Italy: The Best of Basilicata

Sassi Unesco, Matera.
Sassi UNESCO, Matera.

By Marley Henderson

The panoramic view of Matera from the Hotel Belvedere.
The panoramic view of Matera from the Hotel Belvedere.

Nestled in the instep of Italy’s famous boot shape, the region of Basilicata is beautifully arranged with cave dwellings, forests, medieval hilltop towns, and beaches.

With a shoreline and as the most mountainous region in all of south Italy, visitors are greeted with sights of turquoise waters on the coast and impressive volcanic mountains.

Basilicata is infused with a dramatic history influenced by Greek, French, Spanish and Arabian invaders. These footprints have influenced colorful festivals, traditions, and exceptional cuisine.

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OUR LATEST TRAVEL VIDEOS

Italy’s “best-kept secret” is a rising tourist destination, and well deserved at that. The increase in tourism is mostly credited to the iconic city of Matera, an instantly captivating region. The Sassi of Matera is home of the UNESCO World Heritage site and has recently been designated the European Capital of Culture, 2019.

“This is an important day for Matera, for Italy for Europe, which demonstrates its ability to recognize and enhance its cultures”. With these words, the President of the Italian Republic, Sergio Mattarella, inaugurated the year of Matera as the European Capital of Culture.

What to See

Ancient Landscape and Architecture

Sassi is a complex network of cave dwellings, passages, arches, and stairways, revealing stunning churches and cave houses that have been inhabited since Paleolithic times. This land has been described as “one of the most unique landscapes in Europe,” at the hand of its picturesque tapestry of views.

 

Matera at night.
Matera at night.

Ancient Matera is divided into two valley’s, punctuates with many caves; Sasso Caveoso and Sasso Barisano. A network of alleys and tunnels connects houses, churches, and ravines, offering endless views. Additionally, these intricate hillside structures create two natural amphitheaters, home to the oldest part of town, Civita.

Not far away is the Convicinio di Sant’Antonio, a rock complex made up of four interconnected cave churches, dating back to the 14th and 15th century. The four magnificent structures, San Primo, L’Annunziata, Sant’antonio Abata, and San Donato, open into a shared courtyard by a single three-lobed portal.

The beach at Spiaggia, Italy.
The beach at Spiaggia, Italy.

San Donato is said to be the most impressive with its large pillars that support cross vaults, carved domed ceilings, and a beautiful cistern for drawing water.

Matera is also notable for its presence of a considerable number of mansions. These mansions include Palazzo Sedile, Palazzo Bronzini, Palazzo Alvino, Palazzo Enselmi and, grandest of all, Palazzo Lanfranchi. The latter being the city’s highest expression of Baroque architecture, with a stunning asymmetrical façade.

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The mansions offer museums, art displays, spectacular views and perfect spots to watch the sunset over the valley’s and hillsides. The mansions are made of a light stone that radiates vibrant shades of pink and orange during sunset, a tribute to the pure beauty Matera has to offer.

Casa di Ortega has two goals: to document the presence in Mater of the great Spanish artist, Jose Ortega, but to also encourage the revival and promotion of local crafts traditions. The museum of applied arts performs an exemplary restoration of a large complex, located in Sasso Barisano, to later become a museum space and an area for creation.

Casa di Ortega will be home to the works produced by the famous painter in the 1970s, a collection of 20 multicolored papier-mache pieces. The pictorial productions that constitute the project will emphasize the importance of the bond between Italian craft and art. His artistic expression through hand-crafted work will be used to inspire the town’s most quintessential and treasured artisanal product of papier-mache.

What to Do

National Parks

Valley views from a peak of Pollino National Park.
Valley views from a peak of Pollino National Park.

Pollino National Park is Italy’s largest national park, covering 1,960 square kilometers and bridging the regions of Basilicata and Calabria. Established in 1992, the park includes both natural and archaeological places of interest for tourists.

The unforgettable scenery ranges from mountains topped with snow to ancient forests blooming with interesting flora and fauna species. There is a number of ways to enjoy the park: on foot, by bike, on horseback, and even white water rafting.

With a high peak of 2,248 meters, a rewarding hike leaves adventurous visitors a view of both the Ionian and Tyrrhenian coasts. The park also protects a number of rare species including the Apennine wolf, wild cats, and otters. Visitors can view the many environmental projects, such as organic farms and Eco hostels.

The Gallipoli Cognato Park is far smaller in comparison to Pollino. It only covers 270 square kilometers and is located to the north of Pollino, in the heart of Basilicata. There is a striking contrast in the scenery here, from sandstone peaks with a rugged appearance to the dense forest, which is carpeted with wildflowers and vibrant colors.

The Lucanian Dolomites are the mountain range found within in the park. The Dolomites are known for their tall, odd-shaped peaks, that date back 15 million years. Gallipoli Cognato Park is ideal for hiking as it has a network of trails covering all terrain. The mountains are popular with rock climbers, horse riders and mountain bike enthusiasts.

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Adventure

Zip lining through the mountain tops.
Zip lining through the mountain tops.

If you’re feeling adventurous and eager to view the scenery in a different way, try zip lining between the mountaintop villages of Castelmezzano and Pietrapertosa within the Lucanian Dolomites.

In the Tyrolean Traverse styled adventure, “Volo Dell’Angelo” is a picturesque way to view the ancient villages in a bird-eye view.

The two villages are perched on opposite sides of a steep valley, only connected by one long road. Translated to Flight of the Angel, it is said to be the highest zip-wire in the world, alongside being one the fastest and longest.

Craco, in the province of Matera, is a ghost town. The medieval hilltop town was abandoned over 50 years ago due to natural disasters in the area. The abandonment has made Craco a popular location for filming and a top tourist attraction. The once inhabited buildings now linger with empty, dark windows as they slowly decay. Located on a steep hillside, the structures were strategically built into the landscape.

Craco, an abandoned hilltop ghost town.
Craco, an abandoned hilltop ghost town.

Craco is home to many tombs and was once a monastic center, a town filled with feud and hardship. The oldest building, the Norman Tower, was built in 1040, alongside many other medieval structures being built during this time.

The atmosphere is eerie due to the dated occupied history of the town but reveals impressive views of the land below.

Beach Day

To enjoy a relaxing day in the sun, the beaches of Metaponto offer tranquility and beauty. Perfect for family vacations, it is located on the Ionian coast and offers beautiful, clean beaches.

The seaside town offers a variety of restaurants, cafes, and hotels that are popular for tourists during the summer months. As well as the beautiful coastline, it is possible to visit Greek columns and amphitheaters surrounded by lush vineyards.

Find out more about Basilicata at Discover Basilicata