The Gargano National Park, an island full of biodiversity
The Gargano National Park is situated in the spur of Italy, the promontory extending into the Adriatic Sea in the northern part of Apulia.
It is a unique area, where 35 per cent of all Italian botanical species can be found, reflecting an equally wide variety of landscapes, from the sea of the Tremiti Islands to important wetlands that lap against dense forests. This is an ancient land, rich in culture, art and spirituality, with a diverse beauty.
A surprising microcosm of different habitats
The guiding thread of every visit to the Gargano National Park is to observe the variety of its habitats, which is reflected in a mosaic of landscapes. In an area no larger than an average Italian province, you will discover fine sandy beaches interspersed with high cliffs with caves and natural archways, coastal lakes and wetlands, stretches of Mediterranean bush bordering on thousand-year-old forest, karstic plateaus with sinkholes alternating with hills and steppe plains on which there are white villages such as Rodi Garganico, Vieste, Peschici on the coast or Ischitella, Mattina or Monte Sant'Angelo, all with sea views.
If we add to this the fact that, from a geological perspective, the promontory was originally an island separated from the rest of the Italian peninsula, the variety is further increased by the presence of endemisms, i.e. species that only exist in this region, for example the campanula garganica or the Tremiti cornflower.
This explains why the Gargano promontory astonishes naturalists and will amaze you too.
The sculpted landscape of the Gargano
The high white cliffs of the Adriatic coast seem sculpted, and the karst valleys that the action of rain makes deeper and deeper also appear sculpted. There are at least 4,000 sinkholes, cavities of karstic origin, to be found in the park: the one at Pozzatina, in the municipality of San Nicandro Garganico, is the most impressive. It is 132 metres deep and looks like a basin covered by a dense wood of holm oaks and oak trees. On the coast are several caves and natural arches formed by the force of the sea, which can be visited by boat from the ports of Vieste and Peschici.
The wetlands of the Varano and Lesina lagoons
The first person to chronicle the wetlands in the Gargano park was none other than the Swabian emperor Frederick II (1194-1250). In his treatise De arte venandi cum avibus (the art of hunting with birds), he describes falconry and the birdlife he observed mainly in Apulia in the marshy areas of Frattarolo and Lake Salso, today in the municipality of Manfredonia, known as the Swamps of Frederick II, which are rich in reed thickets, ideal places for birdwatching.
In the northern area of the park, behind the dunes, are the lakes of Varano and Lesina, basins of brackish water that were created by the accumulation of debris that filled in coastal bays. Today, the lakes are considered important wetlands, as resting stations for migratory birds on their way from northern Europe to Africa. The entire limestone area of the Gargano is also rich in springs and pools of water that are vital for amphibians and reptiles.
The animals and plants of the Gargano park
Among the animals you can see in their natural habitat in the park is the Italian roe deer, an endemic subspecies that only lives here, as well as numerous wild boars, fallow deer, weasels and wild cats.
There are numerous birds nesting in the Gargano, around 170 species, including five different types of woodpeckers, diurnal birds of prey, ospreys, the rare lesser duck eagle, as well as ducks, herons, wild geese and flamingos.
There are some centuries-old trees, true monuments of nature, such as the 13-metre carob tree in the park of Pugnochiuso, in the municipality of Vieste, or the two 30-metre high Aleppo pines in Vico Gargano, where there is also a 17-metre high holm oak with a 5-metre diameter trunk, near the Capuchin monastery.
As for the beech forests of the Foresta Umbra, these were designated a Unesco Natural World Heritage Site in 2017.
And then come the flowers: 85 species of wild orchids of all colours and shapes bloom in the clearings and steppe grasslands.
The Tremiti Islands
The archipelago of the Tremiti Islands, 12 miles off the Gargano coast, is also part of the park and is one of the most beautiful islands in the Mediterranean. Due to the crystal clear waters, the caves and the wealth of underwater life, they are a paradise for diving enthusiasts. There are five small islands, of which only two (San Domino and San Nicola) are inhabited, two others (Capraia and Cretaccio) are little more than rocks, while Pianosa is inaccessible because it is in the Protected Marine Area nature reserve. San Domino, where the accommodation establishments are located, is covered by a dense forest of Aleppo pines that descend to the sea, shading small sandy coves and rocks: the ideal place for those who love to be surrounded by nature alone for a holiday by the sea.