Lake Varano, thanks to its surface area of almost 60 square kilometres, is the biggest coastal lake in Italy, the biggest in southern Italy and the seventh largest in the entire Peninsula. Situated on the northern coast of Gargano, its waters lap up on the shores of the municipal areas of Cagnano Varano, Carpino and Ischitella, even if none of the towns is actually situated on the lake.
Although traditionally it is called a lake, it is really a lagoon. Excavated from the limestone rockmass of the Gargano, between the promontory of Monte d’Elio and the point of Rodi Garganico, it extends for a width of about 10 kilometres, while its perimetre measures about 30 kilometres; the water is generally rather shallow.
On the northern side Lake Varano is separated from the Adriatic Sea by a narrow piece of ground, one kilometre wide and ten kilometres long. Named “the island”, it is covered with pines, willows, eucalyptus trees and other plants which give off sweet mediterranean perfumes. The Lake has two points of access with the sea via two canals: the river mouths of Varano and Capoiale.
The State Natural Reserve of the Island Varano is situated on “the island”. The Italan State declared these 145 hectares as protected in 1977 in order to create a sanctuary for the herons, cormorants, ducks, flamingos, sea-gulls and numerous other species of birds that live there.
Lake Lesina is another oasis of peace and natural beauty. Positioned to the west of Lake Varano, between the coastal plain, the Tavoliere delle Puglie, and the promontory of Gargano, this is a salt water lake despite its inland basin. About 20 kilometres long, an average of 2,4 kilometres wide and with a surface area of 51,4 square kilometres, it is the ninth biggest lake in Italy and the second in the south of Italy, only smaller than Lake Varano.
Two canals, named Acquarotta and Schiapparo, provide access to the Adriatic Sea, from which it is separated by a dune called Bosco Isola, about 2 kilometres wide and 16 kilometres long. Numerous streams assure the lake of a reasonable amount of fresh water. The whole area is in fact a wide swamp, ideal for fish and aquatic animals, in particular eels.
The eastern part of the Lake is home to the Natural Reserve of Lake Lesina, a protected area established by the Italian State in 1981 to preserve the beauty of this natural area.