Vieste – a beautiful city indeed
Lodging: Palace Hotel Vieste
This is a typical Italian hotel with big rooms, a very friendly staff and a great location. I don’t remember the name of the woman at the front desk (Cristina, maybe?), but she was immensely helpful when I needed to mail something complicated. She walked with me to the post office and actually signed the form claiming she knew me so that the package I was mailing was verified. I suggest you get a room with a balcony.
Highlight of Vieste: Read on.
THIS is the town I was very eager to show Scott. The birthplace of my Nonni (grandparents). We spent a few days exploring the town, and we found the office of records, and an agent there found the book housing the record of my Nonni’s marriage. I’m not sure what’s more amazing and thrilling: to hold the book that they once stood over as an agent documented (in perfect and beautiful script btw) their vital information (including in big letters “AMERICA” when they emigrated) or that the records agent found this book with random information dating back 85 years in less than 10 minutes and was more then than willing to leave the room so we could spend time with it alone. Very cool.
Considered the spur on the heel of Italy’s boot on the Gargano Peninsula, Vieste is one of those special towns of white washed buildings, palm tree lined walkways, an old town filled with Old World charm and the Adriatic beckoning a morning swim in its crystal marine green waters. A visitor could hang out in the Umbra forest or explore the hidden grottos. High cliffs overlook the sea and olive groves dot the countryside. Restaurants and cafes serve traditional food from the Puglia (or Apulia) region, which boasts some of the best food in Italy. And good news for vegans, this region makes pasta without eggs and like in all of southern Italy sauces made with olive oil and tomatoes. The best olives in all the world are found right here. And the dishes from this region are simple, because the locals take pride in eating food they grow. While I have not yet found any specific vegan restaurants in Vieste or the surrounding towns, restaurant owners are eager to take on the challenge of cooking their specialities in a way that satisfies the customer.
We had two great meals in Vieste. Both in the old part of town, one was in a cave, called La Ripa. We had the sweetest server there, the teen daughter of the owners/operators. When we arrived, no other patrons were present. The daughter went upstairs to get her mother, the chef, who cooked us a meal to order. And the other restaurant that served a delicious meal is called Taverna Al Cantinone. Owned and operated by an adorable couple who, at the time, were expecting their first child. Beautiful ambience and incredible food at both places.
On any given evening the plaza if filled with family activity while the older folks sit in clusters laughing and telling stories. There’s a reason many non-Europeans don’t visit Vieste, it’s a long out-of-the way drive and most foreign travelers want to see the more well-known cities like Florence and Rome. Understandable, but if you have the time, make the time. You won’t be disappointed. Here’s a helpful article from the Travel Section of the NY Times.
Having visited once before when backpacking with my bestie, only about 20 years earlier, I was surprised to see the new part of Vieste had changed quite a bit and happy to see not much looked different in the old town. But like with many parts of Italy we visited on this trip, I was heartbroken to see the trash. There is a serious issue of litter on Italy’s beaches (and many other places as well), and I’m immensely disappointed over the notion that Italians accept this as status quo. There were two occasions in Italy where I saw an offender, someone (a teen and a middle-aged woman) throwing their trash, on the ground (I spoke up once). Maybe this is a problem stemming from “waste-managment” mobsters who could use some updated training on waste-management. In all seriousness, I see it as a cultural or societal issue.
I hope that an Italian change-agent reads this and knows that very few, if any, tourists – no folks I know – would desire to hang out on a beach that’s trashed (with plastic bottles, fishing nets, plastic bags), but more importantly, people with a conscience want the beaches to be clean for ocean health above and beyond aesthetics.
If I don’t return to Italy it will be because of the pain I feel seeing the litter. If I do return, it will be because I am ready to take on the challenge of being a fierce anti-litter pro-planet warrior-ess…and an olive tree farmer.
I love this country, the people, the culture, the food. I have roots here. I care. Time to change, Italy. If not for the planet, for tourist dollars.
For us to go to Italy and to penetrate into Italy is like a most fascinating act of self-discovery — back, back down the old ways of time. Strange and wonderful chords awake in us, and vibrate again after many hundreds of years of complete forgetfulness.