Matera is fast-becoming one of the top villages to visit in Italy, if not Europe. Because of its incredible beauty, many movies have been filmed here, like Wonder Woman and the Passion of the Christ.
It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world. For 9,000 years, villagers lived in “sassi” caves that were built into the cliffs. These rock-cut settlements became overcrowded, as they often shared their cave structures with animals. In the 1950’s this village became the “shame of Italy” due to rising poverty levels that led to starvation and death. The Italian government forced villagers to move out of their caves and moved them to nearby towns with more hygienic living conditions.
Since then, Matera has been carefully restored and several artisans have returned to bring this town back to life. There are a growing number of luxury hotels , boutiques and restaurants. Today, it has been named the European Capital of Culture 2019, and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Matera is located in the region of Basilicata in Southern Italy, an easy 2 km detour from Puglia. Here are 7 reasons to go to Matera, Italy!
7 Reasons to Visit Matera
- Sleep in a Cave! A luxury cave dwelling at Sextantio Le Grotte della Civita. One of the most magical experiences in my life! And I’ve traveled to 156 countries and slept in many unique places. The restoration of the caves is magnificent in one of the most ancient areas of the Sassi, the Civita, that overlooks the Gravina. The beds are ultra comfortable and some rooms even have bathtubs. Modern conveniences in an ancient dwelling make this stay extra special.
Don’t Miss! Enjoy a typical Southern Italian breakfast served in the XIII Century Cave Church at Sextantio. The signature Matera bread, freshly baked cakes, pastries, biscuits and cookies, seasonal fruits, mozzarella, ricotta, jams, marmalade, cheeses and salumi from local farms & artisan producers.
2. Walking Tour with Matera Tour Guides – meet Eleonora Sansone & Antonio Manicone +39.3287666621, excellent local guides who know Matera better than anyone.
I took the Matera Walking Tour to learn about this town from the ancient Paleolithic times to the present day. There are many tours to choose from including a hike through Murgia National Park, or opt for a gastronomic tour! They will customize tours to accommodate your interests and needs. Be sure to walk from Via Civita and Via Conservatorio, to the Churches of St. Nicholas of the Greeks and Madonna of the Virtues, then continue to the deep water cistern. Stop at Piazza di Porta Postergola, in the districts of Sassi, and visit the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli where you can still see rock frescos and architectures.
3. Take a Cooking Class at Sextantio Le Grotte della Civita – Learn from a Matera Chef the ancient art of handmade pasta and discover authentic traditional Lucanian recipes and typical dishes like Cavatelli, Orecchiette and Calzoni. Sextantio also can arrange for a bakery visit to taste the local Matera bread and foaccia, biscuits, as well as a cheese making experience where you can view the making of mozzarella by hand, an authentic “caciocavallo” cheese workshop.
4. Bike through the Murgia and Visit “Sassi” Caves: Rent a bike and tour the “Sassi” area, city center and the Murgia National Park.
5. Dine at Ristorante Baccanti for a romantic dinner in a rock-hewn cave. The food is exquisite! Service superb. An unforgettable dining experience.
6. Explore the Region: Visit abandoned villages – Craco, the 5th century Rabatana in Tursi, and Anglona Sanctuary with medieval frescoes. Or discover the archaeological site of Egnatia, 25 minutes away from Matera. I ran out of time to visit these places, but heard they are fascinating.
7. Stop for lunch at Ristorante Baccus for homemade pasta and other local traditional dishes.