At the table, Italy's largest promontory brings out the best of a flourishing and generous territory. Here's what to taste (and where) in the villages of the Gargano, a natural oasis in the north of Puglia.

Peschici, the pearl of Gargano

On a cliff overlooking the bay is a labyrinth of narrow streets and landscapes rising solemnly: Peschici, the pearl of the Gargano. It’s the “spur” of Italy made up of coastal lakes and sandy beaches, paths surrounded by greenery and small coves that carve out sunny shores amid a limestone cliff overlooking the sea and a grotto. With its beaches interrupted here and there by trabucchi, ancient fishing machines now transformed into restaurants, the seaside village welcomes tourists who increasingly appreciate this still little-traveled portion of Puglia, proud in its most intact nature made of ancient Aleppo pines, citrus groves, oaks and expanses of olive trees. Here visiting the Foresta Umbra woods is a must, so called because of the impenetrability of its dense vegetation, dark and gloomy, but Peschici is also the ideal starting point for a boat trip to discover the grottoes that dot the coast.

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Where to dine in Peschici

Peschici is a dining magnet, but above all provides the right solution for all pockets. Those looking for simple and tasty street food, for example, will find comfort in paposcia, typical naturally leavened oval focaccia cooked in a wood-fired oven, and whose elongated shape recalls that of a slipper (in the local dialect called, in fact, paposcia). Try the one filled with sautéed turnip tops and sausage; or the vegetarian version with tomatoes and local caciocavallo cheese at pizzeria La Piazzetta. Lovers of seafood will appreciate the creative cuisine of Domenico Clienti at Porta di Basso, a restaurant housed in an ancient oil mill with restored lime and stone vaulted ceilings and views of the sea, but for a romantic evening there is also Al Trabucco da Mimì, a great stop for dinner or for a glass of wine. Speaking of aperitivo: for a good glass paired with local cheeses and cured meats, there are two beautiful wine bars, De Vinum and L’Angolo Divino. Hit Barocco for breakfast, with fine Italian croissants filled at the moment, while for a snack there is Michel‘s gelato: a must.

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Vieste and seafaring legends

The strong bond of a country with its roots is perceived by the legends that revolve around it. To fully understand the influence that the sea has on Vieste, the largest town in Gargano where it’s possible to lodge among the austere beaches and alleys of the medieval historic centre, one can listen to the song by Max Gazzé of 2018, or better still ask the sailors of the area to recite the legend of Cristalda and Pizzomunno. A beautiful love story but without a happy ending: he is a fascinating fisherman and famous throughout the coast, would fetch Cristalda every night and take her offshore, swearing to her eternal love. However, the jealousy of the sirens soon put an end to this ritual: in love with Pizzomunno and angry for his refusal, they chained the young woman and dragged her to the bottom of the sea. Devastated by pain, the fisherman petrified himself, transforming himself into the white limestone rock that bears his name, visible on the Castello beach. According to the locals, every hundred years the ghosts of the two lovers return to dry land to love each other again, on an August night. For those wishing to swear eternal love, in the village there is the stairway of love that contains some phrases from the song, to be walked hand in hand to the end for good luck.

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Vieste restaurants

The light-hearted and relaxed atmosphere of the beautiful seaside village is also reflected at the table. As in most of the local towns, the catch of the day is most prominent, which at Il Capriccio is paired to excellent local wines, in a well-kept environment with a privileged position overlooking the marina. Also excellent are the pairings at Al Dragone, another address to note if looking for a suggestive restaurant, in this case made up of ancient caves that in the past also housed an oil mill. Those who love the interior alleys, on the other hand, can opt for La Ripa, which in dialect means “rock,” the one on which Vieste is perched: here guests can eat in an ancient 15th century convent transformed from ’94 into a restaurant serving Apulian cuisine, with some international digressions.

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The other villages of the Gargano and the Tremiti Islands

Villages worthy of a visit include Monte Sant’Angelo, with its places of worship marked by the apparitions of St. Michael the Archangel in the grotto where today stands the namesake Sanctuary; and Lesina, with its coastal lake with a long sandy shore, the cool pine forest and the mouth of the Fortore river with its 16th century tower. Finally, the Tremiti Islands deserve a separate chapter: located only eleven miles from the mainland this archipelago represents a true marine paradise, easily reachable from the Gargano villages. Advice: it’s better to stay at least one night to fully enjoy the crystal clear waters, the hermitages and the many paths that nature has to offer.

Addresses

Peschici

Restaurants

Porta di Basso – Peschici (FG) – via C. Colombo, 38 – portadibasso.it 

Al Trabucco da Mimì – Peschici (FG) – loc. Punta San Nicola – altrabucco.it

DeVinum – Peschici (FG) – via Vico Cantinieri, 2 – facebook.com/DeVinumPeschici 

L’Angolo Divino – Peschici (FG) – via Umberto I, 9 – facebook.com/enotecalangolodivino/?ref=page_internal 

Street food

La Piazzetta – Peschici (FG) – via Malacera

Bars

Cafè Barocco – Peschi (FG) – corso Giuseppe Garibaldi, 26 – facebook.com/profile.php?id=100032453422395 

Gelaterias

Gelateria Michel – Peschici (FG) – Piazza del Popolo, 5 – facebook.com/gelateriaamichel 

Vieste

Restaurants

Il Capriccio – Vieste (FG) –  loc. Porto Turistico Scalo Molo Sud – ilcapricciovieste.it 

Al Dragone – Vieste (FG) – via Duomo, 8 – aldragone.it 

La Ripa – (Vieste (FG) – via Cimaglia, 16 – facebook.com/lariparistorantevieste  

Lesina

Restaurants

Le Antiche Sere – Lesina (FG) -via P. Micca, 22 – leantichesere.it 

Monte Sant’Angelo

Restaurants

Casa li Jalantuùmene – Monte Sant’Angelo (FG) – p.zza De Galganis, 9 – li-jalantuumene.it 

Medioevo – Monte Sant’Angelo (FG) – via Castello, 21 – ristorantemedioevo.it

Tremiti

Restaurants

Gabbiano – Tremiti (FG) – loc. Villaggio San Domino – p.zza Belvedere – www.hotel-gabbiano.com 

by Michela Becchi