It’s rather unfortunate to say, but after traveling all of Europe for the past three years, most of the little medieval villages across the continent tend to blend together. It’s not that they’re not all uniquely beautiful and equally amazing, it’s just that most of these places were built in a similar time period with similar materials for similar purposes.
Matera however, breaks all of the rules. It’s so uniquely different to anywhere I have been to in Europe so far (or the rest of the world for that matter) and it was very much unexpected. Matera is located all the way down south in the heel of the Italian boot where the sun always shines. Supposedly it was created in the 3rd century BC making it significantly older than most of the European settlements that I’ve visited before. I have a hard time wrapping my head around these numbers as you expect the world to have changed so much more in so much time.
The Sassi (stone built houses) of Matera are really what have made this place so famous. As the world moved into more modern times, thousands of people came to live in these caves and houses built into the landscape. However, as there was no running water or modern conveniences, they were considered completely unlivable and very much associated with complete poverty. In the 50’s this “shame of Italy” was completely emptied by the government and its inhabitants relocated to housing projects. Over the years, these buildings are slowly transforming again into livable and modern hotels and houses, but many still remain abandoned.
The background is just so fascinating but it’s probably enough of the history lesson. By far, this is one of my favorite places in the world and it’s very easy to see why. The color palate is completely muted and is really what makes Matera feel so surreal. Neutral tones everywhere contrast deeply with the windows letting very little light into these stone buildings. The result makes you really feel like you are transported back in time.
We were lucky to get a room in the Sextantio Le Grotte Della Civita which has transformed quite a few of these Sassi into a very modern hotel. The original furniture throughout is starkly contrasted with the beautiful bathtub in the corner of a candlelit room. However everything comes together just perfectly and is actually incredibly romantic. The large breakfast spread is all locally sourced and of course delicious. Mozzarella for breakfast works so well!
You must visit this little corner of the world if you ever have the opportunity. It’s breathtaking, fascinating, beautiful and humbling all in one go.
Where we stayed:
Sextantio Le Grotte Della Civita – A very historically restored hotel set a little off the beaten path. Amazing views, beautiful rooms and a great mission to protect the heritage of Italy.
Where we ate:
PaneCotto – Great lunch spot serving locally made food. You must try the mozzarella and the fried dried peppers. The focaccia is one of the best I’ve ever had and is perfect with the proscuitto and local tomatoes!
Il Terrazzino – Restaurant with the perfect view overlooking the Sassi di Matera. Try the baked orecchiette – it’s delicious but incredibly filling!
Trattoria Lucana – We went here based on so many good reviews of the place but were a bit disappointed. The food was mediocre, the atmosphere was lacking and wine was relatively overpriced. After talking to some locals it sounds like the place has changed hands and has been declining in popularity for some time now.