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Ischitella
Photo: Comune di Ischitella

Ischitella

High on the northern tilt of the Gargano National Park, atop the north west arm of the Umbra Forest nature reserve, sits the charming village of Ischitella. Inching above the many olive trees and Mediterreanean shrubbery, this alluring village has been in place since ancient times, although its recorded history begins far more recently.

The Necropoli di Monte Civita necropolis contains graves dating as far back as the fifth century BC, while it has been suggested the necropolis itself is indicative of the presence of Etruscan and Samnite combatants.

The Palazzo Ventrella, arguably the village’s greatest feature, was originally a Swabian castle designed to protect the land from invaders. In the 13th century, Emperor Frederick II commissioned the castle in a time when the ruling of southern Italy kept changing hands. The new castle lent the village its former name ‘Castrum’, meaning ‘a fortified place’.

The castle later came under the rule of several noble families during The Middle Ages, before falling into disrepair. An earthquake in 1640 finally saw the castle collapse. Rebuilt by the noble Pinto family in the 18th century, it received an incredible façade and was renamed Pinto Palazzo. Nowadays, the castle is a private palace.

Secret underground passages connect the castle to the Church of Sant’Eustachio, named for the 2nd-century Christian martyr adopted as a patron saint for the village. Built from the earthquake ruins, the passages allowed for the noble Prince Pinto and family to travel to worship undetected by the public.

Other notable churches in Ischitella include the decaying 11th-century Abbey of San Pietron, the 17th-century Church of Santa Maria Maggiore and 15th-century Church and Convent of St. Francis.

The historic centre is made up of twisting, narrow streets and trademark whitewashed terraced houses built into the rock, which look out upon the surrounding waters. The view from those lucky enough to live there is the Adriatic Sea, the Tremiti Islands and Lago di Varano lake. On clear days, they will also be able to view the Abruzzo coast to the left and the Croatian coast to the right.

The same houses, which form the ancient part of town, have balconies overseeing the narrow passageways one can easily get lost in. Others look out onto the ‘new’ town, with its many seafood and traditional Italian restaurants. Traditional dishes include orecchiette salsiccia e funghi and tagliatelle con vongole. The Gargano region is famous for its citrus fruits and Ischitella is dotted with orange and lemon groves which produce the most outstanding oranges. The Limone Femminello del Gargano PGI , Italy’s best citrus export, was also born in Ischitella.

Tourists looking to swim can venture to the pretty Foce Varano and 10km-long Isola Varano beaches. Hikes are also available to the beautiful water springs that surround Ischitella as well as a cycle route around the dried-up Romandato river bed, a geological and biodiversity curiosity.
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