Drive around the Gargano Peninsula and you will see towns and villages of white-walled buildings perched on the hilltops. Many of these towns look as if time has passed them by, providing a glimpse of a way of life that seems to have disappeared from other parts of Italy. We visited two of the region’s most historic hill towns, Vieste and Vico del Gargano.
Vieste, Capital of the Gargano Peninsula
Vieste, the capital of the Gargano region, is the most popular town for tourists, partly due to its coastal location, which makes it attractive to beach lovers and cruise ship passengers. But it is worth a visit in its own right. Walk through the leafy town square to the stepped streets that lead upwards to the 13th century castle (not open to visitors but you can walk around the outside).
Stepped streets of Vieste, in the Gargano Peninsula
Nearby is the Norman cathedral. When we visited it was decked out for the Festa a Maria, one of numerous saints’ days that are celebrated in the region.
The interior of the Cathedral was decked out for the Festa a Maria
Walking around the town you can often catch sight of the sea and the harbour far below: we had a particularly fine view from the terrace of the Borgo Antico where we stopped for lunch.
View of the harbour from the Borgo Antico restaurant
Vico del Gargano, City of Love
Set on a hill in the Parco di Gargano, the walled town of Vico del Gargano is often known as the “City of Love”, a reference to Saint Valentine, the town’s patron saint.
An old street in Vico del Gargano
Vico del Gargano has a long history, dating back to prehistoric times. Today you can wander through the narrow streets of the medieval town, which is compact and easy to walk around. Look out for the 11thcentury castle (now converted into apartments but you can go into the courtyard) and explore the numerous churches. Be sure not to miss the Chiesa di Santa Maria Pura, an 18th century church built a little way down the hill on the site of the Fontana Vecchia (old spring).
Remains of the 11th century castle in Vico del Gargano
Entrance to the hillside church of Santa Maria Pura
Leaving the historic area walk towards the old Capuchin Convent on the edge of the town, passing grape vines and olive groves as you go. Near the convent you will find a centuries old oak tree (no-one is quite sure of its age!), a First World War memorial arboretum, and a viewpoint where you can look out over the hills towards the coast.
The World War I memorial arboretum, with a tree planted for each fallen soldier