It was the ideal place for a walk. Cool and shady, the path stretching invitingly into the distance. And birds calling to us from every tree.
The Umbra Forest
The Gargano National Park covers the whole of the Gargano Peninsula, including the coastal wetlands, but it is dominated by the Umbra Forest, a mixed forest with some ancient trees. It is a hilly landscape, full of valleys and caves, providing homes for a variety of animals and birds. When we visited in May the ground was carpeted with flowers; in autumn it must be the perfect breeding ground for all kinds of fungus.
The path winds down through the forest
At this time of year the park was full of spring flowers
But for many visitors the main attraction is the miles of walking tracks through the forest. The trails wind down and around the slopes. They look old but they were in fact created for leisure use by the park authorities.
A Walk in the Gargano National Park
We parked near the Rifugio Sfilzi. In ancient times the park refuges were places where shepherds and other travellers could find food and shelter as they passed through the park. Sfilzi still serves this function today (although there may not be so many shepherds now), but it also advertises the sale of local produce including olive oil and preserves.
Setting off down the track, we were alone apart from the birds (which we could hear but not see) and several butterflies flitting between the abundant spring flowers. Eventually we passed a lone cyclist pedalling up the hill; he must have been grateful for the shade!
We could hear that the trees were full of birds, but they kept out of sight
This cyclist must have been glad of the shade when pedalling uphill!
We saw a few more cyclists and a couple of walkers but most of the time we had the park to ourselves. We sat on an old bridge to eat our picnic and to soak up the peace and quiet of the forest before tackling the upwards climb back to the car.
We enjoyed our picnic on a lonely bridge deep in the forest
Not Just for Walkers
The park seems to be just as popular with cyclists as it is with walkers. Perhaps surprisingly it is also seen as a place for running: the first Gargano Running Week
is due to take place in October 2014. There are clearly many different ways to enjoy the tranquil open spaces of the Umbra Forest.