A slow trail, such a very slow path marked by a double passage across the sea. The discovery of a coastline marked by the constant tension between man and nature. ‘ The waterways’ is that sort of route that demands you to be patient while keep on looking always towards the sea. It is an invite to feel the environment and plunge into a universe of biodiversity comprehending of a sea-beach-cordon dunes and the maquis but also where to admire the modern significant water-drainage systems built by the mouth of the river Fortore and why not the little urban touristic towns. It is a beautiful stretch of 32 kilometers of landscapes, dunes, forest and maquis. It is silt, marked by sporadic beds of reeds and old remains of the forest as well.
A good starting point for this trip is the mouth of the river Fortore as you continue walking along the green pastures near Bosco Ramitelli considered as an important site for the community and a natural reserve for the preservation of Puglia. The habitat is typical of the Mediterranean coastal area with juniper dunes and the presence of a particular hygrophile forest thanks to the ‘Fantine’ and the Saccione stream traversing the area. The word ‘Fantina’ is a local expression to refer to the silt hollow dune areas periodically flooded by the coming to the surface of the groundwater or by the seasonal rain flow. The vegetation of this area is mostly characterized by the presence of plants that can live partially submerged with water in slimy muddy environments. It is here that it is possible to experience a deep synesthetic rapport with the surroundings for the colors and plants, with their scents, drive you through this whole journey where it will be easy to spot ash trees, white poplars, Turkey oaks, oak barrels, mastics, phillyreas, female rock roses, cistus, brooms, heaths, myrtles, rosemary, Marian cardoons, canine onions, Neapolitan garlic, green-brown Ofrides or ‘spider flower’, Apulian Eastern serapis, lychnis flos-cuculis, silene vulgaris, coronillas and spring cyclamens. For this reason the area is part of the main bird migration movements and so populated with grey herons, egrets, hoopoes, cormorants, great white egrets, buzzards, wild boars, foxes and tortoises.
To understand the roots of Chieuti it is definitely worthwhile going up the hillside of this old town, walk across the centre, its alleys, the arches and the pretty balconies adorned with flower plants. This borgo was initially built as an Albanian colony around the XV c by Giorgio Castriota Scanderberg, a mercenary working for the sovereign Ferrante IV in the fight against Giovanni D’Angio’. His reward for the wins in this area granted him some lands where he allowed Albanian families to settle down. This people migration lasted till 1800 and was so strong that consolidated the use of the arbëreshë (archaic Albanese) language in this area. It is quite common to still hear the locals of the borgo speaking arbëreshë that clearly marks the signs of an important part of their cultural heritage. It is in Chieuti that religious beliefs, folklore, history and emotions become one in occasion of the feast for the patron San Giorgio Martire on April 21st. This celebration opens with the ‘Giornata dell’alloro’ (Laurel’s Day) with four ox carts shifted by four pairs of different ox representing the city quarters. The floats arrive fully staffed with branches of laurel that are taken to the church to be blessed and then distributed to the worshipers as a mean of protection. April 22nd instead, is the day of the Palio di San Giorgio Martire or Corsa dei Buoi (ox race). The four carts take a race and the winning one gets the privilege to carry the image of San Giorgio on the closing day of the celebrations on April 23rd. This is the day when, for the occasion they get to wear a traditional headpiece with the colours of their district. According to the tradition the Corsa dei Buoi started because of a natural competitive vein shown by both the people from Chieuti and the Albanians during the laurel transportations. So, after taking part to these folklores of the Chieuti area and heard what arbëreshë sounds like it is time to get back on track and follow in the direction of this mostly agricultural landscape enclosed between the motorway, some pinewoods, the maquis but also farmlands, crops and a dense system of water drainage channels. Besides, the numerous defence coastal towers not only mark the sign of time and historical value of this location but they also become for the traveller significant visual points of reference of this entire coastline (belvedere). After stopping by Lesina it will be easy to pass by the mater church of Maria Santissima Annunziata where the image of the patron San Primiano is kept. The martyr San Primiano was beheaded with his brothers Firmiano and Casto under the Emperor Diocleziano on the 5th May 303 for being supporters of Christianity. He is celebrated twice in the village, once on May 15th with a procession in the whole village then later, on the last Sunday of May when the image is transported on the ‘sandali’ (typical boat from this area) over the waters of Lake Lesina as a way to bless the waters and so hope for an abundant fishing. It is a very evocative ceremony as intense as to underline the strong bond between the villager religiousness and the social economical life purpose of men.
It is from here that the journey moves over towards the Lesina dune, which isolates the lagoon from the sea and shows a very significant spread of maquis. This is one of the most important areas on this coast and probably the less man-made part of the whole Adriatic coastline. It is known as Bosco Isola, it is EU protected thin line of dry sand intercepted between the sea and the lagoon. The whole dune is in fact managed by LIPU (Bird Protection League) and offers to the traveller two different tracks both leading to the sea. In this oasis it is beautiful to spot various types of birds like robins, warblers, blackbirds, bee-eaters but also mammals like foxes and yews, or reptiles like tortoises and turtles alike. Bosco Isola is exemplary for its maquis and its forests rich with oaks, pines, hornbeams, elms, fragrant laurels, myrtles and rosemary not to forget vast presence of rockroses, heaths, junipers and olive trees. This paradise is also custodian of the very precious, rare, botanical endemic plant of the ‘Cisto di Clusio’. As a whole, thanks to its humid nature, the Laguna di Lesina (Lesina’s Lagoon) is considered a very relevant biotype area for its naturalistic value both for animals and plants and especially for birds. This lagoon, together with that of Varano, hosts every year more than 20,000 birds of more than 200 different species which come here especially to reproduce. The lakes have an extremely pivoting role in defining the identity and life of both animal and human settlings of the Varano lake area. This is the culture, the ethos of the Gente di Terra people whose intent has created agricultural structures, urban settlements and water systems within a landscape that, as you can see, goes geographically all the way from Chieuti Marina to the mouth of the river Fortore.