How to Travel to St. Padre Pio’s Sanctuary in San Giovanni Rotondo
St. Padre Pio lived in San Giovanni Rotondo (Italy) Capuchin convent for more than 50 years. People from all over the world were visiting him in this small town during his lifetime and continue to visit the sanctuary and the saint’s incorrupt body today. Although located in a remote and mountainous southern part of Italy, away from major Italian cities such as Rome, Milan or Naples, reaching San Giovanni Rotondo by public transportation is relatively easy. As one of the most visited pigrimage sites in Italy, San Giovanni Rotondo has a lot of hotels and restaurants where pilgrims can stay and eat.
How to Travel to San Giovanni Rotondo by Train and Bus
There is no major international airport close to San Giovanni Rotondo. Therefore you will first have to fly to another city in Italy and then travel by train and/or bus to San Giovanni Rotondo. You can read more about how to fly cheaply or even for free to Europe here.
The easiest way to travel to San Giovanni Rotondo is to take a direct bus from Tiburtina Bus Station in Rome. FlexiBus company has daily buses (some of them overnight), the trip lasts about 6-7 hours and costs around $20 one-way.
There are also direct buses from Naples to San Giovanni Rotondo with FlexiBus, the trip lasts 3-4 hours and costs around $15-20. However some days have only one bus departing at 2.25am which would not be a good option for many.
You can also take a bus from from Milan, but the trip will last 10-19 hours with a transfer in Rome, Bologna or Naples and cost around $50-60 one-way.
You can see FlexiBus schedules and book your tickets here.
I have traveled to San Giovanni Rotondo from Naples in November 2018. First, I took a train from Naples to Foggia (the closest large city near San Giovanni Rotondo) and then from Foggia train station took a SITA regional bus to San Giovanni Rotondo.
If you travel from an Italian city that does not have a direct bus to San Giovanni Rotondo, consider taking a train from that city to Foggia and then a bus from Foggia to San Giovanni Rotondo. Italian cities (even smaller ones) are very well connected by comfortable and inexpensive rail transportation. Tickets can be booked online upto 6 months in advance on trenitalia.com (the earlier you book the cheaper tickets will be). You can choose English version of Trenitalia website however when entering city names, in many cases you will need to enter Italian versions of them, for example Napoli instead of Naples, Venezia instead of Venice, Roma instead of Rome, etc. While making the reservation, you can choose your preferred seats on many trains and then print your tickets after the reservation is complete.
In some cases you will need to change trains before reaching Foggia. When at the transfer station, you will need to find the number of the train track which in Italian is called BINARIO or abbreviated to BIN. While looking for your train track on the departure board (departure in Italian is PARTENZA), find the name of the city your train is traveling to and then confirm the train number as there may be a few trains to the same city around the same time. In case you need help, show your ticket to the station staff and they will help you.
When you arrive in Foggia and leave the train station, you will see in front of you a big and busy street with multiple bus stops along the sidewalk. Regional buses depart from those stops to various towns in the Foggia region one of which San Giovanni Rotondo is. The bus company is called SITA, buses to San Giovanni Rotondo depart almost hourly, you can find schedules here.
Each bus stop has destinations and timetables posted so first find the stop for buses to San Giovanni Rotondo or simply ask other people waiting where where buses to San Giovanni Rotondo depart from.
Before boarding the bus you will need to buy a bus ticket for your trip. Bus tickets are NOT sold by the bus driver and must be purchased in advance. I bought by a ticket (cost around 4 euros) in a Kiwi Bar located on the corner of Piazza Vittorio Veneto and Viale XXIV Maggio (you will need to cross the big street in front of the train station where buses stop, turn left, walk straight until Vialle XXIV Maggio and look for the green Kiwi Bar sign. Bus tickets to San Giovanni Rotondo are sold inside this bar. There may be other ticket sale locations nearby, just ask local people waiting for buses.
Bus trip from Foggia to San Giovanni Rotondo takes about an hour. The bus makes several stops before it reaches the top of the mountain where the main San Giovanni Rotondo bus station is (the last stop on the route). St. Padre Pio’s sanctuary is just a couple of minutes walk away from the station. You can buy bus tickets back to Foggia in restaurants located around the San Giovanni Rotondo bus station.
Where to Stay and Eat in San Giovanni Rotondo
There are a lot of hotels in San Giovanni Rotondo however my advise would be to book one as close as possible to the Sanctuary (Church of St. Padre Pio or the Church of Santa Maria dele Grazie) because the churches and the Franciscan convent are at the very top of the mountain. So the further your hotel is away from the Sanctuary the longer you will have to walk up the mountain (which is very steep). There are local buses (and sometimes hotel shuttles) that connect the Sanctuary with hotels located away from the Sanctuary however if you want to walk to the Sanctuary by yourself it is best to book a hotel as close as possible to the Sanctuary. Before making a reservation you can also inquire the hotel about the transportation options between the Sanctuary and the hotel.
I usually book hotels on booking.com or hotels.com websites. You can read my earlier post on how to save on hotel reservations here.
Another advise would be to take warmer clothes while travelling to San Giovanni Rotondo. Because the Sanctuary is located at the top of the high mountain the weather there can be significantly colder there than at the bottom of the mountain.
There are a lot of restaurants in San Giovanni Rotondo but if you choose to save money by buying food at supermarkets, there are a few of them in San Giovanni Rotondo (at the bottom of the mountain though which means that you would have to carry the food up the mountain or use a bus to go to/from the store if you live close to the Sanctuary). I was buying my food at Interspar supermarket located on Viale della Gioventu. Finding it even with a map was a little complicated as streets in that area of the town are not always marked. But local people will show it to you if you ask them where “Interspar supermarket” is.