For an active Puglia vacation, and for a chance to fully – and slowly - appreciate the region’s landscape, consider adding a hiking excursion to your trip down Italy’s heel.

The promontory of the Gargano is especially suitable for trekking: white limestone cliffs, grottoes, ancient forests, olive and almond groves, colorful orchids and dense scrub vegetation, overlooking the beautiful sea of Puglia, ranging in color from light to intense blue. The promontory sits within the beautiful National Park of Gargano, created in 1991 to halt urbanization which threatened the natural wonders of the area.

If you're in good shape, consider taking the Sentiero delle Quattro Spiagge (Trail of the Four Beaches): it’s a 21-kilometer day trek, challenging but rewarding both from an athletic and a panoramic point of view. Drops are easy, and, when you get tired, you can stop for a refreshing dip into the sea at one of the marvelous beaches you’ll encounter along the trail (don’t forget your swimsuit!).

The starting point is the beach at Mattinata, a famous seaside resort town in the province of Foggia. Leaving behind the chairs and umbrellas , the trail goes up to Il Principe, where purple signs point the way toward Tor di Lupo, the beginning of a long climb through the spectacular valley of the Ripe Rosse, which will take you at 450 meters above sea level. The name of the valley derives from the number of iron oxides giving a red hue to the overhanging walls, covered in part by euphorbia and inhabited by different bird species, such as sparrows, kestrels, and ravens.

Afterwards, the spectacular ridge of Mont’Elici leads downhill to the beach of Mattinatella, surrounded by high cliffs covered by pine trees. A good time to stop for a restorative bath and to refill your water bottle.

[Baia dei Mergoli.]

Now you’re ready for the climb up to Scapone. Walking along a stretch overlooking the sea, you reach another ridge which descends toward the popular Baia dei Mergoli, also known as Baia delle Zagare for the numerous citrus groves growing in the area. This beach is famous for the two rock formations jutting out of the sea in front of the bay enclosed by a steep white cliff. One of them features an arc, carved by the sea through a vertical fracture.

The last three kilometers now await: the trail is pleasantly easy, developing along large white roads above cliffs, immersed among olive trees and Aleppo pines. As you get close to your final destination, the bay of Vignanotica, the trails gets narrower and the woods thicken. Lying down on the beach of polished pebbles at Vignanotica will feel especially good after the long trek.

[Vignanotica Bay.]

If there’s still time, you may want to hop on a boat which takes you to see the many grottoes along this stretch of coast. Boats will also take you back to Mattinata, but reserve your spot in advance.   

If seven hours of trekking sound like too many for you, then you may opt for the shorter trek up to Monte Saraceno, six kilometers for about three hours of walking. The promontory, which reaches a modest height of 200 meters, closes the bay of Mattinata to the south; on the top is an important historic-archeological site, the necropolis of Daunia, with about 500 tombs dating to the 6th-5th century BC. The Daunians were ancient inhabitants of the area of Puglia corresponding to the modern province of Foggia. The trail is steep, but the views over the coast to the south of Mattinata make up for the effort.

Know of other beautiful hiking trails in Puglia? Let us know in comments.