I’ve seen a reasonable amount of Italy and absolutely loved almost all of it. It’s a spectacular country. However, after this trip I think Florence has been toppled as my favourite place: my new personal highlight is Matera. I’ll warn you now, this post is heavy on the photos. Matera is totally incredible.
It was baking hot for the 24-or-so hours that we were in town – hovering in the high 30s. We arrived just after lunch and strolled down through the new town to the sassi i.e. “stones”, or cave dwellings. If it looks familiar you may’ve seen Quantum of Solace or The Passion of the Christ? They were both filmed on location in Matera and the old town hasn’t changed much for years, though it was considered a slum until the 1990s when regeneration money began pouring in from UNESCO, the EU and local government, and (of course) Hollywood.
Most of the residents were actually relocated to new builds in the 1950s; people were living in poverty and the caves had become uninhabitable with diseases like malaria running rife. Some did choose to stay in their homes though, and according to the Fodor’s guide “Matera is the only place in the world where people can boast to be still living in the same houses of their ancestors of 9,000 years ago.” (Told you this place is amazing.)
We checked-in to our amazing B&B, La Corte dei Pastori, in what had to be the best spot in town. Our cave bedroom (and the breakfast terrace) looked out over the town and the sassi, and our host was so friendly! The sun was strong but low so we headed out for a couple of hours before it set. We ambled around oh-my-god-ing at everything before stopping for a beer and some gelato from I Vizi Degli Angeli Laboratorio Di Gelateria Artigianale , which was the best ice cream of our entire trip (and the most long-windedly-named gelateria ever?). Then it was cocktail hour (or two) at Area 8, a really cool bar/café/theatre furnished with lots of covetable vintage furniture, before a disappointing dinner at Soul Kitchen (great food, dire service).
The next morning we explored the rest of the old town and had another gelato (when in Italy!), this time from Gelida Voglia di Artigianeria dei Sassi as the other gelateria was closed: luckily this place was also utterly amazing. I also came across my fluffy little friend from the previous day so I was able to have a goodbye hug! I was seriously so sad to leave Matera. It would actually be do-able for a long weekend trip, as you can fly to Bari and catch the train direct in a couple of hours. Something tells me I’ll be back.