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Urban Italy

An interview with Italy's top tour operator on her new website dedicated to alternative travel

by Paolo Ferrarini in Travel on 26 January 2011

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Founder of the successful architecture tourism site Viaggi di Architettura, South African-born Mikaela Bandini recently expanded her scope with Urban Italy—a new website devoted to travel, design and the discovery of an alternative Italy in all forms. With a clear goal to help people discover something new and surprising, Bandini tells CH the story of the project in an exclusive interview.

How did the idea of Urban Italy come about?

My day job over the past 12 years has been creating contemporary architecture tours around the world for Italian professionals and architecture lovers for Viaggi di Architettura.

It's what I do. It's what I love doing. Scouting for information, contacts and spaces that you don't get in a cheesy guide book off the shelf. After putting together over 50-plus itineraries worldwide I decided to create a guide-blog for foreign archinauts and design-aholics who want an alternative approach to Italian cities.

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[It's for] people like me who are on the lookout for great design deals, new industrial spaces, cutting edge architecture and souvenirs that don't necessarily fit into your suitcase as well as the people who really rock the country.

The project is based on your personal experience or on a team?

I like to consider Urban Italy a kind of 2.0 version of my Moleskines—basically Italy the way that I'd like to see it (after having lived here for 20-odd years).

The project started as a personal collection of contemporary addresses and insider information from the tip to the toe (literally!) that I gathered while traveling around for architecture, food, interiors and pathological modernist furniture-collecting. Then I asked a handful of foreign friends around the country to give me their 'best of' to have a wider coverage of things to do and places to go. There are currently five of us working on the project, all foreigners living in Italy.

We begin the second phase of the project in spring with young Dutch film maker Caspar Diederik, who'll be doing 2.0 storytelling about people and places around the country.

Are the Italian contemporary cities very different from the postcard-like Italy that many people expect?

We're looking at a rather more contemporary Italy, which appeals to the kind of traveler who doesn't collect Hard Rock t-shirts. Stuff like ex-industrial sites that have been transformed into something new, exciting spaces for arts and theater, the latest hot spots for an aperitivo, urban eateries, events, products and people. Not exactly the stuff you get on a postcard.

Then again our readers send Tweets, not postcards.

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What do people you take around Italy appreciate the most?

I think it's our b-side approach, and the fact that our people guiding are mostly journalists, designers, architects, art lovers that know Italian cities from a different point of view. We don't include spaces just because they have been labeled "cultural," so we do bar-hopping, shop interiors, contemporary architecture, factory design shopping tours and a whole series of other itineraries that are not easily found elsewhere.

Also the fact that we are traveling around the whole country, not just Milan, Rome or Florence, which get enough coverage as is. We're going south. Deep south. To places where it's often difficult to find information for events and spaces in English.

Our offices are in Matera, more or less where you'd find the genuine leather sign on the boot, so we're looking at the whole country from a novel perspective. The general feedback that I'm getting (keeping in mind that the blog has only been on line for a couple of weeks now) is really positive.

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