18th - 25th April 2020
For the lover of wildflowers, wild orchids in particular, few localities can even begin to rival the Gargano peninsula in Puglia, a wonderful limestone lump forming the spur to Italy’s boot. We would rate it as Europe’s finest natural rock garden.
Paul Harcourt Davies’s first visit to Gargano was in the spring of 1979 whilst traveling from Cyprus to Sicily and then driving up through the ‘toe’, around the ‘instep’ and across to Manfredonia gathering material for his first book Wild Orchids or Britain & Europe (1983). Since then, visits have directly involved leading tours, both for ourselves and for various companies as well as personal research.
Gargano is often cited as an orchid ‘hotspot’ and it is easy to see why this has come about for, to all extents and purposes, Gargano is an "island" in botanical, if not strict geographic, terms. In fact, Gargano was once an island separated from the Italian mainland by the Adriatic sea. The channel gradually silted up to form the plain of Foggia. Geologically, Gargano is a lump of limestone with fertile plains near the coast and, at much higher altitude, stony ground cultivated at a basic level since it is impossible to work in any other way. Grazing is mainly by cows that crop high and thus leave stems to flower.
There is a wonderful central forest with huge ancient beech trees (Foresta Umbra), well-maintained by the Corpo Forestale where, in spring, there is an under-story of blue anemones (Anemone blanda) white narcissus (Narcissus poeticus), yellow orchids (Dactylorhiza romana) and a few paeonies (Peonia mascula)…and many others.
The whereabouts of many of the best plant locations often elude the casual visitor (and quite a few of the tour companies that list Gargano). They can only be found by wandering away from the beaten track. There is a change of some 800m (over 2600 feet) in altitude between the base and summit of the highest Gargano mountains so that orchids on the heights can flower some three to four weeks after the same species have bloomed closer to sea level. We stay in two centres, one to give easy access to the heights and allow us to wander from our hotel, the other by the sea in the small town of Peschici which has an attractive ancient quarter.
After arrival at Bari airport we make our way across the peninsula to the hill-top town of Monte St Angelo to our hotel where we stay for the next four nights. Our stops en route allow views of flamingoes, nesting storks, numerous birds of prey (such as hen harriers) .... all to get us in the mood before arriving at our hotel.
A short drive to mountains near San Giovanni Rotondo, far from pilgrims, brings us to some of the richest and most remarkable flower displays you are ever likely to see as we walk through an open scrub of dwarf oak where blue and magenta anemones harmonise with buttercups, daisies, and yellow Roman orchids. We take great pride in our picnics and this, our first, is set in a clearing with a myriad colourful Bertoloni’s pansies. The walk is short and stops are inevitably numerous as we form our introduction to the Gargano flora.
The southern slopes of the Gargano are dry and chalky but here there is the best chance of locating the beautiful and elusive Ophrys sipontensis as well as other endemics - Ophrys bertoloniiformis and Ophrys promontori in old quarries and alongside lonely tracks well away from routes others might take. Our afternoon walk takes us into hidden valleys and through woods near Monte Sacro.
We walk to Monte Sant Angelo across flower-rich country with a chance to visit the church of the Archangel Michael and its subterranean cave, which has made the town a place of pilgrimage. We picnic on the slopes near the town and all along the ridge as we walk we shall find orchids in abundance including Ophrys apulica and the last of the endemics, Ophrys biscutella. Here the flowering is some three weeks later than the coast.
We transfer to the picturesque, seaside fishing village of Peschici, where we spend the next three nights. We first travel through the hills and explore the beechwoods of the Foresta Umbra with their acres of white narcissus and pale blue Anemone apennina. Our afternoon walk takes us along a ridge down to the coast a short drive from Peschici.
Spring comes early to the coast and by travelling west of Peschici we find some of the later orchids including some four species of tongue orchids (Serapias) and we explore the comparatively lush slopes near the Lago di Varano for Ophrys archipelagi and O. parvimaculata as well as iris, cyclamen and paeonies… If the flamingoes are still round we shall visit Laguna di Lesina…
We begin the day by travelling to a hidden plateau where we have seen storks, pallid harrier and golden oriole before walking down an ancient drovers road through a gorge whose entrance is almost hidden from view. After our last picnic we walk along a ridge that takes us into the town of Vieste situated at the tip of the peninsula.
We travel to Bari and the flights home.
Gargano has the unique flora it does because of a harmony between man and nature – the same grazing practices (mainly cows) that preserve a rich flora are unpredictable and weather dependent. For example, in an early spring farmers make use of the fresh grass and move their animals to the heights. We always reserve the right to change the order of any itinerary to optimise what you might see and, in extreme cases, where a once rich meadow has been ploughed or eaten by goats, for example, to take you to another site. We will be in Gargano for some days beforehand checking out sites and fine-tuning.
18th - 25th April 2020
Cost - €1880
We stay in two centres, one to give easy access to the heights and allow us to wander from our hotel, the other in a small family run hotel by the sea in the small town of Peschici which has an attractive ancient quarter. All rooms have private en suite bathrooms.
In terms of cuisine - the history of Puglia takes in settlers (ancient Greek) and numerous invading nations wanting Mediterranean dominance (Normans, Arabs, Venetians…). This diversity is reflected in the food for Puglia is a land of strong tastes (sauces with tomatoes, capers, anchovies) with full-bodied red wines such as Primitivo. The extensive coast line means that fish and seafood figure prominently on any list of the best local dishes….though meat eaters and vegetarians are well catered for too.
- Pick up to and from airport (usually Bari). Flights to be coordinated with others in group but we aim to pick people up around midday on the first day and drop people back at the airport on the last day again, at around midday.
- All transport during the tour
- All accommodation and meals including wine at lunch and dinner
What's not included
- Personal expenses e.g. drinks, coffees, gelato...
Contact us for a booking form