Gargano - spring flowers and natural history in southern Italy
A relaxed week of wild flowers and country walks, exploring the Gargano Peninsula, famous for its diversity of orchids, multi-coloured irises, wild tulips and showy peonies.
15 – 22 April 2020
Single Room Supplement – £110
Return flights from UK to Bari. Local transport as specified in the itinerary. Seven nights’ accommodation, full board basis.
Refreshments. Entrance fees for optional sightseeing (e.g. museums). Gratuities. Travel insurance.
Minimum 6, maximum 12.
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 1000m above sea level to form 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 is most famous for its amazing orchid diversity, amongst the most diverse areas in Europe with several endemic forms, including the ‘bee’ orchids Ophrys ‘bertoloniformis’, O. argolica ssp biscutella and O. fuciflora ssp apulica, 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 bicapitata and I. pseudopumilia are found in abundance in the rough meadows, with Wild Peony, Poet’s Narcissus and Wild Tulip all adding extra splashes of colour.
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, from the orchid-rich limestone grasslands to the ancient deciduous woodlands that cloak the centre of the peninsula, one of the largest broadleaved forests in southern Europe.
Please note that holidays change, although sometimes only slightly, from year to year and previous trip reports may not reflect the planned itinerary, or other holiday details, for the current trip. Please ask us if you would like to know of any significant differences.
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. Eastern Subalpine 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 Today we will head into the centre of the peninsula, for an exploration of the quiet woodlands and grassy clearings of the Bosco Quarto. Nearby we will make a couple of roadside stops, where we will enjoy a splash of bright colours, with flowering Wild Peony Paeonia mascula and Wild Tulip Tulipa sylvestris.
Day 5 Today we head into the heart 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, Spurge Laurel Daphne laureola and Coralroot Bittercress Cardamine bulbifera.
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 the Palace Hotel San Michele, a four-star hotel 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.
Most evening meals will be taken in the hotel restaurant: on two nights we will ‘eat out’ at a delightful local restaurant in the historic streets of Monte Sant Angelo. We will take picnic lunches out with us every day.
For our daily excursions, we will travel by small coach: we may use a local taxi occasionally.
The group flights are with British Airways from London Gatwick:
15th April depart London Gatwick 07.20, arrive Bari 11.10
22nd April depart Bari 12.05, arrive London Gatwick 14.05
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 15-20° 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 6 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. The pace will be relaxed, with time to enjoy the surroundings and take photos as well as enjoying the wildlife along the way.