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This year, Luigina offered us a longer 6-day trip in May, different from the usual shorter trips in October. This gave us the opportunity to visit the Gargano National Park with a trip to the protected marine area of the Tremiti Islands.

A group of 25 trekkers, including coordinator, Maura Marlow flew to Bari on May 24, a late flight with a 2-hour drive to our first hotel Mont Sant’Angelo, arrival just past midnight.

The original programme prepared by Lugina was revised on site, as weather conditions changed. From the mountain top of Sant’Angelo, we explored the medieval centre of the town then after lunch moved to Mattinata to trek along the challenging rocky coast and to see the Daunian necropolis and the Basilica of San Michele Archangelo. We certainly got to know how powerful St. Michael’s influence is in Gargano!

Sunday May 26 we travelled to the Hotel Falcone in Vieste. As we arrived and unloading luggage, a violent storm greeted us. Luckily, our hotel rooms were ready so we could wait an hour and a half to begin our guided tour of the town with an impromptu lunch of pizzicoti. In the afternoon we trekked the Trabucchi coast to see the old wooden fishing structures jutting out into the sea, a characteristic of this part of Gargano.

Monday May 27, we left the hotel and walked to the port for a boat excursion to the sea caves. We held our breath as the specially designed boat entered the enormous caves to explore the grandeur and wildlife there and on the cliffs. In the afternoon we trekked along the coast up to Sfinalicchio and had a wonderful picnic, delivered by Matteo and his tiny dog! The view from the top out to the emerald sea was breathtaking! We continued along beaches, long and sandy towards Peschici, clambering down rocky cliffs at times and heading towards another trabiccho. That day was some work out as we finally reached the hotel with very sore muscles and aching knees!

A complete change of scenery the next day was the Umbrian Forest, where we first met the fallow deer, greedy for any morsel of food. The tall beech trees in this thousand-year-old forest gave us shade and fresh air and discoveries of the wildlife (tiny frogs!) and flora, pointed out by Luigina. Another picnic, provided by Matteo’s mother, under the trees was a treat indeed. Our last part of the day was spent at the masserie, where, fortunately, a tv crew were filming for RAI Linea Verdi (to be screened end of June). The young farmer outlined the problems of trying to protect his cows and goats against all odds, including raids by wolves, without any help from agencies. We watched him and his father make caciocavallo cheese by hand as well as fresh goat cheese from his lovely long-haired black goats! Needless to say, quite a few had photos taken with Giuseppe Calabrese, presenter of Linea Verde! The unexpected ending to our interesting day was a folk dancing and singing presentation at dinner! Very entertaining!

May 29 was the Tremiti Island trip so again we walked to the port for the 2-hour trip out to the islands. The sea was calm and on arrival we headed up the steep cobblestones to the fortress and abbey of Santa Maria and the penitentiary, already a penal colony in 1783, and a place of imprisonment for 1,300 Lybians in 1911. The panoramic views over the turquoise sea, often compared to the Caribbean Sea, were stunning! Our round the islands boat trip gave us an all -round view of these special islands.

After checking out of our hotel on our last day and picking up our lunch of Apulian focacciae, we headed to Manfredonia and visited the medieval church of Santa Mary of Siponto, a Romanesque church from 1117 to see the magnificent sculpture titled “Dove l’arte riconstruisce il tempo (Where art reconstructs time), a permanent structure of layers of wire mesh, looking like a hologram of the original church. We continued to visit San Leonardo of Siponto, a fine example of Apulian Romanesque architecture and a place for pilgrims and travellers on their way to the Holy Land during the Crusades.

Our last visit was to the vast sanctuary dedicated to Padre Pio Pietralcina, built by Renzo Piano. We marvelled at the architecture and the magnificent mosaics in the crypt chapel by Padre Marko Ivan Rupnik, who also did the mosaics at Ta’Pinu Sanctuary in Gozo.

The trip was full and varied with coastal trekking, on rocks, along endless beaches, sea trip and sea caves, and of course, the Tremiti Islands where some of us swam in the warm blue sea!

Thanks to Luigina for putting together such a varied programme in the Gargano National Park.

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