The Monti Dauni is the hilly zone of Puglia in the province of Foggia which borders three other Italian regions; Abruzzo Molise and Campania. Notable international newspapers and magazines are always looking for the last 'undiscovered' part of Italy, but this zone might just be it.
I was invited there as a guest of the Chamber of Commerce of Foggia as part of the SIAFT (Southern Italy Agrifood and Tourism) opinion leader trip. Not only did we go, we did the whole trip by 4x4 off road vehicles, such is the terrain which remains off limits to the casual tourist.
After taking the provincial road from central Foggia and passing Lucera, first stop was Pietra Montecorvino (pictured above) to pick up the Mayor. But more about the majestic castle and tower later. We then proceeded to Celenza Valfortore.
This small town is located in the heart of the Monti Dauni, to be precise the northern Sub Appennine Dauno right on the border with Molise. The regional lines are drawn up in the middle of the artificial Lake Occhito which lies spectacularly below the main panorama from Celenza.
Once a crossroads for the twice yearly migration of sheep between Puglia and Abruzzo, the woods, streams and wildlife have attracted human settlement since Neolithic times. It was cited by Virgil in the Aeneid as Celenna.
We were taken on a guided trip of the medieval borgo, the parish church and the new visitor's center. So new, they were still installing the multimedia exhibits. What struck us most was how well preserved or restored everything was. A mix of local pride and EU funds.
This has no doubt added to the annual event called 'Vivi Il Borgo' in mid August. Perhaps unique in Italy, each year a period from the town's history is chosen and the whole historical center becomes a stage recreating how it must have been at the time; costumes, food, music and associated events.
After a picnic lunch overlooking Lake Occhito, we headed back towards Pietra Montecorvino via Volturara Appula.
It is here that the whole zone makes more sense, What is a tranquil spot now was once the official border of south Italy and witnessed a brutal skirmish between the Normans of William and the Byzantines allied to the Pope.
The Normans played the two off each other, took control of the Monti Dauni and the battle became a tactical rehearsal for William's finest moment at Hastings in England. The Normans subsequently built a series of castles to act as defences and look out posts.
Over the centuries, they became the village communities of today. For example, Mottamontecorvino, Castelnuovomonterotaro and Castelfiorentino. As is Pietra Montecorvino.
It was here we returned for dinner in the fabulous Ducal palace fortress complex with its Norman-Swabian-Angevin tower, stunning Chiesa Madre dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta and assorted outhouses, cisterns, bell towers, kitchens and internal courtyards.