Southern Italy Vacation: Why You Should Add Matera to Your Itinerary
Hot off the press from Matera: A must-see destination on your Southern Italy vacation
Matera is one of Italy’s best kept secrets. It is an ancient village located in the region of Basilicata in southern Italy. This region is mostly known for its abundance of forests, mountains and rolling hillsides. Here, amongst the landscape is the fascinating and historic town of Matera. This off-the-beaten-path destination is exactly what is missing from most southern Italy vacation plans. I will never forget the moment I first laid eyes on this place. Driving within what seemed like a desolate landscape, this village sort of came out of nowhere. Its indescribable charm is something you need to see to believe.
WHY YOU SHOULD ADD MATERA TO YOUR NEXT SOUTHERN ITALY VACATION:
9,000 YEARS OF HISTORY
The fascinating city of Matera is best known for its extensive cave-dwelling quarters known as the Sassi. These caves are thought to be one of the first human settlements in all of Italy. Sixty years ago the government deemed these mountainside homes unfit to live in due to lack of sewage systems and electricity. However, with so much beauty the community couldn’t let all this history just die. These caves were then transformed into modern day living quarters and hotels. Generations dating back 9,000 years still thrive today in these cave homes. Once described as an uncivilized place of poverty, is now a valued UNESCO World Heritage Site.
EXPLORING THIS FASCINATING TOWN
Although it is not the easiest place to reach, once you arrive you will want to spend ample time exploring the area. Matera is divided into two main neighborhoods; Sasso Barisano and Sasso Caveoso. Mentioned above, the oldest and least developed part of this region is Sasso Caveoso, known as Matera’s old town. Narrow alleyways, dozens of cave churches and intricately carved homes will inspire you to walk the entire town. Exploring by foot is the best way to expose hidden stone staircases that open to miniature courtyards. Getting lost here is the perfect way to spend the day. As you explore Matera on your southern Italy vacation, make sure stop at the following:
- Via del Corso: This is the main square of Matera and it transports this ancient town into a different light. Here you won’t find the crumbling architecture, but you will find numerous shops, bars and coffee shops – not to mention great people watching. This is also the perfect starting point for your adventure into the ancient Sassi.
- The Ancient Dwellings of Sassi: Down here you will feel as though you have transported into a more magical and ancient part of the world. Travel through the intricate lanes and burrowed homes sewn into the mountainside. Elegant palaces and churches are sprinkled amongst the cave-dwellings. Be ready to walk… a lot! Folding amongst the hillside, you can walk the unpaved roads for hours. At every turn you will find new architecture and breathtaking viewpoints.
- Casa Grotta di Vico Solitario: Here, you can travel back to the 18th century. The cave is fitted with furniture and tools that will have you wondering what it was like for a family of eight to reside in such structures.
- Via Madonna della Virtu’: The lower road in Sassi will lead you to a Ravine. Surrounding you on both sides is the ravine along with the view of Sassi sitting high amongst the Cliffside. This is a more than worthy Instagram shot for your luxury travel collection.
- Ancient Churches: There are more than 40 churches hidden amongst Matera. Many seem to be molded into the delicate landscape. Convicinio di Sant’Antonio is an elegant portal of interconnected churches. Here, you can see evidence of murals hugging the abandoned stone walls. San Giovanni and Santa Maria di Idris are both gorgeous churches to add to your itinerary. Basilica of San Biagio is another that is built upon the remains of an ancient temple to Minerva. The views alone are worthy of a visit.
Exploring Matera and its stunning beauty will inspire you to find more hidden gems along your southern Italy vacation.
FOOD WITH A VIEW
Surrounded by this city of stone, I didn’t want to spend a single second away from the incredible views. I recommend making a dinner stop at Il Terrazzino Sui Sassi. During the golden hour you can watch the narrow homes glow a deep orange while enjoying a delicious meal on the terrace. The rooftop views of these narrow houses are amazing! Equally amazing are the traditional flavors infused into each dish. Ristorante Francescasassi was also recommended to me and I was not disappointed! The ricotta stuffed figs were mouthwatering. Ristorante Del Caveoso is another must-eat along your southern Italy vacation. Each dish is so beautiful it is almost hard to eat. I would suggest ordering anything with fresh ricotta cheese!
STAY IN AN ANCIENT CAVE DWELLING
When traveling to Matera, on your southern Italy vacation staying in an ancient cave is a no brainer! During my visit I stayed at Sextantio Le Grotte. It’s a bit harder to find, but I tend to love finding these hidden hideaways away from the main tourist spots. Staying here was a different kind of luxury that I immediately fell in love with. Where else can you find a cave dwelling equipped with an elegant bath tub, intricately carved archways and delicious wine just waiting for its guest’s arrival? You will feel as though you’ve become a part of this town’s ancient history. Plus, the customer service is incredible – never once making you feel like a tourist, but instead a long lost friend.
This city of stone made a lasting impression on my southern Italy vacation. It was just recently named the European Capital of Culture for 2019, and won’t stay hidden for long. The ancient village’s rare and stunning beauty coupled with its rich history will make a trip to Matera one you’ll be taking about for years to come.