Hope you’re enjoying our Gargano week! It’s far from over… after telling you about awesome Monte Sant’Angelo and our day learning about organic farming, we would like to introduce you to beautiful Vico del Gargano, one of the most beautiful hilltop villages we’ve ever seen.
Where is Vico del Gargano?
Have you heard of Gargano? It may well be one of Italy’s least-known places; right at the top of Apulia, Gargano is the round peninsula reminiscent of a spur. Vico del Gargano is one of the prettiest villages that can be found in the area; a place of twisty, narrow roads and silver houses, tightly packed on top of a hill. From afar, the village itself is a spellbinding sight.
The nature around Vico is simply stunning; the village is sandwiched between the forested hills of the Gargano National Park and the rocky coast, with lots of sea caves. So, whether you’re a rock-climber, a hiker or a beach bum, you’ll be sure to find some activity of your liking around Vico del Gargano.
What is there to see in Vico del Gargano?
The village itself is not just a base for an activity-filled holiday in the surrounding nature. It is worth exploring for a day or two. Vico del Gargano was defined by a leading Canadian newspaper as ‘one of the last corners of unspoiled Italy’.
You won’t find tacky souvenir shops and overpriced grocery stores selling ‘local’ specialties for tourists. When I asked for taralli (ring-shaped biscuits), a local snack, I wasn’t given a neat little package – the seller shovelled them out of a 10 kg plastic bag. You’ll find older men sitting on plastic chairs at the roadside or playing cards, and farmers descend every day to the local market with their freshest produce.
Here are some Vico del Gargano sights:
1) Chiesa di Santa Maria La Pura
A tiny church just outside of the city walls, built near a stream. When we visited, no one else was there, save a lone caretaker. The church was in semi-darkness. You could barely see a fountain below, hidden by the leafy treetops. It was a magical, mysterious place; I couldn’t quite put my finger on why, but there was definitely something. The name ‘pura’, meaning ‘pure’, is in reference to the ancient custom of burying children and virgins in the grounds.
2) The stunning view over Vico
Our host Pino recommended this spot, and let me tell you, it was amazing. Directions are simple; walk out of town following directions for ‘Ischitella’ for a couple of kilometers until you find a sign marked ‘PKK’, and – as Pino put it – you’ll see the marvel. What do you think?
3) Museo Trappeto Maratea
We didn’t actually get to visit this, as it was closed for renovation. Gargano is famed for its delicious olive oil, and this museum is an ancient olive press and a café-restaurant.
4) Vicolo del Bacio
Did you know Vico del Gargano is also known as the ‘city of love’? The patron saint is none other than St Valentine, and one of the village’s main sights is Vicolo del Bacio, or Kiss Alleyway, a tiny alley no wider than 50 cm. Why ‘kiss’? Because it’s so narrow that lovers can’t help but touching one another as they go through it, and then…
5) World War II Caves
This is an apocryphal sight, recommended to us by Turino, a big-eared elderly man who spoke a dialect so thick I could barely understand him. A couple of switchbacks up from Santa Maria la Pura, behind a gate and mountains of junk, there are some tunnels cut into the karstic rock. These tunnels joined bigger caves into the mountains, where locals used to hide during World War II.
The best thing about Vico is getting lost, wandering around the tiny cobbled streets past rows of washing, dozing cats and children chasing a football. Just walk around, following your instinct; I can promise you’ll stumble onto some great finds.
What is there to eat?
Vico del Gargano is also the home of the paposcia, a once-humble peasant dish that rivals pizza in popularity. Paposcia is a hollow rugby-ball shaped roll made of pizza dough that is split open and eaten stuffed with cheese, cured meats, sausages or veggies.
It has its origins in the old custom of baking giant loaves of bread. To check that the oven temperature was right, people used to place a small amount of dough into the oven. If it inflated like a balloon, the oven was good to go.
Pretty much every bakery and pizzeria offers paposce. We loved the ‘salsiccia and salicornia‘ filling, local sausage with samphire. An old man boasted that salicornia has medicinal properties; if I ate it every day for a month, I would have ‘radiant skin and no more tummy’. We’ll see.
Where to stay in Vico del Gargano?
Where? Pizzicato, of course!
How to get there?
This is really strange coming from me, a hard-core public transport aficionado. The best way to travel to Vico del Gargano is by car. There are buses and trains in neighbouring Peschici, but without a car you’d be pretty much stuck. Not that it’s a bad thing, but what if I told you that you’d be missing cave churches, rocky coves and ancient forests?
Linked to Sunday Traveler