In Apulia, in the Gargano National Park, there is a real green heaven. Maybe not everybody knows that the Umbra Forest also boasts many records. Let's discover them

The Gargano is a beautiful area in the north of Apulia, generally remembered for its awesome sea and beaches, but inland, not even 20 km from the coast, there is a protected green area that is a real treasure to discover. The vegetation is so lush and dense that the whole forest probably takes its name from it. According to some, in fact, Umbra Forest is supposed to mean "forest of shadows", however others believe that the name refers to the Umbrians, the first population to have inhabited this area in prehistoric times.

In any case, this is an enchanting place, where live a flora and a fauna almost unique in Italy, with giant centuries-old trees and protected animal species.

It can be easily reached by car via the motorway, from Vieste, Peschici or Manfredonia, while connections by public transport are unfortunately close to non-existent.

The fauna of the Umbra Forest

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The whole area is home to countless wild animals, including badgers, foxes, wild cats, squirrels and a large number of birds that choose it every year to nest. The woodpecker is probably the most frequent, but there are also several varieties of sparrows, nightingales, owls, sparrow hawks, and other predatory birds both diurnal and nocturnal.

The most exciting experience is being able to spot the shy Italian roe deer. The one who lives in this forest is native to the Gargano region, and has a few peculiarities that make it almost a separate subspecies of great scientific interest. Unfortunately, it is endangered, therefore protected by the WWF and it is not very easy to meet because it lives in the very heart of the forest and tends to hide in the thickest woods.

Mouflons and fallow deer are much more common and easier to approach, also thanks to their more sociable character. The deers have indeed a pen just for them, where they can easily be seen and photographed. 

A record-breaking flora

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Although deforestation and fires have often hit the Gargano area in the last two centuries, the Umbra Forest has been almost completely spared, remaining basically intact. Today it is an area of great importance for its biodiversity which includes more than 2000 plant species that inhabit an area of more than 10.000 hectares.

In Italy this is considered the forest of records, starting, for example, with the beech wood, which has a special characteristic that makes it unique in Europe. The beech is a tree that usually lives at 800 meters above sea level: the Umbra Forest exceeds this altitude, but its beech trees happily live up to 230 meters above sea level. This is one of the reasons why the Gargano forest was included in the UNESCO heritage. Also, its beech wood is recognized as the one at the lowest altitude on the european continent.

Even the tree trunks are often oversize, to the point of being studied by botanists. The beech trees, symbols of the park, can reach 40 meters high, while some pines, with an age of some 700 years, have trunks that measure up to 5 meters in diameter. There are also holm oaks 50 meters high, while rising to the top of the hills, oaks and maples sprout with such thick foliage that in some areas the Umbra Forest is almost dark even in daylight.

The vegetation is wonderful all year round and offers a pleasant refreshment in summer, with the temperature that drops by even six or seven degrees in the densest forest areas, compared to the Apulian summers, typically scorching hot. In autumn, however, the foliage that is painted in red and gold, will gift you an unforgettable sight.

Walking along the forest paths you will also find many wonderful flowers, such as violets, cyclamen, anemones, snowdrops and as many as 65 different species of wild orchids spontaneously blossoming. This is also a record for the Mediterranean area, and a rare case in all of Europe.

What to do in the Umbra Forest

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The first activity that comes to mind when thinking about the Forsta Umbra is probably trekking. The entire area is covered by 15 main paths of various difficulty levels, but all well marked and equipped with information panels that also report the travel times, so they can be easily visited independently, as well as with local guides. Obtained mostly from old mule tracks, they are ideal for walking but also for those who love biking.

Bikes can be rented in the neighboring municipalities, while for e-bike owners there is a recharging point inside the Forest.

By its nature, the soil of this area does not favor the formation of lakes, but in the Umbra Forest there is a very small one that is worth visiting. It is called Cutino di Scaranappe and its shape vaguely resembles that of a heart. You will love it particularly if you have a romantic spirit, anyway the atmosphere here has something magical that becomes particularly beautiful to see after the rain, when the pond fills up to the brim with water. It can be reached via an easy path and is also well signposted.

An activity everybody loves much is organizing picnics in this green paradise, taking advantage of the various equipped areas, but always remembering that it is absolutely forbidden to light fires.

For in-depth information on the local flora and fauna there is a museum, where among other things you can admire an interesting exhibition on life in this area in the prehistoric era, in particular in the Paleolithic and Neolithic times. Taking a leap forward several millennia, however, you can visit the faithful reconstruction of a 19th century woodcutter's hut.

The museum has its own information point, but there is also a proper visitor center nearby where you can buy a map of the trails. It is open only in spring and summer, from April to October. 

The kids Forest

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All children love the Umbra Forest because they can run around in nature and learn many things. There are a few activities just for them.

An easy path around an lake is the perfect opportunity for a simple and safe walk, during which the youngest can have fun observing the numerous fish that inhabit the water and maybe even feed them.

There is also a small playground made entirely of wood that reproduces the shapes of nature, but what the little ones certainly love the most is the deer pen. Protected by a net, everyone can see these wonderful animals up close, interact with them and sometimes even be able to pet them.

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