The first time I visited Nardo’, I was there to see an apartment for a client, one of a series of appointments spread down the west coast of Puglia. The estate agent was also in a hurry and, as I followed her at her at breakneck speed I was amazed, both at her ability to walk that fast, on cobblestones, in stilettos, but also by the place itself. I had heard that Nardo’ was beautiful, but so are many Pugliese towns. Nothing prepared me for this – everytime you turned a corner there was another spectacular baroque facade, a road lined with 16th century palazzi, archways leading into secret courtyards, a dazzling succession of things to see, made slightly surreal by the speed with which we were passing them and the lack of time to stop and stare.
As soon as I could, just before Christmas, I went back to have another look. I could only stay at the beautiful Relais il Mignano a night, but enjoyed exploring and getting a feel for the town. During the day the centro storico was quiet,but it was still warm enough to sit outside in Piazza Salandra, enjoying a coffee and a pasticciotto – a Leccese speciality – an oval pastry filled with ‘crema’ or a light custard, spiked with cherry preserve if you are lucky.
Sitting in the square, watching the play of light on the buildings, people riding past on bicycles and an ape delivering firewood, it seemed like time had stood still, until someone came out onto one of the elaborate balconies, chatting animatedly on a mobile phone.
On a leisurely stroll back to my room, I wandered into San Domenico, which is as beautiful inside as out, incredibly elaborate carving stopped from being florid by being all white – the classic Barocco Leccese, contrasting beautifully with the sea green painted ceiling. San Giuseppe was less to my taste inside, rather too much colured marble and gilt..
On a subsequent visit I also loved the inside of the cathedral, with its medieval frescoed pillars, and a short drive to the coast, a road lined with incredible turn of the century villas, glimpsed through ornate gates and set in extensive grounds. Around a fifteen minutes drive from the city, you reach Santa Catarina, a sought after little resort, largely rocky but with some sand, and then Santa Maria al Bagno, an enchanting edwardian resort with a half moon of sand backed by ice cream coloured villas, where I had an incredible fish based meal…. but more of that later..