Turquoise green waters greeted our morning ferry as we approached San Nicola, the most populated of the five Tremiti Islands, all of which belong to southern Italy’s Gargano National Park.
Known as the Pearls of the Adriatic, they are Italy’s only islands in this sea and as such have become a popular destination for vacationing Italians.
The lack of automobiles and the ability to cross San Domino, the largest island, on foot in a matter of 20 minutes only add to their charm.
The imposing structure towering above us in the harbor was the Abbey of Santa Maria a Mare (“Holy Mary on the Sea”).
Originally a fortress built by Charles of the Anjevin in the 7th century, the structure had been converted into a monastery in the 9th century by Benedictine monks. Evidence of inhabitants dates as far back as 2,000 BC.
Boat Tour of San Domino Island
Before walking the monastery grounds, we boarded another, smaller boat for a tour of San Domino Island, the largest of the Tremiti Islands and host to all the archipelago’s hotels.
I took a seat in the rear right of the boat, which turned out to be a mistake as we circled the island in a counterclockwise fashion, thus exposing the right side of the boat to incoming waves.
The sea spray didn’t last long as we were soon circling around to the calmer, protected waters of the island’s western side. We even entered a grotto similar to the one’s we entered on our boat tour the day before.
All along the coast, there was evidence of vacationers: sunbathers on lounge chairs set up on rocky outcroppings, cliff divers, rope ladders hanging down into the water providing access for swimmers and sea kayakers.
The second half of the tour involved another counterclockwise circle, this time around San Nicola Island, offering views of the cliff side monastery and goats clinging to impossibly narrow ledges.
At the end of the tour, there was an opportunity to go swimming and snorkeling off the boat, which didn’t seem appealing to me given the lack of space to disrobe and later dry off.
A dozen people per boat were taking part while the others watched and waited.
San Nicola Island
Back on San Nicola, it was lunchtime. Our group took a table in the corner of L’Architiello, which offered stunning views of the surrounding waters.
Red and white table wines were brought out, as we’d become so accustomed to during our week in Gargano.
Every morning I’d say to myself I’m going to skip wine at lunch today and every lunch I’d be unable to resist the casualness of which wine was being consumed. It’s a habit best left for European vacations.
The first dishes presented, family style, were tomato bruschetta and bruschetta with tuna and capers.
Next, it was pasta with clams. Normally I’m not a big fan of shellfish, but being presented with a plate full of fresh clams, I decided to give ’em a go and found they were tastier than expected.
There’s something about the ritual of plucking the tender meat from the shell that makes eating them fun. And they’re not as messy as crab or lobster.
Plates of little fried fish, shrimp, scallops and calamari soon followed. I was already feeling too full to indulge in any more food, but gave each option a squeeze of lemon and a taste.
Dessert was plates of juicy plums and grapes.
The Abbey of Santa Maria a Mare
After lunch we posed for some photos by the water and walked up the cactus-lined stone path to the monastery. The sun was beating down and there was little shade to escape it.
San Nicola Island is the administrative center of the Tremiti Islands, on account of it being the only one home to permanent residents (approx 500).
The view of the water from atop the 75-meter hill was even more spectacular.
A hundred or so meters from the view of the harbor was the entrance to the monastery, which again, had all the outward appearances of its original function as a fortress.
Inside, there was a church, the facade of which was undergoing renovations, and several spacious courtyards lined with covered arcades.
Between exposure to the sun and our lack of time before the return ferry, I had barely enough time to stop for a chocolate and mint gelato on the way back to the harbor.
I’d devoured an incredible chocolate gelato with Nutella during our visit to Peschici, however mint gelato had until then eluded us. It was worth the wait.
On our way back, the buildings of Peschici reflected the day’s remaining sunlight off their white facades, kitesurfers could be seen zigzagging across the coastal waters and by the time we arrived back in Vieste, the harbor was aglow in the warmth of our last sunset in Gargano.
My trip to Gargano, Italy was in partnership with Gargano OK.