Tourism and Tours

Gargano National Park | A Wild and Wonderful Wonderland

Gargano National Park | A Wild and Wonderful Wonderland

Gargano National Park sits in southern Italy, within the picturesque region of Puglia.It’s home to fragrant citrus trees (perfect for limoncello), a crystal clear sea and rolling mountains dotted with olive trees (for that all-important antipasto).

Gargano National Park is located in central Italy. This park was established in 1991, but is already one of the absolute must-sees in Puglia. You will find this nature reserve on the Gargano peninsula.

Things to do in Gargano National Park

Visiting the Gargano National Park, in the North of Puglia, is to discover the largest National Park of Italy.

Whether you prefer hiking in nature, relaxing on the beach, visiting villages, the Gargano, between sea, mountains and forest, will please everyone!

Among the main attractions of the Gargano, visit Vieste and Peschici, take a boat ride or Foresta Umbra, climb to the hilltop village of Monte Sant’Angelo or spend a few days discovering the Tremiti Islands.

With our Top 10 things to do and see and our suggested routes to visit Gargano National Park in 1, 2 or 3 days, you can make the most of your stay in Puglia.

You will also find, at the end of the article, our selection of the best hotels and holiday villages located in the Gargano National Park. Ideal to know where to stay according to your budget.

Gargano National Park in Puglia: the must-sees

  • Manfredonia

Whether you arrive from Bari, Trani or Matera, you will inevitably start your stay, passing through Manfredonia. It is one of the biggest cities to visit in Gargano, it marks the gateway to the national park.

The Swabian-Angevin castle: it now houses the National Archaeological Museum, recognized for its collection of Daunian stelae, tombstones dating from the VI and VI century BC. The museum is not free but you can go around the castle and walk on the ramparts for free. The promenade offers a beautiful view of the beach and the sea.
The Cathedral of Manfredonia where you can admire beautiful medieval objects
The Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Siponto, built in the pure Romanesque style of Puglia
Piazza del Popolo, central square of Manfredonia
The church of San Domenico, located on Piazza del Popolo.

  • Vieste

The beautiful town of Vieste is the must-see tourist spot during a trip to Puglia and a visit to the Gargano. Located east of the promontory of Gargano National Park, Vieste is often preferred as a starting point to visit the park. The many places of interest that I mention in this article, are indeed, easily accessible by car from the city. It is therefore the ideal place to visit the Gargano National Park.

Vieste is famous for its historic center and its charming little streets where it is good to walk. There you will find small craft shops as well as cafes and restaurants. Overlooking the sea, the old town offers beautiful views of the coast.

During your visit, the two historic buildings not to be missed are the castle built by Frédérick II and the cathedral, dedicated to Saint Marie de l’Assomption. If you visit Vieste with your family, you can also take your children to the Malagologico Museum. Small but very interesting, it has more than 10,000 shells, corals and fossils. It would be a shame to deprive yourself, the entrance is free.

But the emblem of Vieste, remains the famous Pizzomunno. This huge rock 25 meters high is located at the entrance of the city, on the main beach. Very photogenic with the old city in the background, it is found on all the postcards of Gargano. According to legend, Pizzomunno was a handsome young man very much in love with his beautiful Cristalda. The mermaids being very jealous of the happiness of the couple and failing to seduce Pizzomunno, removed Cristalda to sequester her at the bottom of the sea.

  • The Foresta Umbra

The Umbra Forest is a protected nature reserve located in the heart of the Gargano National Park. It is considered the largest hardwood forest in all of Italy. The name “Umbra” characterizes its thick and dense vegetation, which prevents light from entering. It is famous for sheltering a very rich fauna and flora.

If you are there between April and the end of May, you can also admire the wild orchids of Gargano National Park. The forest has more than 85 different species and is home to the most varieties in Europe. Botanists come from all over the world to see them!

The best way to discover Foresta Umbra is to walk it. Many trails (about fifteen), more or less difficult to walk around. I recommend you stop at the visitor center to get the trail map, it costs about 2.50 €. Plan your picnic, there are several furnished areas and barbecues are even allowed. The Visitor Center also rents mountain bikes if you want to try out a new sporting activity.

  • Peschici

Peschici has a beautiful historic center with narrow streets and houses with whitewashed facades. There are some churches to see but not really iconic monuments to visit. Peschici and its surroundings are best known for harboring some of the most beautiful beaches and coves in Gargano National Park. These include Zaiana Beach, Cala Beach and Procinisco Bay Beach. With your swimsuit and sunscreen, you’re ready for a sunbathing and swimming afternoon.

It is also in the vicinity of Peschici, that you will be able to see a rather particular construction: a trabucco. Positioned on rocks by the sea, the trabucchi are a very ingenious system of ropes and pulleys connected together by wooden poles and a platform supporting a net, used for fishing.

Typical of the region, it is now one of the emblems of the Gargano National Park. Tourism requires, some of them are now converted into rustic restaurants where you can enjoy delicious fresh fish.

  • Vico del Gargano

Among the most beautiful places to visit in Gargano, take a tour through the village of Vico del Gargano.

This charming medieval village in the heart of the park is one of the most beautiful villages in Italy. Narrow streets, stone houses, authenticity and calm reign in the village.

What to see in Vico del Gargano, in Puglia:

  • The palace della Bella: strongly inspired by the Palazzo Vecchio of Florence
  • The castle
  • The museum Trappeta Maratea to learn more about the process of making olive oil, a very developed activity in Gargano National Park
  • The kissing lane (Viccolo del Bacio) nicknamed this because the passage is so narrow that you will be obliged to stick to your lover!
  • The multiple churches: the Chiesa of Santa Maria Pura, the church of Purgatorio, the church of San Giuseppe, the church of San Domenico or that of the Misericordia.

Lake Varano

Lake Varano is one of the key destinations of a holiday in Gargano National Park.

And yes, because in addition to the forest and the sea, there are also lakes in the national park!

Lake Varano is one of the largest lakes in southern Italy. The bird lovers will find their account as they will be able to observe many birds like the flamingo, herons or cormorants. You can also see the eel fishermenat work on their sandali, typical boats of the Gargano National Park.

The best way to have the most beautiful overview of Lake Varano is to opt for a boat trip.

Boat Trip to Gargano National Park

The most popular is the one from Vieste  every day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon between April and October. Count about 3 hours of visit for 25 € per adult and 10 € per child.

You will visit the most famous marine caves in Gargano National Park, such as the Tomato Cave, the Smugglers Cave, the Cave of the Two Eyes or the Broken Cave. You’ll find the names a bit farfetched, go ask the fishermen, they are the ones who named them! Dug by the sea and the wind, they are all unique and are worth a visit.

If you wish, you can also rent a boat by the day to make your own program and enjoy some coves   only accessible by the sea. In high season, this may be a good solution for finding quiet places to swim. For small boats and zodiacs, no need for a boat license.

How many days to visit the Gargano National Park?

The distances may seem short but the roads are narrow and winding, so it will take longer than expected.

And then there are plenty of photo stops to take to admire the beautiful views below, which will extend suddenly on your day.

The same if you want to swim in an isolated creek accessible only on foot.

If you want to add a little more hiking or a stay in the Tremiti Islands, you can of course spend 5 days, or even a week in Gargano National Park.

Day  1: in Gargano National Park

If you only have one day in Gargano,  I recommend the following itinerary:

  • Go through Manfredonia to reach the panoramic road by the sea
  • You can follow it to Vieste, about 1h10 drive. On the road, there are many stops to do to admire the landscape.
  • Visit the historic center of Vieste
  • Lunch break
  • Walk in Foresta Umbra, half an hour from Vieste
  • Visit Manfredonia, at the exit of the Gargano National Park, if you have time.

Day 2:  in Gargano National Park

Spend 2 days in Gargano,

Day 1:

  • Follow the coastal road from Manfredonia to Vieste and enjoy the scenery
  • Depending on the season, you can even swim on one of the beaches of Gargano
  • Lunch break
  • Visit the historic center of Vieste
  • Boat trip to discover the sea caves
  • Overnight in Vieste or around.

Day 2:

  • Panoramic route from Vieste to Peschici
  • Walking tour of the center of Peschici
  • Lunch break
  • Discover Vico del Gargano
  • Walk to Lake Varano

Day 3: in Gargano National Park

To spend 3 days in the national park of Gargano, take again the route of 2 days and add:

  • Hiking in the Foresta Umbra
  • Lunch break
  • Visit of Monte Sant Angelo
  • Walk to Manfredonia

Day 4 : in Gargano National Park

If you have 4 days vacation in Gargano, go for a day trip to the Tremiti Islands.

Accommodation in Gargano National Park

Ideal apartments in Gargano

For a family holiday with your children or friends for your holidays in Gargano, I recommend you to choose an apartment. You can eat and there is more space for everyone. They are also located in residences with swimming pool, which is nice to cool off.

  • Villagio Idra: Located 5 minutes drive from Vieste, in the countryside. This property offers several small duplex houses. Fully equipped apartment with 2 bedrooms, sitting area, kitchen and large private terrace with garden furniture from 60 € per night. Most: the sea view, pool and jacuzzi, barbecue available, free private parking. Ideal for a family holiday in Gargano!
  • Residence Torre del Porto: Located in Mattinata, a 5-minute walk from the beach. The residence offers well equipped and spacious studios and apartments with terrace or balcony from 80 € per night, breakfast included. Most: quiet location, warm welcome, beautiful and large pool.
  • Residence Montelci: Located between Mattinata and Vieste. This residence offers 1 to 3 bedroom apartments for up to 6 people. The units are equipped with a kitchen and have a patio. From 90 € per night, breakfast at 5 €. The most: the magnificent view of the sea and the mountains, the pool, the welcome smiling.

The best hotels to stay in Gargano

If you are traveling as a couple, here is my selection of hotels for a romantic stay in Gargano. Most of them even offer free access to the private beach with deckchairs and parasols available.

  • Isola dei Sapori Boutique hotel Restaurant: Located right by Lake Varano and a 3-minute walk from the beach. This hotel is brand new, the double rooms are comfortable and bright. From 65 € per night, breakfast included. Most: free beach umbrella and sunbeds on the private beach, the location in the natural area, excellent service.
  • Hotel Boutique Il Castellino Relais: Located 1 minute walk from the beach and 15 minutes from the center of Vieste. Spacious and bright double room from 80 € per night, breakfast included. For this price, you will even get 2 sunbeds and a free umbrella every day on the private beach! Most: swimming pool, tennis court, hearty breakfast.
  • Relais Viesti: 5 minutes walk from the beach and 5 minutes from Vieste Castle. Double room design and refined with a huge shower from 100 € per night, breakfast included. The most: the availability of the owners, the excellent breakfast, the setting and the decor of the rooms.

The best holiday villages in Gargano

  • Club Vacanze Viestemare: Located in Vieste, a 10-minute walk from the beach. Studio with kitchenette from 45 € per night, breakfast included. The most: the beautiful swimming pool, access to the private beach, free transfer to the beach, the SPA, ping-pong table, free bicycles available.
  • Village Baia Turchese: Located in Vieste, right in front of the beach. Double room or bright and comfortable apartment from 50 € per night, breakfast included. Most: football field, basketball court, tennis court, swimming pool.
  • Villaggio Club Degli Ulivi: Located between Vieste and Peschici, 300 m from the beach. All units feature a kitchenette, terrace with outdoor furniture and BBQ facilities. From 60 € the night. The most: the playground for children, the animation team, shuttle to the beach.
  • Villaggio San Matteo Resort: Located 200 meters from the beach, in Mattinata. Double room or apartment with balcony or private terrace from 70 € per night, breakfast at 12 €. Most: the pool, entertainment, 2 restaurants, attentive staff.

How to get to Gargano National Park

During your trip in Puglia, here are the travel times to visit the Gargano National Park:

  • From Bari: Approximately 1 hour 40 minutes to reach Manfredonia (Gargano entry point) and 2 hours 35 minutes to Vieste.
  • From Trani: 1 hour 15 minutes to Manfredonia and 2 hours 10 minutes to reach Vieste.
  • From Foggia: Only 40 minutes from Manfredonia and 1h35 from Vieste.
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