A weekend in Nardò with Mikaela Bandini

4 October 2023
Written by
The Italy Insider

Ideas for a weekend
in Salento

Mikaela Bandini (in photo above, credits Lea Anouchinsky) is from South Africa, lives in beautiful Matera, and has now fallen in love with Salento, where she just opened a small hotel; but this is one of many projects emerging from her volcanic personality. Her Area 8 in Matera is a multitasking cross-cultural space where you can eat, play cards, talk, play, meet very special people. Just to give you an example she invited Wes Anderson, and he actually arrived!

Describe Italy in a few words?
Fascinatingly beautiful yet intriguingly complex.

Why Nardò?
I didn’t choose Nardò, Nardò chose me. I didn’t need another home or business to run, but I was totally taken aback by the winding streets, the melting pot of cultures and heritage that are responsible for the stunning architecture, wonderful food, an incomprehensible dialect.

A must visit?
The botanical gardens right next to the Castle that dates back to the 1400’s. There is something very special that reminds me of a miniature version of the Jardin Majorelle in Marrakech; I love the sounds and smells and the super seventies kiosk there.

An unmissable excursion?
Horseback ride from just outside of Nardò, through the pine forest, passing historic moorish villas dating back to the turn of the century, down toward Torre Lapillo until you get to the Nature Reserve and the sea. Absolutely breathtaking.

The best moment of the day to…?
The sunset over the Ionian sea is something that you never quite get used to. The sky goes on fire and it almost feels like being back home in Africa.

A relaxing moment?
Cappuccino with a pasticciotto.. a thick shortcrust pie filled with baked custard. It’s Heavenly. The bar Creme & Caramel makes anywhere up to 500 a day and does variations on the classic theme adding sour cherry jam, chocolate, pistacchio or baked apple to the standard custard.

A special experience?
Take a private boat trip to visit the caves in the Porto Selvaggio Nature reserve around the Uluzzo Bay; the water is crystal clear and the colours in the caves are absolutely spectacular. Many Neanderthal artifacts were found in the area and some cave paintings are still visible.

The essence of Nardò?
There is an amazing ‘70s vibe about the place, when you stay there it is truly slow living at its best: old men sitting at the bar playing cards, farmers selling their produce from their vintage three wheeled Ape Cars on the side of the street, everybody and everything comes to a dead stop for siesta until at least 5pm. The scenery is so spectacular that it almost feels unreal, like a movie set from an old Italian classic – like Francis Ford Coppola is going to jump out at any minute and direct the passers by.

That memorable evening?
Drinks and snacks at Thot, a sundowner beach bar that opened in August 2023 about a dozen km from Nardò in a Nature reserve right on the lagoon of Porto Cesareo. It’s the brainchild of young local entrepreneur Pasquale Coppola. Here they often have DJ sets accompanied by fire eaters and other entertainment. The architecture, decor and landscaping has left nothing to imagination with every detail beautifully designed by brilliant local young architect Egidio Muci together with the landscape genius of Studio Paz to create a really amazing cinematic experience.

An unforgettable dish?
Visit the family run Trattoria Salandra, a real throwback to the ‘80s with TVs on in every room. The sweetest, kindest people I have met in a long while; everything is super fresh cooked by Salvatore. My favourite dish is battered and deep fried bitter greens (rape), although everything is always wonderful there!

The most beautiful landscape?
Looking out from the watchtower of Santa Caterina over the Porto Selvaggio Nature reserve, I go walking there at sunrise and it is totally breathtaking, you never quite get used to it.

The souvenir?
Anything from the new concept store Sud that just opened its doors at the entrance to town. The creative duo Annamaria and Alberto already have a super successful concept space in Rome called Spazio Espanso and decided to double up with a Salento venture. Sud has a stunning array of hand made bijoux and accessories, textiles and cushions, and certainly worth your while picking something up to take home with you when in town. It is located on via Lata, just at the entrance to the historical centre of town.

A must drink?
A glass (or bottle) of local Schola Sarmenti rosè from Negroamaro grapes. I’m always willing to drive a little further to super authentic town of Manduria for some great Primitivo Doc; Chiodi di Garofano – translated cloves – from the Antico Palmento winery: a complex ruby red so intense that it has hues of purple and reflects the harsh terroir where it is grown.

What to pack for the weekend?
Flip flops, a couple of t-shirts and a swimsuit, a couple of books, a great playlist and a big smile. Everything is so laid back here, no one dresses up.

Favourite stays?
Well I can’t be objective here because I just opened my first hospitality project, Area 8 Rooms, temporary homes around offbeat southern Italy with attention to renovating the architectural heritage as well as recuperating XX design furniture pieces. The three roomed apartment in the centre of town has 5m high vaulted ceilings and a funky vintage vibe, designer furniture and black and white prints from the ‘50s.

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