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VICO DI GARGANO — If you need to get away from the frenzied modern world, maybe it’s time to visit Italy’s Gargano peninsula, an unspoiled area that boasts a coastline rich in beaches and an ancient national forest.

Well, unspoiled except for the countless hotels and campgrounds along the coastal area that cater to tourists who amble to the "spur of Italy."

The peninsula juts into the Adriatic Sea in Italy’s Apulia region, a sliver of paradise, some say, with enough diversity to satiate beach lovers, hikers, campers, mountain bikes and nature lovers alike.

The National Park of Gargano is one of the few protected parks in the nation, and through it, visitors can wind through the ancient Foresta Umbra, whose name is derived from Latin and today means "shadow" or "shade."

Botanists listed 2,200 species of plants in the Umbra Forest. The forest, with a complex ecosystem, boasts 70 percent of the birds nesting in Italy, including owls, woodpeckers, vultures, cuckoos, hawks and magpies. The area is also home to vipers, and the guide book provided by the Foggia tourist office strongly suggests wearing appropriate clothing and hiking boots, and to walk with a heavy pace to startle them.

"This is one of the most beautiful areas of Italy, very rich in diversity," said native Antonio Grana, 42, a musician who travels throughout the country. "If you visit the forest, I recommend going in the morning. By the early afternoon, it gets dark. It has amazing hikes and the most breathtaking sunflowers. It’s like a sea of sunflowers. It’s a fairy tale."

Within the Gargano National Park, campers can stay at one of a handful of naturist clubs within Italy, where you can "bring your heart and wear your smile," but little else, jokes owner Maria Colafrancesco.

The most important is for guests to connect with nature, she said, beginning with the scrumptious cuisine she prepares using fresh and organic ingredients, much of it coming directly from the campgrounds. Chickens provide the fresh eggs, and she grows fruits and vegetables including juicy figs, tomatoes, basil and much more. She and staffers even make their own cheese, wine, olive oil and orange marmalade.

The 14 hectares of campground also boasts horseback riding and a number of trails for hiking.


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