Prosecco and Petals
Matera has historically been an overlooked jewel of southern Italy where visitors are romanced a unique and vibrant Basilicata heritage. This year it is also set to be the stage of many exciting events as it has been named Europe’s city of culture 2019.
Matera’s old town (called Matera di Sassi) set on the side of a gorge is breath-taking: Historical limestone cave dwellings, known as ‘grottos’, punctuate a labyrinth of windy streets, giving visitors a glimpse back to an ancient way of life. This UNESCO old town has been lovingly maintained, and the locals themselves remain in residence along with traditional shops, restaurants, cafes and hotels.
The vistas are simply stunning at any time of the day, the surrounding nature walks are relaxing, and the city itself is brimming with Italian culture and cuisine at its best.
Matera has a beautiful year-round climate with long, hot summer days (temperatures range between 26-30 degrees centigrade, 78-86 degrees Fahrenheit) and pleasant sunny spring and autumnal weather.
Matera is an excellent destination for minimoons and romantic breaks in spring and autumn when there are less European tourists and to avoid winter when the myriad of limestone paths can become treacherously slippery.
Ostuni: a majestic white city that rises out of the flatlands dominating the scenery for miles. The circular roads wind up to a stunning church and are crammed with quaint and interesting local shops, bars and restaurants. Tourists will feel very welcome but do expect to be watched by the locals who see the world go by from their balconies.
Alberello: an odd, quirky Unesco town made up of whitewashed circular, conical dwellings with cryptic symbols. This hobbit style town is quite remarkable in its size and is best explored at sunset when the bus tours leave, and the houses glow in the light of the sun.
Bari: This large port has all the shopping and entertainment of most Italian cities along with a large old town. This is a city to spend a few hours in on the way out before heading to the airport to pick up holiday souvenirs, enjoy the last espresso and cool off with a tasty local gelato.
Matera’s appeal is set to increase in 2019 as it has been recognised as one of two, European Cities of Culture. The festivities are set to kick-start with the sound of music when two thousand Basilicata musicians congregate on 19 and 20 January. For a full diary of events scheduled so far, it is recommended to visit the Matera tourism board website.
It is highly recommended to spent at least one night in Matera to fully enjoy the city at night and experience a stay in one of the wonderful Grotto dwellings: This will ensure you have a unique and romantic break.
Expect to pay a premium for authentic cave rooms, but for those on a lower budget, there are more simple grotto rooms, which lack some of the finesse of the five-star boutique hotels.
For a comfortable, authentic cave room expect to pay between £100 and £180 per night, and it is recommended to call hotels directly to ensure that your room preference is reserved.
Whatever, your budget, aim to stay in the old town to make sure that you fully savour the sites in the morning and evening when only the locals remain. Expect cave rooms to get chilly at night so pack something warm but most are equipped with all the mod-cons so you can luxuriate.
Like every region in Italy, the pasta and dishes of the Basilicata region are distinct and delicious. As such, it is highly recommended to leave room in your holiday budget to dine out in one of the many traditional restaurants.
Generally speaking, the more touristy restaurants are set within the Sassi just off the main Piazza Vittorio Veneto. For cheaper, authentic eats it is wise to head away from this area although the food in these spots is still delectable and cultural sights are more impressive.
As Italians traditionally eat much later, it is worth noting that many restaurants serve a restricted menu at lunch and open later. Evening services also start later, and restaurants are often at their peak at 10 pm.
Day one: Arrive a Bari airport, pick up a rental car and head to Ostuni for a lunchtime walkabout from here drive into Matera for sunset and check into your hotel.
Day two: Enjoy a relaxed morning espresso in one of the local espresso bars, stop for a traditional lunch and get lost in windy streets of the old town. Book a meal in one of the top restaurants then enjoy a moonlight wander around the vibrant main streets.
Day three: Enjoy a relaxed start and take a drive into the countryside before heading to Alberello and exploring the quirky housings and gift shops.
Day four: Enjoy a morning walk about Matera before driving to Bari to do some shopping and eating before heading on to the airport.
Matera is the perfect place to minimoon or to have a romantic break; the below tips will ensure that you and your partner feel extra special.
Matera is a distance from local airports, the closest being Bari (64km), which is served by Ryanair, Wizz Air and Easy Jet from London. Alternatively, for those visiting from the USA and other European destinations, Naples is a viable option.
From Bari Airport, Matera can be reached by a frequent bus service or by renting a car. For those who can drive abroad, it is highly recommended to rent a car with sat nav so you can also tour the beautiful surrounding towns and countryside.
The cheapest and easiest way to get to Matera is via bus which costs three Euro per person for a single trip. Buses run five times a day, and the journey takes approximately 45 minutes. Pugliair bus company have an online booking system so tickets can be bought in advance and seats reserved to ensure a stress-free transition when departing at the airport. Visit http://www.aeroportidipuglia.it/en/bus-pugliairbus- for up to date timetables and fares.
For those seeking a private shuttle, these will cost approximately 70 Euros. For details follow the link below: http://www.shuttlematera.com/english/fares/exlusive-transfer-from-bari-airport-to-matera.html
No, many of the younger generations speak fluent English and most restaurants will provide an English menu or have a waiter who can fluently get your mouth watering. When seeking directions, it is best to go into shops and speak to younger people who will be less confused. Tourism is welcomed in Matera, and any interest is normally genuine. There is little in the way of begging and limited thefts.