OUR final day in Puglia, and a very busy one as we visit Monte Sant’ Angelo, Foresta Umbra and Peschici.
The cafes and delis were being got ready for another day, and deliveries were being made in some unusual ways.
We arrived in Monte Sant’ Angelo by midmorning. I had very mixed feelings about this town. It is regarded as a place of faith and spirituality, with the Sanctuary of St Michael the Archangel at its heart. A shrine was built 1500 years ago after, we are told, three visits by Michael on Mount Gargano.
The sanctuary is built on two levels. A tower juts into the sky above the old town, while beyond the entrance, 86 steps lead down to the Sacred Cave of St Michael, where mass is celebrated on an almost constant basis in a huge variety of languages, reflecting the draw that the site exerts on pilgrims worldwide.
Yet it was probably the most crassly commercialised town or city we had visited. There were trinket stalls everywhere we turned.
The spiritual and commercial worlds may have found a way to exist side by side here, but the signs of poverty and deprivation are all around them both.
For me, it was captured by the sight of a little boy sat on the roadside, with a plastic bowl at his feet. Every time a tourist or pilgrim passed, he would spring into action, furiously playing his squeezebox.
Once the visitor had passed, he would lower his instrument and sit with his head quietly bowed, waiting for another opportunity to earn some loose change.
The main square of the old town revealed just how desperate the town’s economic plight is. Dozens of men sat on the stone benches around the square, or stood in groups in the entrances to the bars and trattoria that encircle the space.
I was told that there is 40% unemployment in the town, and that the figure for youth unemployment is a staggering 60%. I asked if there was civil unrest and political agitation as a result. The answer I received was that people were putting their efforts into organised crime instead.
It was a depressing thought on which to leave the town, with its holy shrine, the crowded streets of its old town, and its ubiquitous Swabian castle.
Our next – our final – destination was the small seaside resort of Peschici. To reach it, we travelled through Foresta Umbra, in the heart of the Gargano National Park.
And then we were descending back to the coast. In Peschici there was just enough time for a final paddle in the warm Adriatic – and an ice cream, of course. Our memorable visit to Puglia had come to a close.