Touring the Rocky Spur of Italy, Gargano 8 Comments

I heard a faint voice outside and then Mac n Tosh started to bark. Is someone shouting us? I peered around the door and walking towards our van a chap closely followed by a young girl and a westy. I paused for a second before it I realised, it was Andrew, Carys and Millie. Oh my god, I can’t believe it. “Craig, Craig, look who’s here”.

Towards the end of last year, my dear friend Rachel sadly lost her life to cancer. Her dream of travelling around Europe in their motorhome, was taken from her. We would often chat about the best places to see as she followed our blog around Europe but if truth be known she had a real passion for Italy. Sadly she passed away before she had the chance. Nine months later and her husband, Andrew and their 10 year old daughter Carys are on a grand summer tour of Italy. They are living Rachel’s dream and we are so honoured to be part of their trip.

That night, we drank a few beers and got to know each other. I introduced Carys to our neighbour Linda from Austria and they had a ball. We drank to the early hours and before we knew it, we were on tour together having a blast. A full week touring, chatting, eating, drinking and enjoying each others company. We have only just met Andrew and Carys but it feels like we’ve known them forever. So here is a round up of our trip…

We left Fossacesia just after lunch and headed to Lidl to stock up on food and liquid refreshments. In Carys case noodles (which later become her new nickname). Then to the fuel station for GPL and diesel. All full up we were ready to tour the wild Promontorio del Gargano. The rocky ‘spur’ jutting into the Adriatic Sea dotted with coves and cliffs.  However, tonight we are spending the night at a mid way point, Petacciato.

Lidl Shopping

Something is going down, we can feel it. Car’s parked in the middle of the road, scooters blocking alleyways and piaggio’s doing whatever they want. At the side of the beach wall six chaps carry a big pig on steel pole and two women wave their hands as they shout directions. A parking attendant walks over and signals us towards the ticket machine. We dig out some change (€2), place the ticket in the window before set up the chairs and tables.

Mac n Tosh quite fancy the chair idea

As we share a few beers from our supermarket sweep we watch the sunset. Unbeknown to us the mosquito’s were eating us alive. (Poor Andrew ended up with 100’s of bites all over his legs.)  Carys and I leave the boys to chat and take the dogs for a run on the beach.  We kick the waves and chat about schools days, she clearly misses her mum, it must be so hard for a girl so young. I look at Carys and I can see Rachel, she is her double. It makes sad that my friend can’t spend time with her lovely daughter and share these beautiful memories.

I hold back the tears and look for a distraction. In the distance we spot an abandoned life guard tower and so we run over and play ‘look out’. Carys stay on guard duty until the sky is darkens. We swap the life guard duties for star gazing before heading back via a large mobile marque. Inside the marque is another world, it is full of Italian’s celebrating their holidays and enjoying a feast of hog roast, pizza’s, pasta and every other tasty Italian morsel. It looked and smelt divine, if only we’d known about this.

We sip our last beer for the night and decide to call it quits when the music starts. It is 11pm and in Italy the night is only just beginning.  The marque turns in to plaza party. We are not sure if its the real thing or some karaoke, but its loud and bad. We all howl in laughter. Then we spot the silhouette, its Elvis on the large marque stage! The song and dance seems a little camp at first, with much tossing of the head, hip wiggles, raising of knees and cape flings. It certainly entertained us but by midnight we’d had enough of his awful singing. Elvis finally left the stage at 1am and DJ Mega Blast took over until around 4am.

Our Bumble paid motorhome sosta at Petacciato GPS position: for N042.036463, E014.850631

Its only 7.30 am and the local families and holiday makers are already on the beach. Kids playing beach ball and toddlers filling their nappies full of soggy sand. Sun beds and umbrellas half submerged in the sea, lapping up to their thigh, playing cards and drinking espresso. We contemplate joining them but private beaches don’t float our boat plus we’re convinced there are better beaches out there.

It may well only be lunchtime, but so far the stretch up to the Gargano is proving a challenge for us motorhomes. Especially for Andrew with his 8.75 metre van. We have wandered in to every possible beach village, town and resort in the hope to find something near the beach but nothing. We’ve got lost down ever narrowing avenues and followed lanes jammed with cars only to be rewarded with a dead end. Reversed back up lanes we’d travelled down causing chaos and bedlam in the process. And we accidentally drove right through an olive grove that was clearly never meant to appear on the sat nav’s route.

Eventually our search pays off and we find a slightly elevated headland perfect for two motorhomes. A shifty and a shuffle over the dirt tracks and a few boulders to a perfect wild camping spot.  We are just outside the town of San Nicandro.

The scotching morning sun shines and Carys is keen to cool down. Craig and Andrew take shelter under the canopy. I grab the snorkel gear and take Carys on her first snorkel over the reefs and rocks. We have fun looking for fish and catching hermit crabs. Lizard fish amuse and an octopus gives us the slip. After several hours floating around our fingers tips are wrinkled and we are ready for something to eat.

We send the boys off for some firewood whilst we prepare fresh spaghetti bolognese and garlic bread. As we chop the tomatoes, onions and garlic, Carys tells me how she misses her mum’s cooking, it was the best. Once prepared we leave our bolognese to cook and I challenge Carys to a game of Plants v Zombies. We laugh until our bellies ache and then serve dinner on the headland. Spaghetti at sunset on our little peace of paradise complete with a homemade fire, beer, coca cola, lapping waves and a haunted tower.

While the world comes to Italy for their summer holidays, Italy goes to the new fashionable Gargano. The latest attraction and resort on the Adriatic Sea. There are miles of beaches and coves here and in August much of it is over crowded. Families from all over the east coast, descend in their droves to sun themselves, stay in moderately priced hotels and eat out at moderately priced restaurants. This is traditional family holiday Italy. It is what Blackpool is to people from Manchester.

Our Bumble wild sleepy spot at Gargano Blu GPS position:  N041.928741, E015.619981 (DAD CLICK ON THESE BLUE COORDINATES AND IT WILL OPEN UP IN GOOGLE MAPS)

We sit outside the motorhomes in warm morning sunshine surrounded by natural flora and fauna. Breakfast is served before the days activities commence, which starts with a snorkel.  The atmosphere is relaxed and peaceful. This is rural Italy, but not as you know it. If you’ve ever done Rome or watched the sunset from Amalfi, you’ll know that tourist experiences are usually about as exclusive and seen as an FA cup final. But we were after something different from this visit around the Gargano. We wanted the ancient ruins and the white, shingly beaches we’d experienced elsewhere but amid the Italians holiday atmosphere. In short, we wanted somewhere off the radar from normal tour brochures but peace and tranquility in the motorhome.

Our bubble of rural Italy was soon burst when time chatting with a nice Italian guy. He told us Gargano tends to get a mixed press these days, the consensus being that while it might have been an attractive place once, it’s been pretty much ruined by the bad lads and summer crowds. To the degree that it’s sensible to give it a miss until after August. He warned us about some not so nice people who visit the headland, bad lads. As a result, the police patrol the area and move people on. He strongly suggested we moved on…so we did. We moved up coast to Capoiale. To the east lies the Foresta Umbra, a vast woodland of beech, oak, yew, and pine, and to the north the salt lakes of Lesina and Varano, havens for waterfowl.

We wade up to our shins in the shallow turquoise sea. Mac n Tosh enjoy the cool waters but Millie watches from afar, water is not her favourite pastime. After half an hour Craig takes the dogs back to the motorhome whilst Carys and I play handstand. Laughing and splashing until ouch. Then another ouch. We find ourselves surrounded by tiny jellyfish and forced to head back to shore.

Andrew making tea outside

Time for a munch on noodles and crisp butties. Andrew is nicely relaxed under the shade of the canopy. He steps inside his motorhome to make a brew, the heat is too unbearable, so he sets up the camping stove and finds brewing up outside a damn sight cooler. We sit and admire Capoiale, a small fishing village, a place were time forgot. Fishing boats bob in the working harbour, kids run up an down the rickety jetty and cats loiter by the waste bins. All is peaceful until two Italian ladies walk over. Simultaneously they start to shout and wave their hands in the air. We all stare and wonder what the hell they are saying. At first, their tone seems aggressive but a few shrugs of the shoulder followed by “no parlay Italiano” and big cheesy grins; and they calm down. Its Capoiale festival and the ladies need us to move so they can set up their hog roast stall.

Sadly, we pack up. We aim is to move somewhere close and return to the festival but parking spaces are no where to be found. Bumper to bumper along the road, in the alleys and even in peoples allotments and gardens. We search on the iPad for potential sostas and campsites but all the signs say ‘completo’. We drive and drive until we arrive at a massive beach at Rodi.

So here we are only two days in to our tour of Gargano and we’ve ticked off every village on the northern Gargano coast. Not quite as we planned.

We spend the sunset evening wandering around the marina with an ice-cream. It is seriously hot and the hot sea breeze is not helping us feel any cooler. Sweat is pumping out of us and we are zapped of energy. We sit on the marina bench and our heads flicker from left to right. To our left, a the sea dredger scooping tons of silt from the sea bed. To our right, a knot of narrow streets winding up the hillside town of Rodi. By the time we finish our ice-cream the street lights start to flicker, the wood ovens fire up and the village starts to come alive.

Our Bumble paid car park at Rodi GPS position: for N041.930433, E015.888294

The sun barely has a chance to unsung itself from the aloes the following morning, before we are on the road again. We are determined to find paradise and a beautiful beach for Carys. We take a scenic drive through not so sleepy hilltop villages, rounding corners to find half the citizens sitting drinking coffee in the middle of the street, as if every day is a jubilee celebration. The small streets are wall to wall with cars and locals just double park as they nip in to their local store for goods. In the hills smoke, we are not sure if they are controlled fires set by the farmers or forest forest but certainly feels like we need to stay on the coast line.

Drove anywhere and everywhere to find campsite, sosta or wild spot but everywhere full or charging silly money for a night. Thirty miles further on, a town springs out of nowhere. A casual mess of a place called Peschici, where rubbish blows round and round in tight circles and hard men with pinched faces and grey beards squat on the steps and watch us go by.

Turning off here, we follow an unnamed road which eventually leads us to a small supermarket. We pull in and park up. Not for shopping but water. Craig has spotted a water point and with the aid of a spanner we manage to fill up both motorhomes with fresh water. We also end up helping a motorhome full of young Italians (and full being 12 people!) on their maiden voyage. They had not got a clue how to do anything, so Craig and Andrew kindly showed them the ropes whilst we played with the walkie talkies.

The next part of our drive took us along the coastal road of Testa del Gargano. This area was barely accessible by road until the 20th century, the jagged cliff bound peninsula is one of Italy’s least explored stretches of coastline. The Testa del Gargano is still isolated and can only be reached by boat. The tiny coves and bays with white rocks dotted in the turquoise waters made our desire to find somewhere even more so.

All around the wild coast line abandoned building and towns, creeping like honey suckle up vertiginous cliffs, crumbling churches and tumbledown houses. And it is all but deserted until there is a section of sand! At Mattinata we finally found space at an Agritourism place at €18 per night. Set within a full circuit of stone walls and watched over by huge rock, it looks tremendous from below. Similarly, from up in the town, the surrounding countryside strewn with vineyards, orchards and olive groves is equally impressive. A quiet place in an unshowy way from its tourist trade.

Carys and I shot to the beach for a cool down after a long day travelling. The pristine blue waters were divine and we lapped it up in the bobbing waves. At sunset we trundled back to the motorhome to find a BBQ with real chips n ketchup on tonights menu. And with the place to ourselves all the dogs went crazy with Carys chucking the ball and running them rugged.

Our Bumble paid motorhome sosta at Mattinata GPS position: for N041.697186, E016.061130

After a week of touring the Gargano Peninsular it is time to go our separate ways. Before we Andrew heads off to Pompeii we all make use of the sunshine and olive tree and do a bit of washing.  Andrew noticed something wrong with the heaters, so whilst the boys did a bit of problem solving we had some important stuff. Like wash the motorhome until it got boring, so we had a water fight instead.

With washing dry, heater sorted and the motorhome spick and span it was time to say good bye. Mac n Tosh gave Millie a little squeaky ball to keep her company on the way home. Millie was rather a taken to it.

Its been a brilliant week but I can’t help but feel sad and teary that Rachel was unable to join us.  She fought a brave and strong battle but the cancer would not let her get better. She took each day in her stride, never complaining and always hoping that the treatments would work. Rachel kept in contact with me right to the end and I so hoped she would get better. My friend was a wonderful mother to Carys and laid a strong foundation for her. Her beautiful spirit and joyful character is living on through Carys. Miss you so much Rachel x x x

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8 thoughts on “Touring the Rocky Spur of Italy, Gargano

  • Clunegapyears

    This post made me cry. I lost my best friend 2.5 years ago leaving a husband and 4 year old. Nicky’s cancer struggle was key to my decision to go travelling. They live in our memories and hearts. X

  • Robert Ellis

    Nice read & photos again ,but so sad that you found out that Rachel had died with cancer ,it just shows luv ,one never knows & glad we don’t ,it must have brought sad memories of poor Russell ,So just look after one another & enjoy ,you never know what’s round the corner ,in one part you mentioned the Italians were rather rowdy until late at night & early mornings,it reminded of parts of Benidorm ,I keep away from them parts they are just idiots ,they make you feel shamed of being British ,but lm lucky they all know Roberto ,My friend found it to hot for him in August & he said he’d take me on next time,he’s not bothered about a tan now ,he’d that many showers ,As always luv to you all ,Keep on enjoying Pops xxxDudes xxx