Monte Sant'Angelo

Gargano Peninisula, Italy

St. Michael the Archangel appeared to a local bishop in AD 490 and declared a little grotto halfway up Monte Gargano to be a sacred spot, making San Michele Arcangelo the only church in the world consecrated directly by an angel.

It became one of paleochristian Europe's most popular pilgrimage sites, and remains so to this day. Michael put in a few more appearances, including one in the 17th century to stop a plague, and a very pretty little mountain town has grown around the grotto.

A pilgrimage to the sanctuary

You enter the holy grotto, now the Santuario di San Michele Arcangelo, Via Reale Basilica (tel. 0884-561-150), through a dual Gothic portico—the arch on the right is a 1395 original, that on the left a modern replica—in a small court next to an octagonal belfry of 1281. Down the steps is a Romanesque vestibule with a 1078 bronze door from Constantinople, and the low-ceilinged cave itself. A guided tour of the Lombard crypt (Adm) gets you into one of the old, lower entrances to the grotto to see an 11th-century lectern and some Runic script scratched in the wall by northern European pilgrims in the 7th century. The sanctuary is open 7:30am to 12:30pm and 2:30 to 5pm (July to September 7:30am to 7:30pm). The crypt is open 8:30am to 12:15pm and 2:30 to 4:30pm (summer 8:30am to 7pm).

Just up from San Michele is the half-ruined church of San Pietro Battistero in Tomba, where a small admission gains you access to the "Tomba di Rotari," a baptistery of 1109 with a richly carved portal, as well as the 12th-century church of Santa Maria Maggiore next door, with its canopied facade portal and blind arcading. They're open April to September 9am to 1pm and 2:30 to 7:30pm. In winter, call custodian Troiano at tel. 0884-562-619.

The castle and town

The castello, Via Castello at the top of town (tel. 0884-565-444), was started by the Lombards in 837 and expanded until 1497. It offers an evocative ramble through the crumbling remains with some excellent vistas from the ramparts. Admission is 3,000L ($1.75); it's open 8am to 7pm in summer, 9am to noon in winter.

The Junno quarter, lined up below Corso Garibaldi/Piazza Benificenza, is a zone of medieval row houses, ranks of identical whitewashed houses following the curves of the hillside.

Hotels in Monte Sant'Angelo

Palace Hotel San Michele – By far the best hotel in town (there are only three), it's modern but nice, with indoor and outdoors pools and a location at the western edge of town (the other two hotels are 1m out of town).
Via Madonna Degliangeli 1, Monte S. Angelo.; tel. +39-0884-565-653. www.sanmichelepalace.it
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Hotel Sant'AngeloAs the town's only hotel for a long time, I guess they never felt the need to replace the ugly brown tile floors or seriously lazy-springed cots; and management can be lax. But the 42 modern rooms are large, clean, and very quiet (it's set in the countryside outside town), and they open onto a large shared terrace with views over the calciferous hills to the curve of the bay below.
Via Pulsano, km. 1, Monte S. Angelo; tel. +39-0884-562-237; www.hotelsantangelo.com
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Where to eat in Monte Sant'Angelo

Da Costanza – In business since 1916, this trattoria has a short menu—eight pastas, four meats—but each selection is excellent. The whitewashed, half-cylinder cellar rooms are plain but cool, and Donna Costanza displays her homemade pastas and grilled veggies at the table as you enter (that's her in the kitchen beyond, tasting the ragù sauce and adding just a bit more water). By all means try the orecchiette with that ragù, or orecchiette tipico—tossed the traditional way (i.e. before the advent of tomatoes) with rucola, pepperoncino, and anchovies. I can also recommend the agnello alla brace (grilled mutton) for a secondo or the massive tomato sauce–covered involtino di vitello. The fixed-price menu is an excellent value—you order what you like and it covers everything but coffee.
Corso Garibaldi 67. tel. +39-0884-561-313. Closed Fri Nov–June. PUGLIESE.

Medioevo – They make everything possible in-house (excellent salami, pastas, desserts, even liqueurs), and their attention to detail is phenomenal–your dessert my be homemade ice cream topped with dried, almond-stuffed figs preserved in homemade rum. The decor does try to suggest the Middle Ages with a roughly vaulted ceiling and medieval-style stone reliefs. But the brightness and the Italian soft pop playing help remind you that one of Monte Sant'Angelo's best restaurants opened its doors in 1994. They serve orecchiette ai fiori di zucca (with zucchini flowers) or alla medioevo (fresh tomatoes, lamb, arugula, and parmigiano), but to really go peasant order the pancotto con cavoli, patate, e fave (soup of bread chunks with cabbage, potatoes, and fava beans). The top secondo is agnello al profumo del Gargano (mutton chops stewed with white wine and local herbs), or try the involtino.
Via Castello 21; tel. +39-0884-565-356; Reservations recommended. Closed Mon Oct-Easter; www.ristorantemedioevo.it

Tips & links

Visitor information

There's a pro loco info office (no phone) at Via R. Basilica 40, open in summer only, daily 9am to 1pm and 2:30 to 7pm.

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Visitor information:
There's a pro loco info office (no phone) at Via R. Basilica 40, open in summer only, daily 9am to 1pm and 2:30 to 7pm.


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