Whether you're a Catholic pilgrim or just exploring Southern Italy, the small town of San Giovanni Rotondo—located on the Adriatic side of the country near the "heel" of Italy's boot—and the surrounding region of Puglia make for a trip that's sure to be spiritual. It does require some planning to get there, as the town doesn't have a train station or airport. However, booking a transfer to this popular city isn't difficult, and you can always take a bus from Rome directly to San Giovanni Rotondo or drive there yourself.
The town is most known for being home to the Sanctuary of Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, more commonly known as Padre Pio. Padre Pio lived in the town for most of his life and became a divine celebrity for his reputed miracles and the stigmata that he bore on his hands. Even after this death in 1968, believers continued traveling to the small town to pay their respects at his tomb, and the number increased exponentially after he was canonized as a saint by Pope John Paul II in 2002. The local church and Padre Pio's remains are a popular pilgrimage site and attract millions of devout Catholics every year.
How to Get from Rome to Padre Pio Shrine
- Train: 2 hours, 45 minutes, from $37 (plus additional 55 minutes by bus)
- Flight: 1 hour, 5 minutes, from $10 (plus additional 2 hours by car)
- Bus: 5 hours, 35 minutes, from $8 (direct to San Giovanni Rotondo)
- Car: 4 hours, 237 miles (381 kilometers)
San Giovanni Rotondo doesn't have its own train station, so you'll want to book a train to the nearest big city, Foggia. Trenitalia, Italy's state-run train service, departs several times per day from the main Roma Termini station to Foggia, and the direct trip is less than three hours (be aware: if the duration is longer, you're probably looking at a train with a connection). The tickets start at $37 when you buy them in advance, but they get more expensive as your travel date gets closer. You can generally buy a ticket at the station the day you want to leave, but you'll pay a premium to do so.
Once you arrive in Foggia, take one of the SITA buses right from the train station to San Giovanni Rotondo. The bus trip lasts about 55 minutes and will leave you right in the town center.
Trenitalia can be a blessing and a nightmare. Tickets are usually inexpensive and the trains are relatively comfortable. However, as with many things in Italy, delays are common.
While buses aren't usually the most glamorous method of transportation, when traveling from Rome to San Giovanni Rotondo, they are the cheapest and the easiest. Hop on a bus at Rome's Tiburtina station and about five to six hours later, you'll be dropped off right in the main piazza of San Giovanni Rotondo. It's the least-stressful option, as you don't have to worry about transfers or additional transit when you arrive.
Perhaps the best part of bus travel is the price, with one-way tickets as low as $8. Several bus companies charter buses to San Giovanni Rotondo, and a good place to begin your search is FlixBus.
Once you escape the chaos that is Roman traffic, perhaps the most enjoyable way to arrive at San Giovanni Rotondo is to take your own vehicle. After leaving Rome, you'll cut across the entire width of the country to the eastern coast, passing through the vineyards and bucolic countryside of Italy's interior. The remaining part of the trip is all along the coast, so factor in some extra time for photogenic viewpoints and a freshly-caught seafood lunch in one of the seaside towns. Not including pitstops—and you will want to take pitstops—the entire trip takes roughly four hours. Expect to pay tolls on Italian highways, and carry cash in euros with you in case your credit card isn't accepted.
The biggest advantage of taking a car is that you then have the flexibility to continue south and explore more of Puglia. Head down to Bari or even to Brindisi if you have the time, and enjoy the local cuisine with views worthy of a Greek island. Or, head back across Italy again toward Naples and taste a real Neopolitan pizza in its birthplace.
The downside to taking a plane to San Giovanni Rotondo is that the nearest airport is over two hours away in Bari. However, plane tickets from Rome can be as cheap as or cheaper than the bus, and the plane ride itself is only an hour. Once you arrive in Bari, you'll need to either rent a car or take the bus from the Bari Centrale station to San Giovanni Rotondo.
If you're only heading to the region to visit the Padre Pio shrine, then traveling by plane isn't worth the headache of all the additional travel that's required. But if you're already traveling to the Puglia, then why not see as much as you can? Bari is the capital city of the region and offers all types of historic, natural, and culinary delights. And if you are on a pilgrimage, kill two birds with one stone and include a visit to the sacred Basilica of Saint Nicholas in Bari—the same St. Nick who many know as Santa Claus.
What to See in San Giovanni Rotondo
While the Sanctuary of Padre Pio is the main draw of the town, even if you aren't visiting for religious reasons, don't make the mistake of passing over the area because you think it has nothing else to offer. The town of San Giovanni Rotondo is located right in the heart of the spectacular Gargano Promontory, which juts out into the turquoise waters of the Adriatic Sea. Visitors can hike around in the national park, take a boat to the nearby Tremiti Islands, explore one of the medieval towns, or just relax on a sandy beach. Orecchiette pasta is the local specialty, so if you were looking for an excuse to eat more pasta on your trip, don't miss out on this typical dish.