You’ll find Casa a Corte nestled deep inside Nardò’s historical centre, an olive’s throw from some of Puglia’s most picturesque beaches and a 20-minute drive to Lecce, the province’s capital.
Brindisi Airport is closest with a 50-minute journey time to the casa, though flights into Bari – just under two hours away – are more frequent. Casa a Corte can arrange transfers for up to nine people. It’s €85 a head from Brindisi and €170 from Bari, to be paid directly to the driver.
Nardò Citta is just over one kilometre away, with direct trains to Gallipoli, Lecce and beyond. Transfers from here will set you back €15 each way.
Public transport can be notoriously slow at this end of the boot, so wheels will allow you to speed things up when daytripping to whitewashed Ostuni, say, or coastal Otranto. Guests of Casa a Corte can park for free just up the road at the neighbouring Piazza Cesare Battisti.
Worth getting out of bed for
You’re unlikely to run into tourists in this little-known pocket of Puglia’s sun-drenched peninsula. As such, you’ll find that Nardò is less of a ‘doing’ place and more of a standing-still-with-your jaw-open place. Founded by the Messapians, conquered by Romans, ruled by a succession of Byzantines, Lombards and Normans, and finally the Spanish under the Kingdom of Aragon. Years spent at the crossroads of power have left their mark on the town in the most fascinating ways – from the Pizzica folk dance to the Greek-based local dialect. But first things first, grab a gelato and drift through the ancient, cobblestone streets until you arrive at Piazza Salandra, Nardò’s beating heart, where Baroque arches, ornate balconies, neoclassical colonnades and Rococo portals crowd around the 18th-century Guglia dell’Immacolata obelisk. Here, you’ll find Chiesa di San Trifone, a 19th-century church, built in gratitude of the titular martyr, revered for saving the peninsula from a plague of – wait for it – caterpillars. And then there’s Chiesa di San Domenico, Nardòs architectural jewel which adorned, inside and out, with Baroque decoration. Look to the side of the building and you’ll find the Fontana di Toro, which honours the mythic bull from whom Nardò is rumoured to have emerged. The wider province has a rugged kind of beauty, full of wild beaches, turquoise waters and acres of olive trees. Head to Porto Selvaggio to catch a glimpse of it in full swing, this protected oasis consists of a pristine coastal enclave where you can bathe in crystal-clear waters (often in total privacy), miles of pinewood parkland sprinkled with archeological ruins, three ancient towers (Torre dell’Alto, Torre dell’Inserraglio, Torre Uluzzo), and well-preserved fortified farms. The neighbouring beach towns of Santa Maria al Bagno and Santa Caterina are each home to lively little inlets; locals gather here during summer before retiring for a fresh seafood lunch at the likes of La Pergola or L'Art Nouveau (in Santa Maria) or Il Frescura (Santa Caterina). Back in town, splash some cash at Particolare, Nardò’s go-to boutique for ready-to-wear designer ensembles, or have Anne and Sylvain arrange a wine-tasting session or pasta-making class with a local nonna. And, if you happen to be around in July, don’t miss Circonauta, a three-day public programme which transforms this sleepy town into a high-octane fantasy with acrobats, jugglers, trapeze artists and clowns taking to the streets.
Female-owned Pizzeria Biga has earned a name for itself for its traditional pizzas with contemporary flavours. La Ribas is a fine choice for carnivores with paper-thin slices of beef, fior di latte, rocket, redcurrant and saffron mayonnaise, while veggies will love the Caponata, made with fior di latte, sautéed peppers, breadcrumbs, capers and Leccino olive powder. Seafood lovers, meanwhile, should make a beeline for La Dispenza dei Raccomandati, where tuna tartare, Gallipoli purple shrimps and other fresh Ionian catches are always top of the menu. And for romantic, atmospheric evenings, Il Girone dei Golosi is just the ticket. This tiny trattoria is tucked away on a cobblestone sidestreet with moonlit, alfresco seating and hearty Salentini cuisine.
Caffé Parisi is the stuff of myth – an elegant Parisian-style, morning-till-night spot where everything is artisanal, not least the gelato, which deserves special mention. In Piazza Giuseppe Mazzini, Il Gabbiano and Bar Angelica are the places to go for local delicacies – and there are many. Choose from sfogliatelle di canosa stuffed with toasted almonds, dark chocolate, grape jam, cinnamon and raisins; a piping hot pasticciotto filled with cream; or a sugar-dusted bocconotto tartlet to-go.
In Nardò you’re never more than six feet away from a glass of the good stuff. In fact, just a hop, skip and jump away from Casa a Corte’s front door, family-owned Cantine Bonsegna serves their own locally-made and low-intervention wines, which use many of the native grape varieties like Negroamaro, Primitivo and Malvasia Nera alongside those less typical, but increasingly popular, such as Garganega, Chardonnay and Sangiovese. Schola Sarmenti, meanwhile, offers cellar tours and tastings of their Neretini produce, which encompasses everything from red, white and rosé, to fizz, grappa and local olive oil.