Good morning everyone on Thursday 4th March. Italy's entertainers are doing their level best to draw attention away from the pandemic at this year's Sanremo Festival. I mentioned the festival a few weeks ago and outlined its importance to the Italian public. You could describe it as somewhere in the region of an Italian version of The Oscars combined with the Eurovision Song Contest, just without the Euro bit.
It takes place in Liguria's Sanremo seaside resort once a year and it's one of those occasions where anyone who wants to be someone simply must appear. Despite the fact there's no live audience at this year's event, it's still managing to grab the morning after headlines: last night's show involved a special guest star appearance from recent Golden Globe winner Laura Pausini and a tribute to Italian composer Ennio Morricone who died last year at the age of 91. You might not know his name but you'll almost certainly have heard some of his work, among which are the fantastic scores for "spaghetti western" films such as The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.
I won't use that last word to shimmy into the latest pandemic figures yet, but there is a rather ugly situation developing between Italy and its north-eastern neighbour Slovenia. Those of you that read my blog yesterday will have noted my mention of balsamic vinegar being produced in the city of Modena in Emilia Romagna. Well it seems the authorities in Slovenia are now questioning the existing rules on what can legally be classed as balsamic vinegar and what can't. The Modenese are understandably unhappy about this and ready to fight their corner. Let's hope it doesn't start a vinegar war because none of us need that.
Further ugliness has come from a more predictable source in the last 24 hours with the upward trend in Coronavirus continuing its, erm, upward trend. Yesterday in Italy there were 20,884 new positive tests for Covid 19, an increase of nearly four thousand from the previous day and thus wiping out the good work that was done in the preceding days.
Speculation is rife about how to get those numbers down with various measures being discussed. We now know it will be at least Easter until national restrictions are eased and we can only hope that the country finds a way to speed up its vaccination program. One, medium-term solution being mooted is the ability for Italy to produce its own vaccines by the autumn; this would coincide nicely with the whole country already being vaccinated anyway so not a great source of excitement. The current beacon of light is Sardinia who announced yesterday that people must take a Coronavirus test on arrival at one of the island's ports or airports. When I read that I did ask myself "surely they were doing that anyway?".
Away from the pandemic and vinegar wars (could that work as a film title? Discuss:), the weather continues to please with most of the country bathed in sunshine again today. Temperatures remain on the low side though: Venice is lowest of all at 7° Celsius with Cagliari and Catania a good deal warmer at 16° C.
Continuing our "virtual grand tour of Italy", today the spotlight falls on Puglia, or more specifically, the region's Gargano Peninsula. I'll cover some of Puglia's most famous areas at a later date; its trulli houses of Alberobello and the beautiful Salento coastline merit undiluted attention. If we think of Italy as the shape of a boot, Puglia covers the area from the Achilles tendon down to the heel which is more or less the aforementioned Salento coastal region. If we work our way up the map a little we find a large spur of land which is the Gargano Peninsula.
The whole peninsula which also represents the Gargano National Park, is located within the Foggia Province, the northernmost province of Puglia. If coming from the north, the peninsula is just a short distance south of the seaside town of Termoli, and marked by two large lakes: Lago di Lesina and Lago di Varano. The southern entrance to the park is around the seaside town of Manfredonia which, apart from its marina and beaches, has one of Italy's best castles: the Castello Svevo Angioino.
Gargano's interior is dominated by hills and forest, studded with a number of interesting towns. The area attracts a lot of religious tourism with pilgrims heading towards the Sanctuary of Padre Pio in the town of San Giovanni Rotondo, while another hill town on the peninsula, Monte Sant'Angelo is on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites under the "Longobards: Places of the Power 568 - 774 AD)" inscription, with its Santuario di San Michele complex. Other highlights in the interior are the hill town of Vico del Gargano, but it's to the peninsula's coast that most visitors flock.
The big, headline destination on the Gargano Peninsula is the town of Vieste: this has a special place in my affections as it's the first town I visited when I decided to develop this website and explore the country in greater detail. Vieste is primarily a seaside resort with two huge, sandy beaches flanking a gorgeous old town. Part of the town sees a narrow strip of land, populated with dozens of old houses, thrust out into the sea until it reaches the pretty Chiesa di San Francesco at the end of the promontory.
Vieste is just about the easternmost point of the Gargano Peninsula and the obvious place to find accommodation if planning a stay. I would suggest anything from a day-trip to a two week holiday is possible here with plenty of places to visit nearby and plenty to keep you in Vieste itself if you simply want to relax. During the summer months, it's possible to sail from Vieste (along with several other towns on the peninsula) to the Tremiti Islands. The peninsula itself is popular with campers with plenty of campsites dotted around the coastal areas and it's also one of the best places in the country to take a scenic drive.
If you were to move in a clockwise direction, starting from Torre Mileto in the north of the peninsula, the coastal road takes you past the village of Capoiale on Lake Varano and eventually on to another of the peninsula's most popular seaside towns: Rodi Garganico. From there, the road starts to twist and turn, sometimes heading inland, until at a certain point you catch a glimpse of the glorious vista provided by the fishing village of Peschici which is a great place to stop for a bite to eat and some exploration.
From Peschici to Vieste takes around half an hour by car with some interesting scenery along the way. You could though, argue that the scenery beyond Vieste is even more spectacular. In this south-eastern section of the park that eventually leads on to Manfredonia, the jagged, white rocks of the coastline become more dramatic with highlights including the Arco di San Felice and the tiny island called Isola di Campi. One of Puglia's most iconic sights, the beach at Baia delle Zagare with its huge sea stacks is in this area and precedes a number of other beaches including those in the small seaside town of Mattinata. If you want to get out of the car and do some exploring then a hike down the cliffs towards Vignanotica Beach is another option.
Well I hope you enjoyed our mini-tour of the Gargano Peninsula and I also hope it's not too long before it's possible to visit again. I'll leave you with some images for now and let's see what the morrow brings.
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My name is Dion Protani, founder of Italy Review. The Italy Review blog is designed to provide ideas and inspiration to visit places in Italy you might not have heard about, as well those you have.