48 hours in Matera
Spend two days in Matera, European Capital of Culture 2019, and discover an ancient city of stone and labyrinthine cave dwellings, says A&K's Philippa Turner.
Arrive in Puglia, hop in a hire car and drive to the hilltop town of Matera. One of the oldest inhabited cities in the world, it is made up of cave dwellings, or sassi, shaped out of soft tufa rock. It will become clear that the caves are pivotal to Matera’s lifestyle when you park up at a hotel embedded in the ancient stone.
Drop your bags and leave your car at the gate: Matera is all about walking around. Stroll down the city’s cobbled streets lined with honeycomb-like caves. Today you can explore art galleries, cafés and baroque palaces carved into the hillside. With or without the sassi, Matera is UNESCO-credited, and rightly so, for its medieval sleepy squares and sweeping biblical views. Stop for lunch at Osteria al Casale for local specialties such as homemade bean soup and pizza with spicy sausage and turnip tops.
You can work off lunch walking up the Sasso Caveoso to Museo della Sculptura Contemporanea. Housed in the 16th-century Palazzo Pomarici, its rough-hewn chambers, courtyards and Italian sculptures are worth the climb. On the way down, duck into Casa Cava, the world’s only underground cultural centre, before heading back to your hotel to relax and get ready for dinner.
Amble down to the Duomo Café in the Cathedral square for an aperitivo at sunset. After soaking up the evening ambience, walk to Il Terrazzino where we’ve reserved a front-row table overlooking the city, gloriously lit up at night. Dine on handmade orecchiette with creamy mozzarella.
After a leisurely breakfast, it’s time to head to Parco della Murgia Materana, a national park reminiscent of Jerusalem. Here you will find over 100 Rupestrian churches dug into the rockscape. Before you set off, stop in at Il Forno di Gennaro, a family-run bakery for straight out-of-the-oven tomato focaccia. It’s perfect picnic fare which will keep you fuelled throughout the day.
Head to the Crypt of Original Sin, around a 40-minute drive away from the national park, where you can see caverns containing eighth-century frescoes. After spending some time here, you’ll welcome a refreshing snack. Drive back to town and make a pit stop at
I Vizi degli Angeli for the prettiest lavender-flavoured gelato.
There’s plenty of time for a spa session at your hotel. If you’re still up for exploring, it’s an hour’s drive to Martina Franca, a picturesque town with whitewashed lanes, winding alleyways and airy piazzas. After lingering a while in this charming spot, head back to Matera to change for dinner.
It’s your last night, so why not celebrate at one of the town’s uber glam restaurants, Baccanti? Overlooking a picturesque gorge, dine on veal cheek with aglianico wine sauce under the glow of soft candlelight. Nightcap? Head to Area 8, a creative watering hole and discreet celeb hot spot. Sip on thyme-infused negronis on the terrace backed by the sounds of a DJ.
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