Slow Ride Gargano

The Gargano National Park, with its 121,000 hectares, offers the spectacle of biodiversity as well as a unique territory made up of white rocky coasts, mountains and beech forests. Out of season, this is the perfect place for those who need to slow down and take a break from the hustle and bustle of city life.

Like many of my peers, a few years ago I had to leave the place where I was born to follow my working ambitions and moved to Milan, a big city where everybody has no time, is constantly busy and running through the city streets.

A very different place from the one where I grew up, where marvelous rocky mountains overlook a unique stretch of coast characterized by caves, stacks and intimate bays. The emerald sea surrounds an age-old beech forest which was declared a World Heritage Site, the green lung of the Gargano National Park. A park that is home to one third of the species of Italian flora and with unparalleled biodiversity.

You often don't need to travel huge distances to escape from the hectic city life and slow down a bit. As a matter of fact, I personally feel that living the beauty and the peace of nature for 2-3 days is the ideal choice to recharge the batteries.

When I return to my hometown, Monte Sant'Angelo, a tiny white pearl set between sky and sea, I try to ease off and just enjoy nature.

Last spring, I took my bike, packraft and tent to discover the park and forget about all my deadlines and concerns.

What made the trip so relaxing was the desire not to rush along the entire 65-mile route, the perfect distance for a two-night trip.

Not every bikepacking trip begins as pleasantly as this one. Before getting in the saddle, a splendid dawn made me forget about all those apprehensions that usually come with these trips. Have I brought enough food and water? Did I take the pump? Am I too heavy? None of this, just the desire to set off and leave everything behind for a few days.

After crossing the old town of Monte Sant'Angelo, a labyrinth of medieval white houses, I left the village through an ancient path. The path of Scannamugliera is one of the oldest existing mule tracks that since the end of the fifth century was used by pilgrims who visit the Cave of the Archangel Michael, now a World Heritage Site.

The view here is breathtaking, and during the 700 meters of elevation loss, I struggled to concentrate on the trail, full of extremely insidious rocks.

As the sea nears, the territory changes. Along the slopes, at first steep, then increasingly gentle, begins a stretch of olive trees that reach the sea, the real protagonist of this land. The sea is the reason why I decided to bring my packraft with me.

I love bikerafting, which I find to be the perfect combination of two different ways to travel. On the one hand the mtb with its high speed and technique, on the other hand an inflatable canoe allowing you to continue even when a trail meets the sea, but slower so you have all the time to peer at the coast from a different point of view, admire its colors and smells and get lost in the sight of the seagulls gliding on the water's surface. I like the opportunity to sleep on the beach, beneath the stars, with my mountain bike, and to reach inaccessible, less travelled places by bike, to make trips that would otherwise be impossible.

It's hard to describe the emotion I felt when paddling along the coastline from Macchia to Vieste.

From the sea I could admire the white sedimentary rocks in all their layers, the stacks sculpted by the waves, the bays and the wonderful caves where it is easy to get dazzled by the emerald green of the sea reflecting in the white rocky walls.

Luckily the weather was mild, giving me plenty of time to relish the colors and scents of the sea.

To sleep I chose the most beautiful beaches; Baia dei Mergoli, with its two stacks and the white cliff behind it, and the bay of Porto Greco, nestled in the Mediterranean vegetation, with its coastal tower dating back to the 17th century.

After spending two nights on the coast, I folded the packraft, got on the bike and started cycling again towards the Umbra Forest. Soon the shadow of the beech trees sheltered me from the heat of the May sun, which could hardly make its way through the branches of the trees. The Umbra Forest is one of the largest in Europe, with beeches reaching up to 40 meters and always leaving me in awe. In this place the silence is broken only by animals and birds that live here and by the sound of leaves stirred by the wind. The perfect stop to recover your energy before returning home and to your everyday life.

This three-days trip was a great moment for me; carefree, with breathtaking views and the emerald of the Adriatic Sea to accompany me throughout the journey.

In summer, the Gargano is a popular destination, storming with millions of tourists. But in spring and autumn it becomes a magical place where scents, colors and silence envelop and no longer leave you, making you fall under the spell of this park.  —  ©  2018 Nicola Totaro All rights reserved

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