If you are able to go to the Gargano peninsula make sure you include a visit to Peschici, definitely our favourite town in this attractive and unusual part of Puglia.
The Gargano peninsula, the "spur on the heel of the boot" of Italy, is quite different in physical character from the rest of Puglia. It has a mountainous interior, much of it forested, with a coastline consisting of limestone headlands separating sandy beaches.
Peschici is on the northern side of Gargano, a small town (population about 4,700) perched on a headland about 100 metres above the sea, overlooking a sandy bay.
The name sounds as though it might have something to do with fish, but the true origins seem to be in ancient Slavonic language, related to the quality of its sand, which is famously fine. The current origins of the town date back to the early 11th century, when the Emperor Ottone I took this part of Gargano from the Turks and built two colonial towns, Rodi Garganico and Peschici. The Normans, who expelled the Turks from the whole of the Gargano, built a castle on the headland at Peschici. Frederick II extended and reinforced the castle and the small city. It functioned as a stronghold for the subsequent occupying powers of Puglia - Angevin, Aragonese and Spanish. It was incorporated into the Kingdom of Naples and in1861 became part of the newly unified Italy.
It is now an important tourist centre and holiday destination, very busy in the July-September period, pretty quiet for the rest of the year. The small centro storico is on the rocky promontory, quite separate from the beach resort below, the two linked by steep stepped footpaths and tricky roads.
The centro storico is small and can be quickly explored. Entered through the Porta del Ponte, one of the three original gates into the walled city, a series of narrow streets connect the gateway to the castello with its commanding viewpoint out to sea. The Corso Garibaldi which leads up to the Porta del Ponte is the lively heart of the town, the focus of the evening passeggiata, with a small park and stalls selling local merchandise.
The castle dates originally from 970 when the Byzantines built a series of fortifications, which were later increased by the Normans. In 1239 it was badly damaged by attacks from the Venetian fleet in the war between the Pope and Frederick II, who rebuilt the fortifications afterwards. Subsequently the castle formed a vital part of defences against the Turks in this area. Restored to more or less its present form in the 18th century, it is mainly now a viewpoint (and restaurant!).
Two small but very beautiful churches are integrated into the fabric of the centro storico and are well worth visiting if they are open (usually closed in the afternoons, open morning and evening)
* Chiesa Sant'Elia (the patron saint of Peschici) dates from the 13th century but was restored in the 18th century. It contains paintings by the 17th century Neapolitan school.
* Chiesa del Purgatorio (or Santa Maria del Suffragio) was formerly used by the nearby Benedictine Abbey of Calena as a repository for bones of the dead monks. There is a painting on the ceiling of "Purgatory, Heaven and Hell".
The main beach area lies below the town and can be reached on foot via paths and steps (or vice versa if you are down below - we have only ever stayed in the town centre). There are several hotels, campsites and holiday complexes there, busy in the main season, otherwise pretty well empty.
Next to the beach is a small port/marina. From there during the summer and weekends other times of the year you can take various boat trips to explore the grottoes along the coast and visit the Tremiti Islands.
There are a whole range of options for eating in Peschici, with several excellent bars and restaurants in the centro storico, the Corso Garibaldi and Viale Kennedy just a few steps below the Corso, where several restaurants and bars have terraces overlooking the beach. There are also many eating options outside the centre, including coastal restaurants inside trabucchi (the famous fishing platforms which are a feature of the Gargano) - but you will usually need a car or taxi to get to these places.
As in the Gargano generally, you may struggle if you don't want seafood. Some restaurants offer nothing not involving fish or shellfish. Most have a limited range of grilled/roast meat and vegetables. And there are several pizzerie and bruschetterie.
Peschici is easy enough to reach by road, and there are places to park in and around the centre and in the beach area, although they get full in summer. Roads throughout the Gargano are tortuous, so be ready to take your time.
It is also easy to reach by public transport. Buses run every couple of hours (less frequently on Sundays) between San Severo and Vieste - they call in at Peschici, the trip takes a couple of hours. Alternatively, the local railway run by Ferrovie del Gargano runs direct from Foggia, through San Severo to San Nicandra, Rodi and Peschici, a scenic route much of it overlooking the lagoons along the north cast of the Gargano. The terminus of the railway is about four kilometres short of Peschici itself, at Peschici Calanella; a bus service links the town with the station, the trip takes about 15 minutes. (NB Although the bus services and the train services in this area are all operated by Ferrovie del Gargano, you will need separate tickets for the bus and the train - these can be bought at the same time from any of the station ticket offices, bars or tabacchini which sell tickets).
Note that the buses into Peschici from San Severo and from the station go a long way round to get to the top of the town from the beach, so don't panic. As coaches are banned from the central area, the bus terminus (just a turning area) is above the town centre, near the large cemetery, a flower shop, a fruit market and a bar which sells tickets. Head downhill (unfortunately uphill on the way back) for 5-10 minutes along Via Monesanto until you reach the elegant white Chiesa di Sant'Antonio, turn right into Via Magenta (where there is a tourist information centre open Monday-Saturday 10.00am-12.30pm and 4.00pm-7.30pm), then left to reach the gateway into the centro storico.