Spring and Autumn Breaks: Matera

Matera, which seems run-down and messy, actually has a unique harmony of arches and vaults. Ideal to go there ouside the summer, when it's not overcrowded and the sun is milder.

The best times to discover Matera, the city of the Sassi, are Spring and Autumn. The temperature’s cooler, and the valleys are starting to fill up with red and yellow. It’s only a 65 kilometre drive from Bari Airport.

 

For a long time, Matera was the shame of Italy. Now, buying a house here is popular, and the Tufa caves have been turned into luxurious, charming hotels.

 

But you can still visit some caves furnished like they were when people lived in them, so you don’t lose sight of what they used to be. Although the museum presents a sweetened reality compared to the time, when infant mortality was the highest in Italy.

How to visit it

Matera is explored on foot (comfortable shoes and no wedges, flip flops or high heels). The only advice is to take your time walking slowly through the alleys and stone stairs to really savor the journey into another dimension of space and time.

What to visit?

The city is basically a museum, or what UNESCO calls a “Cultural Landscape”. It’s been a World Heritage Site since 1993.

 

The itinerary starts from the Piazza del Duomo and its beautiful facade, with an extraordinary view of the large “cave” of Sasso Barisano. From above, the tangle of houses, narrow streets, small squares and stairways, at first sight crumbling and disorderly, reveals an innate harmony of arches and vaults. From the square, the Gradoni Duomo stairway allows the descent into Sasso Barisano, while via San Potito, between the archbishop’s seat and Palazzo Gattini, leads to Sasso Caveoso.

 

Among the museums in the museum, not to miss are the visits to the rock churches. There are many churches in Matera, but no one knows how many! Just think there are over 150 rock-hewn churches!

 

The churches of San Giovanni Battista and San Nicola dei Greci are definitely worth a visit – they’re set up on different levels with a great view of the Gravina cliff.

 

The Church of San Pietro Barisano, the Church of Santa Maria de Idris (with Byzantine frescoes), and the thirteenth-century Church of San Pietro Caveoso are also worth seeing.

What to eat

Matera’s food is great, especially the bread, which rivals Altamura’s in terms of taste and authenticity. Try some homemade pasta, legume and chicory soups, lamb, bran peppers, and cheeses with a glass of Aglianico del Vulture.

 

Orecchiette are not only from Puglia. This pasta is also cooked in Matera with cabbage, turnip tops, and sauce. Orecchiette goes well with any ingredient, even the version with breadcrumbs and sultanas.

 

The Cardoncello mushroom is common in these areas and can be cooked in different ways, or eaten raw with hard ricotta.

 

You can find family-run restaurants with a humble and genuine atmosphere in the Sassi area of Matera, but also more sophisticated and elegant places: the important thing is to enjoy the landscape, whether it’s a cave or a terrace overlooking the city.

Out of town excursion

Castelmezzano is great not just because it’s been around for 1,700 years, or because the Lucanian Dolomites are a stunning geological exception, but also because it’s clinging to these wind-eroded slivers of sandstone.

In the evening, it looks like a crib. Piazza Emilio Caizzo offers a great view of the historic centre, and it feels like you’re suspended on a balcony over a cliff.

 

Castelemezzano follows the coast of a mountain that sort of hugs it. If you walk on the road between the houses and the large rocks, you’ll come to the base of the rocky peaks and the remains of the castle that the Normans founded in 1000 at an altitude of almost 1,000 metres. And, like them, you can lord over this small world of internal Basilicata with your gaze.

 

You can go down the Seven Stones path to the Caperrino stream, down in the valley where there were stone mills. Then you can go up to Pietrapertosa, or choose the long road that connects the two villages and goes around the valley.

 

There is also a via ferrata you can try. Or you can stay in the village and climb the incredible stairway carved into one of the highest rocks of these Dolomites to watch the sunset.

 

The Volo dell’Angelo (volodellangelo.com) is the latest experience in the area – a descent, alone or in pairs, harnessed and hooked to cables between Castelmezzano and Pietrapertosa. Spinning up to 120 kilometers per hour and at 400 meters in height.

Our multi-centre holidays in Puglia and Basilicata are great

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