Vieste is a little town located on the eastern tip of the Gargano promontory, in Puglia. Its historic center is rich in culture and history. Old Vieste stands on a rocky spur overlooking the sea and extends from the castle beach to the beach of “Marina Piccola”, crossing the thin strip of land called “Punta San Francesco”. The town has very ancient origins and has kept its original characteristics intact, with its irregular alleys, white houses, squares, and its wonderful viewpoints. Little frequented during the year, in summer the narrow streets of the historic center are populated with bazaars and shops where you can find local handicrafts (mainly terracotta, ceramic, and Lecce stone objects) and souvenirs of various types and origins.
Things to Do in Vieste
The Swabian Castle of Vieste
The main monuments of Vieste, dating back to the Middle Ages, are the Swabian castle and the Cathedral, The castle of Vieste stands on the edge of the historic center, on a cliff overlooking the sea and close to the beach of “Scialara” (also called “beach of the Castle “). Being a military headquarters, it is open to the public only during some events, but a visit is still recommended due to the impressive exterior and the beautiful panoramic view that can be enjoyed from this place. The construction of the castle began in the 11th century; in 1242 King Frederick II decided to rebuild it, within a coastal fortification project that included numerous castles along the Adriatic coast.
The Cathedral of Vieste is also located in the upper area of the medieval town, a few steps from the Swabian castle. Its construction dates back to the second half of the 11th century. It represents one of the oldest Romanesque churches in Puglia and is found in perfect harmony with the church bell tower rebuilt in Baroque style after a collapse in 1772.
The interior has three naves divided by two rows of six columns. The wooden ceiling is in Neapolitan Baroque style, painted in tempera, where there are three large canvases representing the Madonna Assunta, patron of the church, San Giorgio, protector of the town and San Michele, protector of Gargano. In the church, there is also the statue of the Madonna of Santa Maria di Merino (valuable wooden sculpture of the 14th century) which, according to tradition, was found by some sailors on the beach of Vieste. Other important works of art present in the church are: the rosary altarpiece by Michele Manchelli from 1581; the eighteenth-century canvases of the SS. Trinity by Giuseppe Tomaiuolo and a Madonna with child and saints of the Venetian school; the dead Christ and marble high-relief of the Michelangelo school.
Going down the stairs of Via Vesta, we arrive at Piazzetta del Seggio. In this little square there is the “Seggio di San Giorgio” (currently home to a hotel), a low building, with a square base, on which two large arches opened and was surmounted by a tower with a clock. It was once the town hall of the city.
Punta San Francesco
Continuing on we meet the small church of San Pietro d’Alcantara and then Punta San Francesco, the beautiful peninsula with the characteristic religious complex dating back to 1438.
The small peninsula is the end of the rock on which the medieval quarter stands, inhabited since ancient times due to its strategic position and its mighty natural bastion that made it difficult to attack by sea. The name of the peninsula is linked to that of the church and monastery that rise at its extremity. The current church with monastery, which housed the Franciscan friars, was closed in 1809 during the French rule by Joachim Murat, and was first converted into a military outpost, then a military and civil prison. From via San Francesco, looking at the church, on the left we find the bay of Marina Piccola and the islet of Sant’Eufemia which houses the lighthouse. From here a staircase takes us to a beautiful cliff with a “trabucco” and a magnificent view of the historic center overlooking the sea. Trabucchi, ancient wooden fishing tools, are widespread especially along the stretch of coast that goes from Vieste to Peschici. In some of these it is possible to stop and eat, as they have been recovered and transformed into excellent fish restaurants, or to experience direct fishing. Taking part in a fishing trip on one of these trabucchi, the giants of the sea, is in fact one of the most wonderful and exciting experiences to do in Vieste.
The Vieste lighthouse, which can be admired from most of the town, stands on the islet of Santa Eufemia, located between Punta Santa Croce and Punta San Francesco, closing the bay of Marina Piccola. Its position is strategic for the navigation routes between the middle and lower Adriatic. It was designed in 1867. Above the lighthouse tower, you can admire a spectacular brass lantern, which lights up every day at dusk and illuminates the town of Vieste with its beams of light. The lighthouse is controlled and managed by the Navy.
On the islet of the Vieste lighthouse there is a cave: inside it were found on the walls at least 200 votive inscriptions in Greek and Latin made by sailors passing through the island, some of which date from the third century BC to the late Roman period. In the following centuries the cave, from a sacred place in honor of a pagan divinity was transformed into a place of Catholic worship, as evidenced by the inscriptions from the Middle Ages, rich in Christian symbols. During the celebrations of the Madonna del Mare held at the beginning of September, the statue of Stella Maris leaves from the nearby port to reach the islet of the Vieste lighthouse with a unique procession at sea involving many boats.
Marina Piccola is a bay in the center of Vieste and one of the most fascinating places in this town. The bay of Marina Piccola was for many centuries the small port of the town, just outside the walls, with the boats lying on the sand but ready to be taken, in case of storm, to the shelter within the city walls. It currently houses a lovely garden with palm trees and a spectacular view over the beach. Marina Piccola is the place where most of the events in Vieste are held: concerts, fairs, sporting events, fireworks etc … It also hosts an outdoor amphitheater, overlooking the town of Vieste.
In Vieste, there are some of the most beautiful beaches of Gargano and also of Puglia. The whole coast of Gargano is in fact a succession of wonderful coves and sandy beaches, overhanging limestone rocks and stacks, dunes, and Mediterranean scrub.
For this reason, Vieste is an ideal destination for those seeking relaxation, beaches, and the sea. Beaches are generally with sandy and shallow bottoms, excellent for those who want to spend a family holiday.
Stairway of Love
Among the curiosities of Vieste we also remember the “stairway of love”, created on the occasion of the 1st “Vieste in Love”, painting one of the stairs that connect the old Vieste with Corso Fazzini, right near the town hall. On the steps of this unique staircase is the text of the song “The Legend of Pizzomunno and Cristalda”, by singer Max Gazzè, presented at the Sanremo Festival 2018. The song talks about the legend of “Pizzomunno”, the white monolith located at the beginning of the beach south of Vieste, the beach near the Castle.
The “Pizzomunno” is an imposing limestone monolith 25 meters high. It is located at the beginning of the beach south of the town, called “del Castello” (because it is dominated by the Swabian Castle) or “Scialara” or “del Pizzomunno”. For its grandeur, it seems to stand almost guarding Vieste and for its charm, it has become the very symbol of the town. It is really easy to get to Pizzomunno: starting from the center of Vieste we find it in all its immensity at the beginning of Mattei seafront, south of the center. For those wishing to admire it from above, they can do so from Via Bracco, in the historic center area that goes from the Swabian castle to Piazzetta Petrone.
Vieste, due to its particular position, is also an excellent starting point for discovering the Gargano area. Among the coves and the small green oases we find the sea caves: large cavities into which the sea creeps. There are about twenty sea caves in this area.
For lovers of nature, an excursion to the Umbra Forest (shady forest, because of the dense vegetation), 10,000 hectares of pristine flora and fauna, is truly unmissable. It is a protected natural area located in the Gargano National Park. The Umbra Forest has uneven geography with reliefs that reach 800 meters above sea level, with some parts that reach the coast. Since 2017, its beech forests have become part of the Unesco transnational site “Primordial beech forests of the Carpathians and other regions of Europe”, thus becoming a World Heritage Site. Gargano and the Umbra Forest can be defined as “the kingdom of biodiversity” and is the subject of continuous studies: the vegetation, for example, is characterized by the phenomenon of macrosomatism, ie the plants are larger than the norm. This allows you to come across specimens of Aleppo pines, beeches, holm oaks and yew trees of monumental size. The Umbra forest boasts over 2,000 plant species and is the largest Italian deciduous forest with beech trees, real botanical monuments, with heights of over 40 meters and diameters greater than one meter. There are about 4,000 hectares of beech and oak woods. The fauna is also very rich and varied. The Umbra Forest is a territory to be explored at all ages, very interesting especially for children. You can cross the Umbra Forest on foot, by bike, on horseback or by car. It is also possible to book a tour into the Umbra Forest by Jeep and make a suggestive itinerary surrounded by greenery. There will be some stops along the way in Apulian farms where you can taste the authentic local flavors.
Gargano National Park
For those wishing to explore the other towns in the Gargano area, there are excursions to Peschici (just 20 km), Rodi Garganico, Vico del Gargano, but also the beautiful pilgrimage destinations like Monte Sant’Angelo (which houses the church in the cave of San Michele) and San Giovanni Rotondo. Finally, we also have Tremiti Islands, an uncontaminated marine environment a few miles from the mainland where you can enjoy a crystal clear sea and admire the marine fauna and flora. Tremiti Islands can be reached by daily ferries departing from the port of Vieste. Arriving at Tremiti, in a tour of about an hour you can visit the historic center of the islands with the ancient abbey and fortress.
When you are in Vieste you must also try the typical dishes. The cuisine is the Apulian one enriched with tasty and unique specialties. The historic center is full of restaurants for all tastes and you will also find many farmhouses where you can taste local products. In Puglia, as an appetizer, there is never a shortage of tomato bruschetta seasoned with a drizzle of Apulian oil. Extra virgin olive oil can be one of the finest souvenirs to take home and, of course, you will find many farms ready to let you taste it.
Another dish not to be missed is the “Caciocavallo“, a cheese made with the milk of cows that are raised in a semi-wild state, also eating wild herbs.
As Vieste is a seaside town, fresh fish, cuttlefish, octopus, and oysters, as well as the typical and tasty fish soup called “u’ ciambott “cannot be missing at the table.
As a first course, we have the famous “orecchiette” with turnip tops. The “Paposcia” is instead focaccia cooked in a wood oven; in the classic version, it is topped with buffalo mozzarella, tomato, and rocket and a drizzle of oil. The name is given by the elongated and flattened shape that resembles a slipper which in the local dialect becomes “Paposcia”. The secret ingredient for making the dough is a natural yeast that makes the Paposcia soft after 2 hours of leavening.