The other Apulia
A very certified territory but at the same time not so famous: among Borghi più belli d'Italia, Bandiere Arancioni and Città Slow, the Daunia region hoards a lot of rewards, meaning that between nature and culture there is a thin line of beauty that resembles an unexpected amazement. It is mostly by walking through amazing woods, bandit's hiding places, ancient paths, Norman towers and villages of stone that the spirit of time crystallises in the air through the passing of a cloud in the distance. It invites us to lose ourselves in the hill and mountain folds of the province of Foggia.
The houses of stone and the portals decorated with noble coat of arms represent the Urban Park of the Stone Works of Saint Agatha of Apulia, born to safeguard the old town centre.
It looks like we are in Tuscany or in Umbria, instead we are in the Apulia region, the other Apulia. Not the one that goes from Gargano to Salento that everybody already knows. We are in the province of Foggia, on the Monti Dauni, one of the most evocative and characteristic geographical areas of South Italy, surrounded by villages that are authentic treasure chests of history, art and traditions. More than a third of the Apulian green space is situated on the Appenino Dauno. Rivers, lakes and wildlife preserves of Monti Dauni represent a really precious environment, a real veil of biodiversity to preserve and to promote. A land rich in resources and records: on the Appenino Dauno there are the highest peak of Apulia, the Monte Cornacchia (m. 1151), and the villages with the highest altitude, Faeto (m. 840 a.s.l.) and Monteleone di Puglia (m. 850 a.s.l.). And it is right here, in this tiny plot of land which represents 10% of the entire regional surface, that live the most wild and precious animal and vegetable species: the wolf, the boar, the fox and the hawk; these are all specimens that populate the wooded areas rich in sources, mushrooms, truffles, wild and medicinal herbs. A huge environmental heritage that coexists with the most imposing concentration of wind energy plants. A territory that, thanks to GAL Meridaunia interventions, was able to turn weakness into strength: Monti Dauni’s greatness was being able to convert isolation into a source of economic and social benefit.
Alberto, the Norman patron saint of Pietramontecorvino is celebrated on 16th May with a long procession that leads towards the ruins of the old cathedral. The believers follow the palii, long trunks of trees covered in coloured handkerchiefs.
Lucera, with more than 30 thousand inhabitants, is the most populated centre, commercial and political-institutional pole star of the whole wide distric that includes 30 municipalities, among which four of “the most beautiful villages of Italy” – Alberona, Bovino, Pietramontecorvino, Roseto Valfortore – and other places of great artistic and cultural interest (Accadia, Castelluccio Valmaggiore, Celle San Vito and all the others that you will discover by visiting them).
The Monti Dauni are asserting themselves as an emblematic area of Apulia to discover. The attractive landscapes and the charm of these places rich in history, delight and amaze those who choose them as a tourist destination. There are many itineraries between woods, pastures, water sources and the gentle hills, to go to by foot, bike or horseriding. However, the Apennino Dauno not only offers natural beauties. The populated centres offer to the visitor's eye other destinations that are surely interesting: ancient hamlets, historic buildings and religious monuments. It has a great history behind that can be witnessed by Romanesque cathedrals, country churches, castles and museums. For archeology lovers, there are unmissable findings like the griffins of the trapezophoros, part of the grave goods of a Macedonian tomb returned by the Getty Museum to the museum of Ascoli Satriano in 2010; the excavation of Faragola, always near Ascoli Satriano; or even the Roman amphitheatre and the Venus of the Fiorelli museum in Lucera. The myth also emerges from the woods of Daunia: Pan, god of the wild, the god that dances by playing a pan flute - gave his name to the village of Panni, founded between the VII and V century B.C., where, strangely enough, they play a bagpipe precisely reminiscent of the flute of the pagan god.
The wonderful rose window of Troia’s cathedral
The villages of the Daunia area today attract directors from different parts of the world affected by the continuity between tradition and modernity, or by scenarios that are suitable for the instincts of the imaginary. In recent years, several movies were filmed in Deliceto, Accadia and Bovino. In this latter centre, every year in August takes place a movie festival with the participation of international directors and actors. We can recall, among the various location, the castles of Deliceto and Bovino used for Noi Credevamo by Mario Martone (2010), the Rocchetta Sant'Antonio for Ultima Fermata by Giambattista Assanti (2014), the wheat fields of Candela’s countryside for I'm Not Scared by Gabriele Salvatores (2003) and Lucera for Le Vie del Signore Sono Finite by Massimo Troisi (1987). Other interesting paths are those of taste, which are ready to delight the palate of those who want to discover knowledge and flavours. The god Pan roamed in these places and this can be proved by the pastoral dimension that underlies the preparation of food. Everything starts from the spontaneous herbs, the real protagonists of the table, whose harvesting has always been taken care of by men and women. The first course dishes, for example, are usually pasta with wild vegetables or legumes, like the laganelle with beans.
Also seasoned with wild herbs is the winter dish of Monti Dauni, the pancotto that was born from the need of not wasting old bread. Between festivals and inns the taste is refined and learns how to appreciate the balance between simplicity and refinement that characterizes the local specialities: from black pork salami to cheese, from fresh oil and wine pasta to bakery products and traditional pastries. This area of Apulia is rich in agri-food products of quality, a real resource that allows to propose to the increasingly numerous tourists a food and wine offer at the highest level. Between the most renowned excellences, the lard and ham of Faeto, the nogghje from Pietramontecorvino, the bean of Monti Dauni, the lentil of Faeto, the cheek lard of Bovino and the saffron of Deliceto.
Rocchetta Sant’Antonio: the Renaissance elegance of D’Aquino castle. It is assumed that the creator was the great architect Francesco di Giorgio Martini.
The DOP extra virgin olive oil Dauno and the black wine of Troia are also worth mentioning, the latter recently received the DOC recognition. The authenticity of this territory is also found in craft activities. In the various villages, the products from wooden objects to the manufactured ones in wool and wrought iron represent an element of strong attraction for visitors. The artisan workshops are the pride of many local communities, even if part of the traditional handicrafts activities has gone lost through time. However, they have maintained a fair spread of the making of wood, straw and wool.
The itinerary: a constellation of villages in the Daunia's scene
Leaving Foggia behind, our itinerary starts from Troia, famous for its Romanesque Apulian style cathedral of the XI century with a very original rose window of 11 spokes and beautiful interiors. Worth visiting is the Tesoro museum that includes three rare Exultet, rolls of parchment relating to Easter rites. There are only 31 of them in the whole world. For gourmands there is the passionata, a delicious pastry with almonds and ricotta. A few kilometres in the direction of Irpinia, here we are in Orsara di Puglia, Città Slow and favourite destination of the gourmands for the large number of typical restaurants and rural inns. Among these what stands out is the restaurant of Peppe Zullo, the farmer cook and host of the food and wine scene in Monti Dauni area. Orsara di Puglia is a pretty hamlet surrounded by pastures and woods. Between the end of April and the beginning of May we advise you to reach the nearby Monte Preisi, to discover the wild orchids that paints the lawns with their beautiful colour. Moreover, at the end of the walk, mandatory stop in the masseria Monte Preisi to taste the delicious black pork salami from Monti Dauni. Orsara is also known for its popular traditions like, on 1st November, the Fucacoste and Cocce Priatorje, an event that goes back to unmemorable times.
Once you pass the Cervaro valley, you will have to go back up until you reach 800 metres of height or Sant'Agata di Puglia, the Apulian lodge. From the central piazza Municipio, the eye inspects the nearby Basilicata and Campania regions. It is a very impressive village with its dense network of houses and narrow streets that climbs up on a hill; at the top of this hill, there is the imposing Imperial castle that dominates the whole village and the surrounding territory. In Sant'Agata you should visit the Chiesa Matrice di San Nicola, the parish museum and the various noble palaces. Among the events that you cannot miss, in August there is the commemoration dedicated to Agatone, skilful condottiere between history and legend whose origins are the same of the village. While the 1st November, traditions and taste encounter each other in occasion of the ciccecuotti festival, typical dessert prepared with farm cuisine ingredients: an ancient tradition that is linked to the cult of the dead. On the Monti Dauni there is also the smallest town of Apulia with just 150 inhabitants, Celle San Vito, the only one together with the neighbouring Faeto where they still speak franco-provençal. In Celle, if you are there around the 18th August, do not miss the feast of cicatelli, the most famous handmade pasta of this Apulian corner, together with orecchiette, cavatelli and laganelle. In the incredible mosaic of emotions that this territory offers, there are of course our four "most beautiful villages".
Let's start from Bovino, the most populated of the four villages, the hamlet with 800 portals, the Urbino of South Italy. A village rich in features: stone dwellings with the traditional flat tile coverage, barrel vaults in bricks, noble palaces with the characteristic courtyards, the famous 800 stone portals, work of the local masons. The village of Bovino encloses seven churches among which the co-cathedral stands out, on whose facade of 1231 the master Zano impressed the primitive gothic style that inaugurated the Romanesque style season in Apulia. Inside you can admire some precious paintings like the martyrdom of San Sebastiano, attributed to Mattia Preti, pupil of Caravaggio. Really close to the cathedral rises the Cappellone di San Marco that presents a monumental portal with a low relief lunette depicting San Marco from Aecae (Troia). The episcopal palace also deserves a visit, which houses a library and the diocesan archive with over 10,000 volumes. Also worth visiting is the ducal castle with the annexed diocesan museum rich in precious elements of the sacred art, and the civic museum that preserves some precious prehistoric anthropomorphic stele. In the surroundings of Bovino you can find the sanctuary of the Madonna di Valleverde, the archaeological site of Casalene and an ancient water mill on the Cervaro stream.
The cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta
From Bovino we move to Pietramontecorvino crossing valleys and hills rich in wheat fields. Pietra is a charming village located at almost 500 metres above sea level. The village preserves inside the "Terravecchia" its beautiful medieval core with the ducal palace and the Norman tower that dominate the outline of the hamlet. There is also the parish archaeological museum and the mother-church of Romanesque matrix dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta. On 16th May at Pietramontecorvino they celebrate the patron saint Sant’Alberto. The Norman saint is commemorated with a long procession that goes towards the open countryside until it reaches the ruins of the ancient cathedral of Montecorvino. The procession is characterized by the presence of palii, long trunks of trees covered with colourful handkerchiefs transported by a team composed of at least seven people. Pietramontecorvino is also site of the only educational restaurant of Apulia that offers the possibility to discover the secrets of Monti Dauni gastronomy. Going a few kilometres south, we arrive to Alberona, the country of water, rich in springs and streams like the Tigli canal with its waterfalls. Medieval village surrounded by lush woods, Alberona presents monumental architectures nestled between hidden alleys, and then also shows breath-taking landscapes. You should visit the municipal Antiquarium, a museum that exposes the archaeological patrimony related to the ancient people of the Dauni mountains. The village preserves a mystical past intersected with the history of the Templars and the Knights Hospitaller.
The spike festival in Panni, the hamlet whose name resembles the Greek god Pan.
Our itinerary ends in Roseto Valfortore, called "the stone village". Set on a steep slope of the Fortore valley, the hamlet preserves itself as a treasure chest in which the local art of the masons is contained. You can walk through the alleys step by step in tranquility among the scents and the glimpses of green of the near Vetruscelli wood. It could not be any other way in a country that takes its name from the dog rose, a plant that everyone cultivates in front of their own homes. The majestic mother-church, built in 1507 by the lord Bartolomeo III di Capua, rises next to the old square. Admirable is also the balustrade carved in stone from artists of the village. Whoever goes to Roseto cannot ignore the immense naturalistic heritage that refreshes the village. Its territory is rich in water springs, spouting fountains and especially water mills.