Updated: Sep 3, 2020
On the coast of Gargano, the “spur” of Italy’s boot, there’s a well-known restaurant built on a wooden pier jutting out into the sea. It’s actually an ancient fishing machine called a trabucco, and visitors flock there to sit at rustic wooden tables with a glass of prosecco in hand as the sun goes down. Naturally, I loved the idea of combining food, local tradition, and nature, so I had to check it out for myself.
It was…okay. The food was too fancy for its own good and the prices were ambitious. The place had been built up to accommodate more people and it just felt like too much buzz for such a humble place. Later, I asked a local for a great seafood restaurant that was perhaps outside the beaten path..or better yet, in the middle of nowhere.
She mentioned a place with sunset views, an ancient watch tower in the distance, and a nearby trabucco still in operation…all keywords that made my eyes big with excitement.
Later the next evening, my travel partner, Agita, and I pulled up to the restaurant a few minutes early and, spotting the wooden piles and various nets of the trabucco, eased our way over to get as close as possible without stirring up a napping fisherman who might come after us.
Just as I was a step away from practically welcoming myself aboard, the owner of the trabucco stepped out of the little hut and caught me red handed with my camera raised. I waved and quickly backed away, aware that I was disturbing his personal haven.
To my surprise and utter pleasure, he smiled and opened his arms wide as a way to show his pride for his super cool trabucco– and it was, suuuuper cool!
He welcomed us onboard and explained how the trabucco works, with ropes and pulleys raising nets full of fish from the sea. The sun was setting and a golden glow highlighted every characteristic in the old man’s face. I could tell he hadn’t had a life of luxury but an even moreso rewarding one, full of hurdles and difficult times that had nurtured a deep gratitude for life’s simplicities and a great respect for nature.
A sense of humor too! He was a ham (or maybe they say a “prosciutto” instead?) and ate up all our paparazzi-attention we gave him between capturing video, instagram stories, photos, and selfies (god help us).
Before I knew it, a sweet nonna had stepped out of the hut to see what all the fuss was about. It was his wife, a short woman wearing blue florals and glasses from the ‘50s. She was timid, and clearly accustomed to her husband getting most of the attention, so I made sure to direct some of my questions just to her. Inside the hut, different sea creatures, shells, and big fish tails had been used to decorate the walls.
They shared the synopsis of their life’s story as we were now late for our reservation next door, or I suppose “on time” for Italians. It was difficult to part from such a profound experience..one that I knew I’d hold onto for the rest of my life.
It was one of those experiences that you know in the moment is pure magic, having been led there by such seemingly coincidental circumstances to such a special moment with these wonderful and generous locals.
I invited them to join us but they had other plans so we agreed we would see each other again soon, somehow. The 87-year old fisherman could barely recall his mailing address but I got it in hopes of staying in touch.
After we left, Agita and I just looked at each other and squealed in disbelief at the movie-like adventure we’d just unexpectedly had.
Before our heads could stop spinning, we were swept away again by the restaurant. It was perched on a cliff with open-air tables facing the sunset and the most amazing seafood, some of which was caught by the fisherman next door on his trabucco!
There were just a few other people there, all locals. And each table was separated by a wall of plants and bamboo so it felt like our own private room looking onto the sunset while bubbles rose in our glasses.
I took a deep breath, acutely aware that I was in the middle of what would be a special memory and trying to be mindful of every detail. But it wasn’t the fancy prosecco or the fine food that I was trying to savor. It wasn’t the beautiful location or the rosy sunset either.
It was the feeling of genuine connection- to the the land, the culture, the people, and to the fisherman and his wife, who in just a quick visit, transformed the way I relate to this place. I had stepped beyond the tourist line and I had truly tasted life as a local.
Our small group trips offer you the opportunity to taste life as a local, too! The Secrets of Southern Italy trip takes us to this same spot described! Just 7 spots total, hurry to grab yours!