One of the many pleasures of visiting the Gargano National Park in Puglia, in the south of Italy, is the sheer abundance of its plants and wildlife. The unspoilt countryside and variety of habitats make this the ideal environment for all manner of flora and fauna. Even in the towns you will find an unusual number of wild flowers, birds and butterflies as well as the unleashed, but well mannered, dogs that seem to lie on every street corner.
Habitats of the Gargano National Park
The Gargano National Park covers most of Puglia’s Gargano Peninsula. It also includes a few offshore islands.
The area covers a wide range of habitats, including forested hills, limestone cliffs and wetlands. It is dominated by the vast Umbra Forest, but elsewhere you will see citrus trees, olive groves and coastal vegetation. There are more than 2000 species of plants in the region.
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Coastal Wetlands of the Gargano Peninsula
One of the best places to spot birds is around the coastal wetlands, especially the lakes of Varano and Lesina. These are salt water lagoons and they attract lots of birds in search of fish. I spotted cormorants, avocets and gulls but if you are lucky you could see flamingos here as well. I stopped to watch a colony of bee-eaters in a nearby field and caught sight of a hoopoe in the distance.
Of course the wetlands are not just about birds. I saw small crabs and fishes in the narrow channel between the lake and the sea, and the water is full of the fish and mussels for which the area is famous (the wooden structures that you see in the water are trabucchi, or fishing platforms). And wherever I went little geckoes darted between cracks in rocks and walls.
The Umbra Forest
The Umbra Forest is a great place for a hike through ancient woodlands. This is one of the largest concentrations of broad-leaved plants in Europe, and includes oaks, beech and maples. The density of the vegetation attracts mosses and shade-loving flowers including several species of orchid.
The forest is full of wildlife, but much of it stays hidden. It is home to boars, wildcats and the Gargano roe deer, as well as foxes and badgers, but they kept out of sight while I was there. Bird life includes woodpeckers, owls and other birds of prey. I could hear lots of different birds but the only one I actually saw was a tree-creeper. What I did see was brightly coloured butterflies and holes in the hillside that could have given shelter to small animals.
However I later spotted a wild cat skulking by the roadside and a couple of boars in a field (although they may not have been wild). And there were some rather tame deer in an enclosure near the National Park Visitor Centre. You can’t go far in the Gargano National Park without spotting some animals!