A guide to visiting Nardò in Puglia – a true Italian gem
At Further Afield we love finding places that are off the beaten track, places to discover and feel like you’re a pioneer. Nardò in Puglia, Italy, is one of those discoveries and with great places to stay forming part of the Further Afield collection we feel it’s time to share it with you, so find out about:
Where is Nardò?
Salento, Puglia, is the heel of the boot at the very tip of the Italian peninsula, and is where you’ll find simplicity at its finest. Unbothered by tourists, it has the cleanest water and the most delicious food with people who are unconditionally warm and welcoming – welcoming to the gay community too, with an annual Pride festival becoming increasingly popular.
What is Salento like?
The region is peppered with small, slow paced villages and stunning towns and cities; from the Baroque city of Lecce, known as the Florence of the South, to the most southern point of Santa Maria di Leuca, lapped by the sea, to the inland Grottaglie, with its vineyards and ceramics. The beaches and nature reserves also give it a rugged and earthy feel off the beaten track. The landscape is stunning – deep blue seas and centuries of history that are isolated from the 21st century.
How to get to Nardò
What to do in Nardò once you get there
Like much of Salento, Nardò is a gourmet heaven and there are few tourists, wild beaches, clear seas and acre upon acre of olive trees. Italians come for sun, sea and incredible food, fished from nearby waters. It’s also great for cycling, peaceful walks and picnics in the protected pine forest of Porto Selvaggio.
Where to stay in Nardò
Nardòsalento Boutique Apartments are owned by Vincent, a collection of stunning boutique apartments and houses in the heart of Nardò’s old town.
Another architectural gem is lovely LOFT2A which is owned by Karen and Martin (who was also the architect behind Il Cubo). It sleeps 4 across two floors and has the crazy and beautiful “nest” where you can kick back with a book and soak up the cool and chilled out vibe!
Living like a local in Nardò
Who better to talk to about how best to enjoy this town than our two experts? Vincent and Martin gave us their insights into what’s so unique about this hidden corner of Italy.
What brought you to Nardò?
Martin: Following a previous renovation in Umbria, when my parents discovered my New Yorker wife Karen and I were going to buy a house to be restored in the historical center of Nardò their comment was “Hooray, on to the next pile of rubble”. In 1985 I came to Nardò and found such deep friendships that I would spend at least six weeks a year in the area. Back then Nardò seemed to me the most exotic place I had ever seen. The Salento never left my heart – and gradually it conquered Karen’s as well. The”pile of rubble” became our first house here and we used it for holidays. But gradually our connection to Nardò deepened to a point where we realised that we wanted to live here part time and become part of it.
Vincent: As a Belgian born in Brussels, with strong ties to Italy for decades, I first came on holiday to Salento back in 2009 with a friend of mine who had been visiting Puglia for years who then introduced me to Nardò. It was love at first sight! Nardò is uncommon – it has a special vibe, hasn’t been overwhelmed by tourist shops and has developed very gently and authentically. It was also love at first site when I stumbled across a 17th-century palazzo with beautiful vaulted ceilings and views overlooking the old town, as well as other unique properties only steps away from the main baroque piazza. I was drawn to their particular architectural features, old citrus gardens, courtyards and terraces.
Many travellers are familiar with Tuscany and Umbria or the Amalfi Coast. Puglia and Salento are less widely known – what makes them so great?
Vincent: Salento is a very authentic place less affected by tourism, a beautiful piece of land circumvented by the sea. Depending upon which way the wind blows, one can take a dip in the Adriatic or the Ionian Seas. The locals are very open-minded, helpful and kind; the healthy, traditional cuisine and beautiful wines all add to a unique experience making it very difficult to leave. Lecce, as well as smaller cities in the Salento region have a myriad of cultural events – including its own Pride event.
Martin: The Salento peninsula is not “pretty” or “gentle”, no rolling hills like in Tuscany or Umbria. It is sometimes rough and rugged, but always mysteriously powerful. Nardò was founded about 3,000 years ago and has seen it all: Messapians, Grecians, Arabs, Turks, Normans, Spaniards, French, Venitians, it has been a quirky mixture of cultures for centuries. That is tangible in the people, the food, the local dialect, the music, the dance and the architecture. Tourism has only slowly begun to discover this area and what seemed Nardò’s disadvantage – the fact that it is 5 km from the sea – turns out to be its blessing. It has not the allure to mass tourism like towns directly on the beach. There has developed a quirky comunity of foreigners especially in the centro storico, but it mingles with the local people. I always enjoy observing how for example a sophisticated gay couple from London or Milan interacts with the people rooted in their traditions. I love the level of flexibility and curiosity and laisser faire.
Is Nardò a year round destination?
Martin: The great contrast between the people living here and in the landscape as I mentioned, you experience also with the seasons. Spring – which by my German standards begins in mild January – is a constant explosion with its climax between March and April when poppies and chrysanthemum fields make you dizzy. In May and June the fields turn yellow and the beaches belong to you almost alone, it is fantastic. The summer, which lasts into late September is the perfect time for the loversof nighlife, outdoor parties and concerts. October through December are our favourite time. The weather is mild, yes, it rains frequently, beach walks are meditative, the restaurants overflow with fish and kindness. Those are the times when you enjoy sightseeing, touring the endless treasures of Puglia without crowds.
Vincent: Each season has something really special. Spring is wonderful with mild temperatures, giving you the chance to discover the area at any time of the day. Summer offers beautiful moments on terraces and at the seaside and when the temperature drops in the evening, friends stay up late chatting over a glass of Amaro del Capo or a Mirto. A city tour might be a challenge when the sun beats, but you can cool off in the crystal blue sea nearby. Autumn is definitely less crowded. The air is breathable and the sea retains the summer heat. Winter can have one or two wet months, but a lunch on a terrace is possible, even in January.
Top tips when planning a trip to Nardò?
Vincent: There are many beautiful beaches in Salento. Close to Nardò there’s Punta della Suina at the south end of Baia Verde located just past Gallipoli, the natural reserve of Porto Selvaggio and the sandy beaches of Torre Colimena, with flamingos observing you from the salt lake behind the dunes.
On the Adriatic side I go to Baia dei Turchi or Torre dell’Orso and down to the beaches from Torre Pali to Torre Vado towards the southern most point of the heel. If you prefer the comfort of a sunbed and umbrella, Litos is my favourite, located in the middle of the Porto Selvaggio natural reserve.
If you prefer a more active holiday there’s loads on offer, like cycling, yoga lessons, kite-surfing or boat trips and water sports. There are also botanical gardens and dozens of historic town centres to visit, coastal walks, organised bike trails, horse riding, great food, wine and olive oil tasting.
My favourite day trips include the town of Grottaglie famed for its innumerable ceramic workshops. I also love to connect with the magic at the very end of this piece of land, at Santa Maria di Leuca, where the Adriatic and Ionian seas flirt together in a never ending belly dance. En route have a stop at Presicce and San Gregorio for a lunch at Da Mimi. Lecce, the Florence of the south, has theatres, a shopping zone, restaurants, bars, the MUST see exhibition palazzo, and nightlife until the early hours.
For beach-goers, your biggest decision is whether you want to experience a beach in one of the region’s stunning nature reserves like Porto Selvaggio. Tips for the nature reserves – wear closed toe shoes for walking down through the pine forest and across the rocky coves and pack a delicious picnic since as there are no services in the park.
We also enjoy an alternative to the natural beach experience at Litos Beach Club . It’s super close to Nardò and you are able to reserve sun beds in advance online (on the front row) and there’s free parking.
For enjoying the local festivals, pick up a copy of “QuiSalento” at the newsstand when you arrive (or visit them online). Whilst only written in Italian, it’s easy to pick out events scheduled during your visit.
Restaurant and food recommendations in Salento and Nardò
There’s a bakery that sells ‘frisella’. Grab a bag, stop at a farm stand for just picked tomatoes and head to Il Cubo’s private rooftop terrace with a chilled rose. Oh, and finish it off with a perfect slice of Salento watermelon, bursting with flavour. For an evening out, we love Schola Sarmenti in Nardò. It’s a winery with a stylish wine bar and more recently a wonderful restaurant with a thoughtfully designed patio and an innovative approach to Salento cuisine – don’t miss the octopus! Visit during the day to buy some magnificent wines and olive oil.
For more traditional Salento fare, we recommend Antica Trattoria Salandra, tucked away on a side street near the Piazza Salandra. This tiny spot, which is also open for lunch, is a delight for experiencing the typical dishes of the Salento region.
Vincent: Food and wine are two of my favourite things and I love to share my tips for the area, so here are just a few:
There are places in Nardò where I love to go for the food, the atmosphere and the kindness of their owners. Corte Santa Lucia in Nardò has delicious local cuisine in a warm atmosphere.
La Dispensa dei Raccomandati is an excellent fish restaurant where the food is as good as the restaurant’s name is long. At the Antica Macelleria Fai I definitely go for the al sangue Florentine steak. I’m never disappointed at Ristorante Art Nouveau in Santa Maria al Bagno (Nardò’s beach).
For the best pizza in Nardò go to La Torre Pizzeria on Via Duca degli Abruzzi, where apart from the choice of toppings you can choose the type of flour the pizza base is made with.
In Galatone, Gustavo Ristoro is a unique experience of revisited local recipes in a chic, family-style setting, all lovingly created by Carmela and Gigi. At Gustavo you don’t need to think about the food, they send out the dishes from the kitchen. Carmela and Gigi have also just opened Convitto in the brilliantly renovated stables of a sumptuous antique palazzo. Here they are dedicated to researching the oldest types of flour, of which the succulent pizza’s are made.
If I want to splash out a bit I go either to Felline (near Ugento) and sit at a table on the picturesque Piazza Caduti at Il Mulino di Alcantara eating the most luxurious food under a sky full of stars, or to L’Acchiatura in Racale where interior dining rooms are beautiful if the weather is inclement.
Martin: If you love cooking the choice of fish and seafood is wonderful. We rely on the local stores including supermarkets to buy it, but visiting the fish market in Gallipoli in the morning is of particular fun. In Nardò you eat with the seasons. Little pick up trucks, called Ape (produced by the same factory as the legendary Vespa) wait along every road leading in and out of Nardò, offering a bountiful palette of fruit and vegetables, whatever and exclusively what is in season, at a fraction of the prices you are used to. Tasty food in season and 0’km – Nardò’s traditions are sometimes so old fashioned that they are ahead of the trend again. What we like the most when tired of cooking is driving to the shore in direction Sant Isidoro and have lunch at “Blu Mare”, a funky place with formica tables and paper napkins, reminding us of a truck stop, where you can eat every raw seafood you ever dreamt of at reasonable prices, sitting among locals.
Night life in Nardo
Vincent: I enjoy Bottiglieria, Il Cardinale and Parisi, all of which are late opening bars around the main Piazza.