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Guide to Gargano’s Beaches

The Wild Spur of Italy

“If you have time, a word of advice: the Tremiti islands are a paradise, especially if you venture there by boat.”

That Salento is amazing is well known by now: for years the “heel of Italy” has become the destination of wild summer pilgrimages for its nightlife, food and Caribbeanesque Sea.

But not to be forgotten is also the “spur of Italy”: the mysterious Gargano in the far east of Puglia, reachable only by crossing a forest with an evocative name, the Foresta Umbra (“umbra”, which literally translates to shadow, refers here not to the region of Umbria, but to the dark, dense vegetation).

Once you have passed the forest initiation and endured the several kilometers of sharp turns, you will find yourself in a world of blue and white–the Gargano coast, which starts in Manfredonia and ends more or less in Lesina Marina, near the Lesina and Varano lagoons. One hundred and forty kilometers of rugged, wild coastline, dotted with sea caves and trabucchi (ancient fishing machines typical of the Abruzzo, Gargano and Molise coasts) and enriched by those half-unknown gems, the Tremiti Islands

But which are the most beautiful beaches in Gargano? For local Puglians like myself, these were the destinations of the best summers in the 1990s (and today too, of course).

So follow my tips for a trip along the coast, starting from Manfredonia: the Punta Rossa beach, near Mattinata, is a small basin surrounded by an olive-topped cliff. The sea’s blue color could make Sardinia envious. Very well known by the locals, the beach has no lidos or accommodation facilities except for the car park: just white sand and some rocks from which to dive and where sea urchins and crabs abound.

Right in Mattinata, we then find the beloved Piana Beach (the scene of some of my fondest childhood memories), full of smooth, white pebbles and clear, always clean water. There are typical little restaurants near the drop-off point. I recommend you bring rubber shoes, because the pebbles can become boiling hot.

Continuing along the coast we come across the splendid Baia delle Zagare, in front of which two rock stacks appear (Vieste also has one of its own. As you can see, they are not the just prerogative of the more famous Capri). This beach is one of the most beautiful places in Puglia with its bright turquoise sea and milk-white cliffs. As an all-Gargano “trademark”, almost all the cliffs are covered by trees, forests, olives and the typical Mediterranean bush. This bay in particular is full of Aleppo pines, orange blossoms (zagare flowers) and citrus flowers. The area, which boasts some of the clearest waters I have ever seen in my life, is also full of boutique hotels, elegant B&Bs and accommodation facilities such as lidos and restaurants.

Past Cala dei Morti and Baia del Leone (two more beaches you can visit), we arrive at my favorite: Vignanotica. Do you remember the first Wonder Woman movie? The scene where the heroine dives off a cliff, ready to save the world? Well, that cliff is indeed the vertical wall of Vignanotica. It’s a wide, rough and wild beach, all sand and white pebbles, behind which a white limestone cliff rises straight and mighty, blinding when the sun hits it (i.e. all day long). The spot is very romantic with a clear sea (it goes without saying) and is one of the most popular with locals and tourists alike for its authentic soul. Before June, it is completely deserted; in peak season, there are equipped lidos and a very good little restaurant.

We then reach the far east of the Gargano. Pugnochiuso, another wonderful destination, is rich in caves and sheer cliffs: Cala della Pergola, Portopiatto and Portogreco, small inlets and basins, are highly recommended to be discovered by boat or, for the more adventurous, by kayak.

Just before Vieste, stop to admire the Arco di San Felice, a natural arch set in a green bay at the foot of which lies a tiny beach about a 100 meters long with a shallow, sandy seabed. In this area, on the highest cliffs, you can see the towers and watchtowers that date back to the 1500–built by the viceroy Pedro De Ribera because of the incursions of Saracen pirates and Turks.

From Vieste onwards, the beaches lose their pebbles and gravel, and become fine stretches of golden sand: witness Punta delle Sirene with its spacious expanse; Spiaggia dei Colombi, protected by a large grotto where bathers take shelter from the hottest sun; and all the beaches that converge from Vieste towards Peschici, such as one of my favorites, the Sfinalicchio Beach in the Baia dello Sfinale, protected from above by an abandoned tower from which people dive into the sea.

If you love very long beaches, shallow waters and golden sand, you will have no trouble finding one that suits you between the Calalunga Beach and Peschici as well as further west. We are now at the northern end of the Gargano, a point from which we find the lakes of Lesina and Varano behind us and the Tremiti Islands in front of us. If you have time, a word of advice: the Tremiti islands are a paradise, especially if you venture there by boat.

Whichever of the beaches you choose, arm yourself with patience because these are coves, indentations and bays that are not easy to reach, but precisely because they are still authentic and wild. The blue and emerald sea has nothing to envy of Salento. You will just find less crowds and fewer services, which in my opinion, is not a demerit, but a merit.

The wild Gargano may seem like, to the most inattentive, an isolated place, too “rough”, but the wide spaces and the immersion in raw nature, little touched by mass tourism and the architectural scarring of man, make it an ideal place for adventurers and lovers of tranquility. Like any genuine place, you need to have a little patience and indulge in the taste of adventure. Then get lost among the olive trees and the Cerri (typical trees of the deepest Gargano); discover new caves, deserted coves and villages perched on cliffs; and let yourself be welcomed by a sea that will leave a deep mark inside you and that you will not easily forget.

“My Gargano, I cannot sleep!
I think about this spread of beautiful stars
and they all seem to me
made of a ship full of poor emigrants like me…
Joseph Tusiani, “The Letter Never Sent”.

Poet originally from San Marco in Lamis (FG),
emigrated to the United States,
known as the “poet of two worlds”

Punta Rossa beach

Piana Beach

Baia delle Zagare

Vignanotica

Pugnochiuso

Cala della Pergola

Portopiatto

Portogreco

Arco di San Felice

Punta delle Sirene

Spiaggia dei Colombi

Sfinalicchio Beach

Calalunga Beach

Peschici

Cala dei Morti

Baia del Leone