At the beginning of last autumn, I decided to make a dream come true and planned a visit to Matera with a very good friend of mine that I never get the chance to travel with.
Even for Italians Basilicata, the region where Matera is located, is pretty off the beaten track which however does not mean it is difficult to reach. Unless you decide to pick your car and drive there, the best way to reach this city is taking a flight to Bari, whose airport is very well connected and then renting a car from there. There are only 60 km from Bari Palese airport to Matera, on a pretty large road (a speedway is under construction as Matera is the Culture Capital for 2019, by Unesco appointment).
Unique settlement in the area called Murge, this town has an interesting and fascinating history that dates back to the 6th C BC and results in a fabulous site of prehistoric grottoes, caves and houses excavated in beautiful white limestone, overlapping layers in a way that the small squares between dwellings are roofs to other ones.
Till the 1950s the so called Sassi were the home mainly for poor people while after a requalification process the whole area offers now a truly unique experience, and I loved it especially at night, when the white stone turns to golden reflections thanks to the city lights and it all becomes unreal, it is such a perfect combination of dramatic panorama and architectural beauty!
I always use to ask for a regular ‘old style’ paper map when I check in at hotels, despite all the apps in my phone… Using a map in Matera however is not as easy and made us feel like dummies as we did not realize from the map at first sight that there is a canyon between Sasso Caveoso and Sasso Barisano. At first it was even difficult to understand how to reach the Civita Hill, where the Romanesque style Cathedral stands!
There are about 150 churches in the area, carved out of the white stone, some of them featuring beautiful frescoes and 48 out of them are located in the Sassi area. My preferred one was worth a little trek: Cripta del Peccato Originale, with wonderful medieval paintings.
We had actually a fabulous guide, Aldo Chietera (amicidelturista.it), who was very important for the understanding of this multifaceted town, so rich and so ancient (it is the second oldest in the world). I strongly advice booking a half day visit with him. He will open doors that are usually closed to the public and will show you the spots that have been used as backdrop for famous movies as the Passion by Mel Gibson and the latest Ben Hur. Aldo will have the keys to make you understand every little corner not only because he is a professional and a skilled guide but also because he has been living here since his birth.
Where to stay in Matera
For a truly memorable stay, book a suite or a deluxe room at Sant’Angelo Luxury Resort, set in a unique location and offering a great viewpoint on the Parco della Murgia Materana. The rooms and the common areas, including a well rated spa, are located in a very interesting cool complex of historical buildings brought into new life after a careful restoration. All the spaces have a great view, balconies or lounge areas and are decorated with nice colours that blend very well into the natural stone and light during the day and at night. The restaurant Regia Corte offers a good selection of home made tarts at breakfast, with local jams and fresh juices and many other delicatessens. For dinners, it offers a wide variety of local tastes and a very good selection of wines; for the best enjoyment, book a table at the gorgeous terrace. Do not miss it!
Where to eat in Matera
Other restaurants, among others, that are worth trying:
Da Francesca, set in a stylish ‘grotto’, each level has one or two tables.
Il Terrazzino, where the orecchiette are a must.
We also had dinner at “La Lopa” in via Bruno Buozzi, a stylishly restored ‘cave’ turned into a very nice restaurant. The venue is really nice and waiters are nice too but we found the service was not matching our expectations. However, the place was almost brand new so… Perhaps… I would give a second chance!
We did not try, but we had been advised going to “Sassi e Scogli”, where apparently the fish is very fresh.
Last but not least: when packing, be sure to bring comfortable flat shoes featuring, possibly, rubber soles. Without doubt Hogan Rebel are my personal must and the loafers Route H259 with shiny trendy ‘crystals’ are the perfect change for an evening that requires some hiking. They are so comfortable and glamorous!