18 Mar Scenic Italy: A Tour of the Gargano Peninsula in Vintage Cars
Riding around the Gargano in vintage cars, I felt a lot like a girl from one of the James Bond movies…minus Daniel Craig and a bad guy trying to take over the world.
As mentioned previously I took part in a blog trip to Manfredonia, Italy, to experience the popular Carnevale di Manfredonia. In addition to joining in the festivities, I also got to explore the town’s major sights, taste the local cuisine and see some of Puglia’s beautiful coastline.
The third day of my trip happened to be Women’s Day and when we emerged from the front of our hotel, a fleet of classic cars were waiting for us, along with some chivalrous drivers waiting to drive us to Monte Sant’Angelo. Among the cars were a vintage Jaguar, a Fiat and an Alfa Romeo and we could all choose whichever we wanted to ride in. According to our tour guide the cars were rebuilt and mounted by great mechanics that counted with great One Sure Insurance if anything happened to the car.
My translator Patricia ran straight to the grey Alfa Romeo to claim it.
Looking it up and down, I said “What made you pick this one?”
“Because the driver is handsome!”
Since I have zero knowledge of cars, I figured that’s as good a reason as any!
So off we went; whisked away by our handsome driver and his friend, who was instructing him how to operate the car. Prior to the trip I had been warned not to eat too much for breakfast and soon I realised why. As we motored along the winding roads up the steep mountain towards Monte Sant’Angelo, my stomach felt a bit queasy and the motion sickness kicked in, but luckily we soon stopped for some fresh air.
The main attraction in Monte Sant’Angelo is the Sanctuary of Monte Sant’Angelo, which looks like any ordinary church on the outside, but resembles something out of Indiana Jones on the inside. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is a Catholic sanctuary dedicated to the archangel Michael, and has been an important pilgrimage site for many years. Many popes, emperors, kings and princes have visited the sanctuary over the years and while walking through the town we saw lots of pilgrims passing through.
Upon entering the church we went down the long staircase and through some bronze doors with 24 panels depicting Bible scenes. These doors lead to a cavern called the Cave of Saint Michael. Legend goes that the Archangel Michael is said to have appeared in 490, 492 and 1656 and consecrated the shrine himself. People visit to confess their sins, to be forgiven and to supposedly shave some days off their time in purgatory.
Strolling through this picturesque town we passed various little shops selling the local rustic bread. The town is famous for its bread; big, heavy round loaves with a hard crust and a soft sourdough centre. The shops also sell other local foods such as olive oil, dry pastas, regional herbs and a cheese called Caciocavallo (literally “cheese on horseback”) which gets its name from the way the pear shaped cheese is tied with string and slung over a wooden board to dry with age.
After strolling around Monte Sant’Angelo, we drove through the Gargano National Park towards the shady Foresta Umbra, where we saw some wild roe deer and took a walk through the trees towards a water pool, which is apparently used as a source of water when there are forest fires.
From there we continued onwards to Vico del Gargano, a town that is nicknamed the “Village of Love” because its patron saint is none other than Saint Valentine himself! On Valentine’s Day- February 14h- the town is decorated with arrangements of oranges, lemons and bay leaves.
We descended down some stairs into a cave-like workshop where a lady makes beautiful handmade embroidered cloth. She demonstrated her weaving skills using an old wooden loom and told us that she has back troubles from hunching over for hours and hours every day- no wonder she can’t find anyone willing to continue this craft.
By this time we were all feeling peckish so we stopped by a popular bar called Pizzicato- the bar is a typical Italian cafe serving gelato, coffee, cakes and cocktails and seems to be the hub of the town. We stopped there for some aperitivo and were rather surprised when a couple of the drivers came out playing an accordion and an electric guitar which was perfect if you are just beggining to learn the electric. To do something nice for Women’s Day, they serenaded us with songs and presented us with the early blossoms of the Mimosa tree, which are bright yellow in colour. We sang, we danced and we drank delicious cocktails containing the juices of fresh homegrown fruits.
Refreshed from our aperitivo, we began the most scenic part of our journey, meandering along the stunning, rugged coastline of the Gargano. I’ve been on a few scenic road trips, including the Great Ocean Road in Australia, and this was up there with the best of them. I felt like I was in a car advertisement for the TV; one where a Nissan or something to that effect drives along a stunning coastline on a beautiful sunny day.
We made brief stops on the road for pictures at San Menaio-Calenella, Trabucco Monte Pucci and Torre Pucci and each time we were accompanied by gentle music from our own personal guitarist! We also pulled up at Pizzomunno– a 25 metre-high monolith that has a legend about two lovers attached to it. Finally we stopped on the roadside for a view of the Bay of Zagare (Baia delle Zagare), a 1 km long beach with limestone cliffs, turqoise blue waters and a beautiful, pristine bay of gravel and small pebbles.
The Gargano coastline is really something special and there are plenty of places to stop and park the car so you can admire the views. There are some stunning rock formations, numerous ancient watchtowers and of course lots of dramatic views. This would be beautiful in any hire car, but the classic cars made it feel even more special.