The Gargano Peninsula is a sparsely populated promontory jutting into the Adriatic Sea just above the ‘boot’ of Italy. It is an area of enormous botanical interest, yet, until recently, it has remained relatively unknown. A region of rolling limestone hills and tiny, arid fields, its landscape is punctuated by small medieval towns and scarred by the erosion that has created numerous caves, dolines, swallow holes, deep gorges and rock bridges. Along the northern side of the peninsula, Aleppo Pines and the elegant spires of Italian Cypress line the white cliffs which plunge to the wine-dark Adriatic Sea.
The fact that the peninsula was once an island, making it geographically isolated, and the lack of intensive farming must account for its exceptionally rich plant-life. Over 2,000 plant species have been recorded here, including 69 species of orchids (the greatest concentration of different orchid species in Europe). It was for this reason that the Gargano Peninsula, just 65 kilometres long and 45 kilometres wide, and reaching a maximum height of 1,065 metres at Mount Calvo, was recently declared a national park. It is also, of course, the reason behind this exciting Naturetrek tour, on which we hope to see over 40 of these orchids, together with a number of bulbous plants and a high proportion of the endemic plant species.
This will not be a strenuous tour. We will be far too busy looking at plants to walk fast! It is, however, a 2-centre holiday, starting at Monte Sant’Angelo, an attractive, clustered medieval town situated 800 metres up on a limestone escarpment overlooking the south coast. We will take some time to wander its winding streets and to visit its famous shrine of St. Michele Archangelo. Our hotel, situated on the edge of the town, enjoys wonderful views of the Gulf of Manfredonia, and only a short walk away is an ancient chapel surrounded by flower laden terraces — a favourite pre-breakfast walk of many clients.
We will not move far on our first day, for we will spend the time exploring the rocky terraces close to our hotel, wandering amongst colourful rockroses, asphodels and large patches of pink Butterfly Orchids. We will also see the endemic pale Goldendrop (Onosma lucana) and encounter our first Bee Orchids, Ophrys promontorii, O. passionis var garganica, O. apulica, O. bertolonii, and possibly O. bertoloniformis, together with the more familiar Burnt-tip, Green-winged and Milky Orchids. On another day we will explore the Bosco Quarto, walking through an area of Oak and Hornbeam woods and small rocky fields. On the way, we will stop to see a mass of Iris pseudopumila, Narcissus poeticus, the Pheasant’s Eye Daffodil, and carpets of the lovely Anemone apennina, while during our walk we will see Dactylorhiza romana, the Roman Orchid, as well as large patches of the beautiful blue Iris lutescens, growing in the open fields.
Another expedition takes us to Monte Sacro. We picnic below the mountain in flower-filled fields, with yet more orchids: Orchis intacta, the Dense-flowered Orchid, and Ophrys biscutella among them. At the top of Monte Sacro there are interesting ruins of the old abbey of St. Maria. Walking up through Quercus ilex we come across Ornithogalum montanum and, in open places, Orchis quadripunctata and O. pauciflora.
We will spend the latter part of our holiday based at Peschici, on the Gargano’s north coast. During our drive across the peninsula we will enjoy a picnic in the Foresta Umbra. This is a good place to walk and see Narcissus poeticus, the Pheasant’s Eye Daffodil, and blue patches of the lovely Anemone apennina. We will spend some time exploring the forest, a vast woodland reserve of Beech, Holm and Turkey Oak, Hornbeam and Italian Maple set in the heart of the peninsula. Peschici is a small and charming fishing village that spills down the cliffs into the sea. In summer this is a busy seaside resort but during our visits we will almost have it to ourselves. Our hotel looks out over the harbour, with steps winding up behind us to the old town.
From here we will spend a full day in exploration of the north coast. We will make many botanical stops but our site of key focus is Bosco di Spinapulci, a rocky hillside with many familiar Mediterranean plants, including Cyclamen repandum and some interesting orchids, including Serapias cordigera, Ophrys parvimaculata, and the Fragrant Bug Orchid, Orchis fragrans. During the last part of the day we may take the opportunity to explore the Gargano’s largest dolina, its limestone content assuring us of interesting flowers.
By the end of our holiday we will have had some wonderful experiences in a relatively unknown area, and enjoyed the genuine friendliness of the local people, the beautiful scenery, excellent local food (including some superb fish!) and wines and, we hope, will have returned with a lengthy and highly interesting plant list.
Andrew & Jessica were truly exceptional. Both were superb botanists and both had very good skills and knowledge in other areas of natural history. Their organisation was faultless and their picnic lunches superb!
Mr & Mrs B.
We had a wonderful holiday. Andrew & Jessica were knowledgeable and enthusiastic tour leaders and treated us to a wealth of botanical experiences.
Mr & Mrs S.
Thanks to our excellent, knowledgeable leaders this holiday offered everything we could have hoped for. The organisation, information and picnics were first class.
Dr & Mrs H.
Andrew and Lee complemented each other perfectly and were splendid leaders. Lee's salad skills were wonderful and they were both kindness personified.
I cannot speak highly enough as to the professionalism, care and hard working leaders.
Mr & Mrs M.
We were particularly impressed with both Andrew and Lee. Their knowledge and enthusiasm made the holiday very enjoyable. With such a trip there is sure to be a diverse level of interest and experience amongst the travellers but both leaders coped with this very well.
We had a wonderful time. All my life I have been a wild flower/orchid enthusiast - very amateur - and thanks to Andrew I saw and learnt so much. Both he and Lee have a remarkably wide knowledge and answered our many questions with patience and respect.
Andrew and Lee were most excellent leaders in every way - a real joy to be with.
Andrew and Lee were both amazing polymaths in all things natural history, and surely the picnic kings of Italy.
Could not fault Andrew and Lee as leaders. Nothing was too much trouble; they set off every morning after shopping so full of enthusiasm to find the best orchids and we were not disappointed.
The leaders, Andrew and Lee, were quite outstanding in every possible respect.
The trip was excellent. The leaders were first class, not only experts but very enthusiastic. Nothing was too much trouble.
Very well organised trip with outstanding leaders, nothing was too much trouble and their knowledge was excellent. We visited interesting sites with fascinating plants and plenty of interesting insects. The two leaders worked well together and were able to satisfy the wide range of interests and abilities within the group.
We loved the trip. We went to learn about the orchids and the flowers, some of which we were already familiar with, in order to provide a foundation of knowledge we could improve on when travelling with members of our family or with friends … We were so impressed by the efficiency of Naturetrek and the extraordinary quality of Andrew and Lee in helping and organising our days that we will encourage friends and acquaintances to use your services wherever we can ...
The fact that I enjoyed this holiday was due to the leader, Andrew Cleave. He drove us safely, prepared excellent lunches and was a mine of information on all aspects of wildlife and the local terrain.
Andrew Cleave was a real expert, a lovely leader who worked hard all the time in spite of being ill for three days. He showed us an enormous range of plants and provided us with lovely picnic lunches consisting of several types of fruit juice, 2-3 types of cold meat, fresh fruit, several types of cakes, figs and dates, bean salad and wine. We were invited to shop and choose/suggest picnic food. It was an extra bonus that he was also interested in birds. His timing at each site was excellent, so we neither felt rushed nor wishing to move on sooner. All these things contributed to a lovely holiday.
Andrew Cleave had a lovely relaxed approach. He gave just the right amount of information.
The leaders were excellent, very knowledgeable and most helpful.
We thoroughly enjoyed the whole trip and our leader was excellent. Relaxed, knowledgeable and great company. He managed to strike the perfect balance between making sure everybody got to see everything and allowing us to relax and roam about.
The leader was a great ambassador for Naturetrek. In particular I cannot speak highly enough of his concern and the trouble he went to in order to help us get the most out of a wonderful part of Italy; as a result the trip was great fun and a wonderful learning experience. Many thanks Naturetrek for a most memorable holiday.
The leaders, itinerary, picnics, travel etc all excellent.
It was a very good group who all got on with each other, were helpful, friendly and interesting. Covered a lot of interests. The leaders were both outstanding and worked very well together. No praise is too high for them. Their knowledge too was complimentary. The vehicles suited the task well. Altogether most enjoyable. The second hotel was particularly excellent with good food.
The tour leaders, Rob and Jessica, were superlative. Their depth of knowledge made the trip most informative.
This holiday was well-nigh perfect because of the quality of the leaders.
Jessica was an outstandingly good leader in every way. Her efficiency, constant hard work, patience, cheerfulness, resourcefulness and punctuality were exemplary. She has an extraordinary knowledge of both flowers and birds.
Best orchid trip we have been on!
Rob Mileto was outstanding. He was of course extremely knowledgeable and was an excellent leader to those of us who came just to learn with little prior knowledge and also to those who had a wealth of experience. He was always cheerful, extremely patient and helpful, clear in his details and organisation. He worked so hard for us to make the holiday memorable and enjoyable and succeeded on both counts. I would go on any holiday led by Rob and cannot speak too highly of him. Are all your leaders like Rob?
Both leaders were infinitely patient, cheerful and helpful. They exceeded my expectations. They both had a wide knowledge of plants, birds, butterflies etc. Sus enthusiasm and expertise of orchids made the trip very enjoyable and informative - the week was outstanding. To find two such excellent leaders as we had on the trip was fantastic and they made the holiday truly memorable.
Both Su and Ted did everything possible to make the week a great success. They had an excellent rapport with the group, making sure everyone was involved and their cheerful enthusiasm did much to make us develop into a happy group.
Rob Mileto is an exceptional leader - clearly knowledgeable, clearly interested in everyone, nothing is too much trouble. Overall this was an excellent holiday, well led and fantastic flowers.