‘May this be your photogenic travel guide to Matera, if you are stopping there for a few days. This will give you an idea on where to stay, eat and wander around in the heart of the cave town.’
The ancient part of Matera (called Sassi translates to “stones”) is where the beauty lies, wrapped into cave homes and cobblestone pathways that blend into the stone cliff, it sits on. Located in Basilicata mountains in Southern Italy, there is one main road around the sassi with a few parking areas, but anything in the UNESCO area is reached by foot. Most hotels will make a parking service and are very helpful on providing guidance.
Despite what Matera showcases today, it has a history of sorrow and in the 20th century it was considered the shame of Italy. People carved homes into caves living alongside with their animals originating from the paleolithic era. The town suffered severe poverty where malaria and famine roamed free. Life was difficult, education was non-existent and WWII political prisoners were sent to live here, as the standards were so low. Eventually after war, the government relocated people to live in the new part of town and today Matera thrives from it’s haunted past.
Matera is the first protected UNESCO site crowned as the European City of Culture. The once unbearable caves have been tweaked into beautiful boutique hotels and restaurants that attract the trendiest across the globe. Your lens will speak for itself, along with a good pair of shoes. Starting from the top of the old town, sample some local delights, especially the bread (and cheeses) and work off the calories by exploring all the hidden nooks making your way down to the scenic piazza that over looks the mountains. Pose with an ice cream on the classic cracked pale pink wall and taste handmade pasta in one of the scenic restaurants. Explore the neighbourhoods of Sasso Barisano and Sasso Caveoso by discovering tiny courtyards lined with red flowerpots, dead ends, churches and countless lookout points for rooftop views of the town.
Matera leaves an imprint on you and is best explored walking up and down the numerous stairs of the maze-like centre. Marvel at the architecture, stop for a cooling vino as the intense sun traps in the stone walls and soak in the charm of old Italy. We stopped for antipasti on the corner cafe in the square below along with a cheese bar on the main road on top of the hill. We enjoyed lunch on the terrace of Il Terrazzino that was packed with locals. The walls sweat history and the rugged facade is made to be photographed. There is beauty all over; the decorated flower balconies against the rough exterior, the softness in the breathtaking hotel interior and the cozy tavernas that treat to you an unforgettable experience with a view like no other. Old Matera is made for falling in love, unspoiled by tourism and a community within locals that respect its past. Make sure to capture the morning light that is soft and magical.
Matera is all about slow hearty food. It is fantastic here, comforting orrechietti dishes, lots of dried chili and bread that is considered as the best in Italy. It is made from a regional hard wheat and it has the amazingly crunchy surface with a unique sourdough like flavour.
Allow your lens to capture the undiscovered air, rough exterior and history that will move you to tears. In the morning market, take a close up of the perfect lemons just so you can get close enough to smell their zest. Find those sun bleached roses that stand against the heated limestone walls and let the simplicity of the food capture the essence of what southern cooking is all about. People watch. Find the stray cats and dogs pose for you that show kindness through their eyes. So much, that we snuck a dental stick (purchased from the store) to a few of the dogs that seemed eternally grateful.
Eat: Matera is filled with delicious restaurants all tucked away into the old part of the town. For splendid views (reservation needed if you wish to sit outside) and traditional cuisine, eat at Il Terrazzino. Sample on the dish of the day, some traditional Orecchiette al Tegamino, a grilled plate of lamb or the grilled whole fish. Ristrante Francesca beautifully restored cave with amazing pasta and meat.
Rest: This time around we stayed in La Dimora di Metello in the suite that was large in size, had a balcony and the cutest bathtub built beautifully into a cave. The room was spacious and cozy, while the modern small hotel had amazing breakfast and parking service away from the old town if you arrive via car. A few years back we stayed in the charming, Corte San Pietro that is chic and exclusive with a breath-taking courtyard. For an extra luxurious stay, Sextantio Le Grotte della Civita is considered as the best cave hotel in Matera.
Love: Order some mascarpone espresso flavoured ice cream with a cannoli on top from Gelida Voglia, a frothy cappuccino and fresh apple pastry from ridola caffe and get lost in the morning market with your wicker basket admiring the imperfect veggies. Overlook sunset with a glass of wine and take a bath for utter relaxation in the coziest cave like rooms.