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Gargano – spring flowers and natural history in southern Italy

A relaxed week of wildflowers and country walks, exploring the Gargano Peninsula.

The Gargano forms the ’spur’ on the boot of Italy. It is a mountainous chunk of limestone with more in common with coastal Croatia than the surrounding Italian plains, rising up above 1,000m above sea level and forming a rugged peninsula jutting out into the Adriatic.

The Gargano has a unique botanical and historical legacy, a product of its position, geology and isolation from the coastal plains. It is not surprising that the Gargano is a designated National Park!

Our visit is timed to make the most of the wonderful spring flowers. The area has the highest orchid diversity in Europe with several endemic species, including the ‘bee’ orchids Ophrys garganica and O.bertoloniformis, which will no doubt feature high on our list of finds during the week, along with carpets of Green-winged and Pink Butterfly

Orchids on the limestone plateau. Colourful dwarf irises, Iris lutescens and I. pseudopumilia are found in abundance in the rough meadows, with Viola bertolonii, Anemone apennina and Cyclamen repandum in the leaf litter of the ancient deciduous woodlands that cloak the centre of the peninsula.

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We will be based in the historic town of Monte Sant Angelo, perched high on the limestone ridge with views out over the Gulf of Manfredonia, from where we will take daily excursions to explore the various habitats and hidden corners of the Gargano. As well as the wonderful flowers, we will visit internationally important wetlands, home to flocks of Greater Flamingos and migrating waders heading north for the summer.

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Return flights from UK to Bari. Local transport as specified in the itinerary. Seven nights’ accommodation, full board basis.

Not included

Refreshments. Entrance fees for optional sightseeing (e.g. museums). Gratuities. Travel insurance.

Day 1 Our flight takes us to Bari from where we head northwards, stopping along the way to look across the extensive salt plans near Margherita di Savoia, home to a large population of Greater Flamingos. Continuing northwards, we head around the Gulf of Manfredonia before climbing onto the Gargano, arriving at our hotel in the hilltop town of Monte Sant’Angelo.

Day 2 Today we head out by foot, walking along the limestone ridge west of town. The hillside should be ablaze with colour at this time of year. The limestone of the southern Gargano is particularly rich in orchids, and we will have our first introduction to the bewildering diversity. Moltoni’s (Subalpine) Warbler and Sardinian Warbler sing their scratchy song from the scattered bushes, with spring butterflies on the wing, hopefully including the impressive Southern Festoon.

Day 3 Today we travel by bus into the Gargano National Park. Here we will walk a section of the ’pilgrims way’ that passes through the meadows and woods, where carpets of orchids can be found. Even more impressive than the orchids are the irises, with meadows full of Iris lutescens in its many shades, from white through blue to deep velvety purples.

Day 4 We head to the northern side of the Gargano Peninsula, and the Riserva Naturale Lago di Lesina. We will check the reedbeds and willows for Penduline Tit; Squacco Heron stalk the shallows hunting for small fish; amongst the variety of waders feeding on the muddy margins we hope to see Avocet, Black-winged Stilt and perhaps even Collared Pratincole while Bee-eaters hawk overhead. From here we move to the Riserva Naturale Isola di Varano, with interesting coastal plants growing on the sandy beach.

Day 5 Today we head into the centre of the Gargano, and the Foresta Umbra, the ‘forest of the shadows’. Covering around 10,500 hectares of oak, maple and yew forest, this is reputed to be one of the largest broadleaved forests in southern Europe. We will look for Blue Anemone Anemone apennina, Coral-root Cardamine bulbifera, Spring Sowbread Cyclamen repandum and Wild Peony Paeonia mascula, along with woodpeckers and other woodland birds amongst the trees.

Day 6 Today is a free day. You might choose to visit the various historic and cultural sites of Monte Sant’Angelo, sample the delicious Brutti Ma Buoni, ’ugly but beautiful’ biscuits (a local speciality), walk back out to the orchid-covered hillsides or venture a little further afield to the beautiful Abbey of Sta Maria di Pulsano.

Day 7 We are back on the orchid hunt: we will visit the limestone hill of Monte Sacro, once the site of a famous shrine dedicated to Jupiter and more recently a Benedictine Abbey, now in ruins. On the walk up the hill we will stop many times to enjoy the wild flowers.

Day 8 After one last breakfast it is time to bid farewell to the Gargano and make the return journey back to Bari and our flights home.

Please note that the itinerary may be changed to suit the weather or other practicalities at the discretion of the leaders.

Our home for the week is Santangelo House, a guesthouse set on the edge of Monte Sant’Angelo, with easy access to the orchid-rich countryside and views out over the Gulf of Manfredonia. All rooms are en-suite.

Evening meals will be taken at a nearby restaurant and we will take picnic lunches.

We will travel by small coach or minibus.


The group flights are with British Airways from London Gatwick:

The only other direct flights to Bari are from London Stansted, and would entail separate transfers from/to the airport in Italy.

Italy is one hour ahead of the UK.

If you hold a UK passport, you do not currently need a visa to travel to Italy. If you do not have a UK passport, please check with your local consulate.

At this time of year the weather should hopefully be warm and sunny, with average temperatures around 20° C. As with everywhere, the weather is less predictable now than it used to be, and there may be cooler or hotter weather and some rain. We will do our best to adapt our walks and excursions accordingly.

On several days, we are walking for much of the day: the longest walk will be about six miles, albeit at a relatively slow pace. It is necessary to walk on rougher ground and up some slopes, although the walking is not strenuous. Walking boots (e.g. lightweight) are essential.

All walks are optional and you can choose to enjoy a day around the accommodation if you prefer. The pace will be relaxed, with time to enjoy the surroundings and take photos as well as enjoying the wildlife along the way.