hope they wouldn’t destroy (it worked). The arch there has been in the wars, literally. The top part needed to be reconstructed after the bombing and it looks a bit worse for wear these days. There used to be a bronze statue on top which has never been seen or heard of since it’s disappearance (I’m not entirely sure how they know there was one – there’s nothing in the books and no photographic evidence! Perhaps my house used to have a bronze statue on too). The bridge, has seen it’s fair share of history as well, once spanning across a river which has now been diverted. All in all, far from what many people regard as just a seaside resort, there’s actually a lot of history within Rimini’s town center and it’s well worth a visit.

I think that largely sums up the visits… Please tune in for Part 3: Fried Sage at the San Salvador Hotel.

x

 

 

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Whirlwind solo tour of the Gargano National Park…

Buongiorno!

I’ve been on holiday!!! It’s been ages since I went on holiday. If I’m not in Sarnano, then I’m in the UK and nice as that is, it doesn’t feel being on vacation. Anyway, this blog is dedicated to my trip. I apologise in advance for any rambling and the hundreds of photos but I was on my own and I feel the need to share!

I have two main ‘go-to ‘inspirational people that motivate me in different ways: Margaret Thatcher, who was said to have only had 4 hours of sleep a night and managed to run the country. And my most recent one is Pane Caldo who, after work, drove almost 3 hours on his own to watch his football team lose, and then 3 hours back mid week. For me, if a drive is more than an hour, I rule it out. It never occurred to me to just not care! So, with that in mind, I waited for a gap in the rain and I drove 5 hours down to the National Park of Gargano (Puglia), the spur of Italy’s boot and somewhere I had wanted to go for ages.

Puglia is like another country! All the fields are golden and dotted with lots of olive trees. There are goats wandering up winding country roads. The hills are terraced with old dry stone walls that must have taken years to do. There are pretty ‘Mediterranean-looking’ flowers. It has a completely different feel to it than where I am in Le Marche.

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Pretty pale pink and dark pink flowers…

I stayed in the Forte Hotel in Vieste. It’s nice and good value (though be aware that the “do not disturb” sign does not work it turns out). The surrounding area however, is an odd mix of other nice hotels, building sites, rubbish and a donkey. (I was considering mounting a donkey releasing campaign but I didn’t think I could hide him in my hotel room and he doesn’t fit in the car, so I settled with singing “Little Donkey” to him when I went past). So the immediate surrounding area around the hotel doesn’t look that impressive. There is a golden sandy beach but, seeing as though it was quite windy, a lot of the sand had spilled onto the pavements leaving not so enticing heavier rubbish behind on the actual beach.  I think it’ll perk up considerably in the summer though (the Italian Summer is strictly between 1st July and 31st August).

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View from my hotel room terrace

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The room

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The beach

The main town area of Vieste is nice. Everything is white with marble pavements (be prepared to slide across large sections if you have no grip on your shoes/flipflops. When it rains I imagine one could aquaplane their way down from one end of Vieste to the other without ever lifting a foot). My favourite part was the old town up on the hill. It’s full of winding cute little paths and places to eat. There’s a castle at the top which seems to be a military zone so you can’t go in but it has some spectacular viewpoints around it. There’s also a pretty church on the hill and a cathedral at the bottom of it.

Weird fishing thing

This is a weird fish collecting contraption – there’s quite a few around the coast – I assume they’re not used anymore.

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The south side of Vieste

Vieste Lighthouse

Taken from a nice little seafront piazza

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The Cathedral

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Cathedral and coastline

Vieste Viewpoint

Huh! I’ve just realised where this was taken. The weird thing about Vieste in the old town, is that you go for a walk in a straight line and end up where you started! Anyway, this is the view from the opposite side of one of the previous photo.

Vieste Cathedral

No matter where I go in the world, the main monuments have scaffolding! But I kept this one in because I thought it looked pretty with the blue and the sunlit bricks

Sunset

Across the harbour at sunset

From Vieste you can go on boat trips to the Isole Tremite (3 islands nearby known for their lovely blue waters. Mussolini put his political prisoners there. Not a bad place to be held prisoner really) and the Grotte Marine (there are a number of caves in the cliffs around Vieste).  If you wander around Vieste there are lots of tour companies offering these boat trips. I decided to ask one guy in a little rundown shack advertising the trips, my theory being that his company wasn’t having to subsidise a fancy shop so he might offer a better deal. My theory didn’t hold. The costs seemed to be largely similar. Anyway I turned up at 8am the following morning at the shack as agreed but nobody was there so I resolved to go to one of the other companies dotted around the port. I walked along the port and didn’t see any tourists; just a bunch of weathered looking men leering at me as I went past. As freeing and liberating as it should be to go on holiday by yourself, the idea of going on an all day boat trip with either one leery man or several didn’t appeal. I’ll just have to go again with reinforcements another time.

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This is the port where you would take the boat to the Tremite if you were going!

My Plan B was a drive to the Foresta Umbra (the Shadowy Forest). On reflection if I was after a safer alternative to the potential all-creepy-man boat trip, this wasn’t really it. It took a while to find, mainly because if you look online, there is no “address” for the forest; it just sprawls across several comune’s which isn’t really helpful when you’re trying to find it using GPS. The forest in fact, is reasonably well sign posted although as usual, there were several T-junctions signs missing  and inevitably I would always take the wrong turn. However, if you take a direct route it takes 30 minutes from Vieste and the open olive fields suddenly turn into leafy old forest.

It’s a beautiful road that takes you through the forest – albeit epileptic fit inducing with the sunlight flickering through the trees.   The forest itself is stunning and appeared to be very well maintained. I’ve never seen such lovely open paths. When I go for a walk in my local woods, I have to use my imagination to work out what is a path or not and at the end of it, I usually end up having to crawl through undergrowth to get out. It’s not like that here. Every few meters there was a picnic spot with several tables, chairs, parking spots and often a walking trail. Absolutely lovely.

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Look at the nice wide path with a lovely big sign!!!

Laghetto Foresta Umbra

This is the laghetto – little lake.

However, after my friend and I had a scary encounter with a nutcase in a very similar forest years ago, my forest risk radar is heightened so I didn’t venture in too much. I did however find what seemed to be a well-trodden little walk around the “laghetto”– a cute little lake full to the brim with tadpoles (presumably frogs if anyone goes later in the year). Conscious of not wanting to be entirely on my own, I latched onto a nice looking couple that were going for their own walk around the lake keeping a healthy distance between us so as not to appear suspicious. Alas, I don’t believe I succeeded in being suspicion free. They kept stopping, presumably wanting me to pass but I would feign interest in my phone and stop too for the same amount of time. I wonder if in years to come they’ll write blogs about the Stalker Woman of the Foresta Umbra.

Then, deciding towns and cities were probably the way forward, I went to Monte Sant’Angelo. I’m not fussed about that place. I felt like the locals were trying to do ‘the hard sell’ – parking was expensive and didn’t really seem that official, and people came up asking me to go to their restaurants. I was actually hungry so found a little trattoria run by a man with a dark brown toupee with his white hair in what I thought was a very courageous non-blend style.  I had orecchiette (little ear shaped pasta) and tomato sauce. Meh – it was alright. There wasn’t much else to the place – there was a nice castle (which was closed) and lots of tourist shops but otherwise, it just felt a bit derelict and unloved. I do feel sorry for it though – there are no local businesses and tourism is all they have so no wonder they try and make as much out of the tourists as they can.

Monte Sant'Angelo

The castle at Monte Sant’Angelo

But they had nice bread! It’s like I said earlier, Puglia is like another country! When I was making my first sourdough loaves a while back, they came out like hard flat disks but they actually sell that here as a sort of regional speciality. I’ve been missing a trick!

Bread

My first bread attempts looked like this! It’s very difficult to get sourdough to stay in a recognisable shape so it squidges out and this is what you get. I hadn’t realised that was a valid bread form!

From Monte Sant’Angelo, I took the coastal road back to Vieste. It took ages to get back to the hotel because I kept stopping to take photos! It has a very pretty coastline with unbelievably blue sea and with the ginestre (“gorse” in English – I think we should adopt the nicer sounding Italian word) out and some other pretty purple flowers, it really did look spectacular.

Road to Vieste

Beautiful coastline

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I know there’ll be a scientific explanation for this but it’s very odd to have such a perfect hole in a massive rock!

So all in all, it was lovely to visit a completely new region and a couple of nights was probably about right for me. It’s a shame I missed the boat ride but ultimately I got to see much more of the local region so I’m pleased with that. Definitely worth a visit if you ever have time to go 🙂

I think that’s about it on the holiday front. I hope you’re all having good weekends.

Ciao!

x

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