Long seen as the budget alternative to the opposing Amalfi Coast by domestic travelers and largely unknown to international travelers, Gargano National Park is a surprising and alluring mix of charming Italian villages that brave the exposed cliffs above the Adriatic Sea and all of the things you'd expect to get out of a national park. That means jaunts through dense forest in the Foresta Umbra, snorkeling and diving in the flawless waters of the Tremiti Islands, and endless views over land and water that will make you thankful that humankind hasn't yet crammed itself into every attractive cranny.
Geographically, Gargano National Park covers the entire spur at Italy's heel and encompasses a handful of seaside towns that have the look and feel that is expected of authentic Italy without the brigade of tourists. Vieste, Monte Sant’Angelo, Manfredonia, all Peschici nestle arrestingly into the rough-hewn coast and all provide the attraction of preserved town centers and limestone edifices like castles and fortresses that have stood proudly for centuries. Accommodations are also surprisingly affordable along the Gargano Promontory , while the community of San Giovanni Rotondo is home to cultural standouts like the Sanctuary of St. Michael, which was built around the grotto in which St. Michael is said to have appeared, and the world-famous Shrine of Padre Pio, the modern saint said to have suffered stigmata.
For those of us who crave the outdoors in our travels, there is plenty to do in Gargano National Park. The Foresta Umbra is a protected forest that is popular for its dozens of hiking trails and varied mix of foliage, while there are a multitude of cart tracks up Monte Sant'Angelo and other low-lying peaks that can be unexpectedly tough for those looking to trek amongst the Puglia region's revered variety of rare orchids. Then again, the coast is a medley of sea caves and both sand and pebble beaches. Any of the aforementioned communities (Vieste, Peschici, etc.) have a number of excellent beaches, while the two main islands of the Tremiti chain, San Domino and San Nicola, are home to a medley of pleasant stretches of sand. Stay on the islands, which don't allow cars, for breathtaking ocean views and a collection of water caves that are usually accessed by boats that tour the islands. Scuba divers of all abilities will have plenty to do here as well, from seeking out ancient Roman shipwrecks to splitting underwater arches to discovering a submerged statue of Padre Pio himself off of San Nicola.
For more on the many opportunities that await you in this off-the-beaten-track corner of Italy, take a look through the included links.