The Gargano Peninsula 22 - 29 April 2017

For the lover of wildflowers, 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



Gargano is often cited as an orchid ‘hotspot’. It is an island in botanical, if not strict geographic, terms and over the millennia endemic orchid species have evolved there. Gargano owes much to the islands off the coast of what is now Croatia and is basically a lump of limestone with fertile plains near the coast and, at much higher altitude, stony ground cultivated at a basic level. Grazing is performed 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) with an under-storey of blue anemones (Anemone blanda) white narcissus (Narcissus poeticus), yellow orchids (Dactylorhiza romana) and a few paeonies (Peonia mascula)in spring.



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 nearly 1000m in altitude between the base and summit of Gargano so that orchids on the heights can flower some three to four weeks after the same species has bloomed closer to sea level. No two years in succession will produce the same flowering at the same time...we choose our dates to optimise flowering times.



Price: €1620

Dates: 22 - 29 April 2017

Accommodation
We stay in 2 comfortable 3 star hotels. The first four nights in a modern hotel just outside the hill-top town of Monte Sant’Angelo and the last 3 nights in the small town of Peschici in a hotel with rooms overlooking the sea and a restaurant which serves excellent seafood!

What’s included
All tuition
All local travel including pick up and drop off at airport
All meals with wine - gourmet picnics at luncthtime (weather permitting)
All accommodation

What’s not included
Flights
Personal insurance

Food & Drink
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 sea food figure prominently on the list of local dishes.

Gargano Peninsula - Itinerary

Day 1
After arrival at Pescara 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.

Day 2
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 meet the Gargano flora.

Day 3
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 Mte Sacro.

Day 4
We walk to Mte St 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: O. biscutella. Here the flowering is some three weeks later than the coast.

Day 5
We transfer to the picturesque 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 appenina. Our afternoon walk takes us along a ridge down to the coast a short drive from Peschici.

Day 6
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.

Day 7
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.

Day 8
We travel to Pescara 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 in an early spring farmers make use of the fresh grass and move their animals to the heights. We must reserve the right to change the itinerary to ensure that you see as much of the floral richness as possible – we will be in Gargano for several days beforehand checking out sites and fine-tuning.


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