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Between Two Seas
The Gargano - The Tremiti Isles - Foggia - Campobasso - The Pontine Islands - The Circeo
We are going to cross central Italy from one coast to the other, visiting the wooded promontory of the Gargano, the sheltered towns and villages in the Apennines, and the mythical beaches in southern Latium.

Town of Lanciano



Vasto - Castle

The Gargano
Driving southwards from Pescara along the main Adriatic road towards Francavilla al Mare and Ortona, a fishing port and seaside resort, from where we can make a detour to nearby Lanciano, with its three fine churches and the remains of a stout town wall. Continuing south we come to S. Vito (km 8.4), and shortly afterwards we turn off to Fossacesia (3 kms) with its superb Abbey of S. Giovanni in Venere - one of Abruzzo's most beautiful Cistercian Gothic churches. Back on the coast is Vasto, dominating a wonderful land and seascape, with its huge quadrangular castle and ancient churches: the cathedral, S. Maria Maggiore, S. Pietro (ruined by landslips, but with a fine portal still intact). In Piazza del Popolo stands Palazzo d'Avalos, now the municipal museum, with a collection of archaeological remains. 28 kms later, past solitary beaches, waterways and unspoiled pinewoods is Termoli; a well preserved ancient town, still enclosed by its fortified walls and dominated by an impressive castle (1247) built by Frederick II. Through an archway in the walls, we enter the old town, with its ancient little houses, staircases and porticoes, to visit the Romanesque 12th c. Cathedral. The harbour, with its many fishing boats is a lively, fascinating place to stroll around before taking a boat to the magnificent Tremiti Isles, which we shal be discussing shortly. Campomarino is a short distance away, perched up on an olive-covered hill-top. And this brings us to the threshold of the Gargano - the "spur" on Italy's heel. The Gargano contains some of southern Italy's most picturesque sites: cliffs, beaches, marinas, forests, olive groves, and open countryside studded with tiny white-painted villages. We will see the inshore lakes of Lesina and Varano, Sannicandro and Rodi Garganico - a seaside resort overhanging a rocky cliíf with a busy port from which the ferries leave to the Tremiti Isles (a one-hour crossing).


Tremiti Islands - San Nicola



Vieste
The Tremiti Isles
These are three beautiful islands, with unspoiled beaches and cliffs, and some very fine buildings, such as the 9th century Church of S. Maria on the Isle of San Nicola. The largest of the islands is San Domino, whose rugged cliffs are run through with caves (the Viole and Bue Marino grottoes are the best know). Back on the mainland, we will drive on to Rodi Garganico and Peschici. 7.5 kms further on, we suggest a detour via Vico del Gargano to drive up through the stilly silence ofthe Umbra Forest - one of Italy's finest woodlands. Back on the coast, we will go through San Menaio, Peschici, and Vieste (mediaeval castle built under Frederick II on a rocky outcrop, and 11th c. cathedral). This picturesque white town is a maze of tiny streets, staircases, arcades, porticoes and old houses. From Vieste, we should go and visit the Campana Grotto early in the morning (one hour by boat). Our tour continues via Baia delle Zagare and Pugnochiuso, seaside resorts with every modern convenience, to Mattinata and Manfredonia, founded in 1256 by King Manfred who built the castle (now the National Gargano Museum) and named the town after himself. We will visit the Church of S. Domenico (13th c.) and three kilometres along the road to Foggia, the llth c. Cathedral of S. Maria, in the ancient town of Siponto, standing in isolation by a pine forest. 10 kms further on is another interesting church, S. Leonardo di Siponto which formerly belonged to the 12th c. Abbey ofthe Teutonic Knights. Before leaving Manfredonia, we must visit Monte Sant'Angelo and see the Shrine of S. Michele, (founded in the 5th century, with the Grotto of the Archangel, the 12th Rotari tomb, the Museo Tancredi di Arti e Tradizioni Garganiche, and the Norman-Aragonese Castle) and the ancient Abbey of S. Maria di Pulsano, dug into the rock face.
   


Lucera - Swabian Castle
Foggia
The road from Manfredonia takes us to the modern, busy town of Foggia, where we will visit the Cathedral and the municipal museums, before heading for Lucera, whose Gothic cathedral is one of the greatest monuments to the Anjou period of domination, the Swabian Castle, the Municipal Museum and the Roman amphitheatre. We now enter the Molise region at Gambatesa, and as we proceed along the picturesque provincial roads, we pass through Ielsi, Ferrazzano and Campobasso, the regional capital.

Sepino - Roman Town, the theatre

Campobasso
The old part of the city is built round a hill dominated by the 16th c. Monforte Castle. From here we drive down towards Vinchiaturo, and when we reach the shady valley roads below the high Matese mountains, we will continue to Isernia (57 kms from Campobasso): the ancient Samnite and Roman city, with a fine Cathedral, elegant 14-th c. Fraterna Fountain, and a Municipal Museum containing interesting Samnite and Roman sculptures. We drive down the Volturno Valley to Venafro (Romanesque-Gothic Cathedral, Roman Ruins). The road now takes us through a corner of the Campania region, before we enter Latium, and head for Formia and Gaeta, where we can take a ferry across to the Pontine Islands - a fascinating archipelago of great natural beauty which is also served by ferries from Terracina and Anzio.


Pontine Islands - Ponza

The Pontine Islands
The most popular, and the largest, island is Ponza with its beautiful Chiaia di Luna beach and the magnificent coastline indented with bays, cliffs, rocks and grottoes. The other islands in the archipelago are Palmarola, Zannone, and Gavi to the northwest, Ventotene and Santo Stefano to the southeast. Continuing along the coast, past sandy beaches, cliffs and cliffs, with villas and Saracen towers dotted here and there, we come to the picturesque town of Sperlonga, perched high on its hill, overlooking Tiberius' Grotto, the ruins of a Roman villa, where we can visit a well-stocked archaeological museum. It is not far from here to Terracina (13th century cathedral, Roman remains, including the solitary Temple of Jupiter Anxur on a hill over-looking the town).

   

Ninfa - Caetani Castle and the pond
The Circeo
The coast road now takes us to San Felice Circeo, a picturesque village on Mount Circeo, surrounded by vineyards and villas. According to legend, Ulysses met the sorceress Circe in the grottoes of Circeii which open up onto the road which runs around the mountain, and leads straight towards Sabaudia, parallel to the long narrow beach on one side, and the inshore lakes on the other. This belongs to the National Circeo Park (Parco Nazionale del Circeo) where the vegetation and wild life are protected by law, and the visitor can enjoy the many unspoiled beauty spots in peace and quiet. If we have time, we can go inland towards Priverno-Fossanova, Sezze, Sermoneta, Norma, the quaint town of Ninfa (Caetani Castle and Garden), described in Excursion 12, and the modern city of Latina, and then back to the coast again at Torre Astura, whose name is linked to many important historical events. This is where the unfortunate Corradino of Swabia was imprisoned. Nettuno is a short drive away, with its picturesque mediaeval district surrounded by walls and the fine fortess built by Sangallo in 1503, followed by Anzio, a popular seaside resort even in ancient Roman times, as evidenced in the ruins of the Roman villas (see the remains of Nero's villa). Anzio stands at the mouth of the Tiber, and the beaches run on for about 50 kms where, according to legend, Aeneas landed. We are therefore finishing this excursion from the Adriatic to the Tyrrhenian in the part of Latium where the pre-history and the history of Rome itself began.
   
 
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