There is a road that runs like a wiggly piece of spaghetti from Alberobello, in Puglia, across the valley and then steeply uphill to the most perfect Italian cave dwelling you are ever likely to visit. Matera in the region of Basilicata is unreal. We first visited the sassi dwellings back in 2014 and they left a lasting impression and a desire to one day return. You can find magnificent ancient caves, medieval walls, towers, cobbled lanes, arched passages, stairs, and views over the great ravine. Tourists are plenty in summer, especially since the town became famous with Mel Gibson’s Passion of Christ and then the 2006 The Omen.
The town has a bustling upper district and a much quieter lower Sassi (caves). We arrived late afternoon and what a good excuse to get dolled up, take a stroll along Strada Panoramica dei Sassi and look down into the caves. Before heading down in to the dimly lite lanes to find a nice restaurant to eat. We found a quaint looking restaurant overlooking the caves. Perfect for a romantic meal or so we thought until we were shoved next to the fridge and behind a fold out room divider. Ah well, gave us chance to think about where next..Sardinia!
The following morning we were up bright and early for our stroll in to Matera. As we wandered down the lanes it is easy to visualise how the people of Matera once lived here in dwellings scooped out of the rock. From the 8th to the 13th centuries, such caves probably provided refuge for monks from the Byzantine Empire. By the 18th century Matera was a cave city and some buildings fronting the caves had become fairly grand convents (click on photo to enlarge).
After lunch we zipped around on our motorbike to the other side of the ravine. The views from here are excellent with the meandering cave system winding all the way up to the new modern town on top. The sassi were inhabited right up until the 1960’s when poverty and rancid conditions forced the people to leave. Since the turn of this century people are now slowly returning to the caves and turning then in to hotels and tourist attractions. Via San Biagio boasts an excellent gelateria, and splendid views of the piazza and ravine below. A great place to eat your ice cream and imagine the hundreds of people that lived here.
On the way back I managed to find a hospital to administer my jabs. Hopefully, I should start to feel the benefit in a few days time cause right now, I feel zapped. Mac too is still under the weather with his huge insect bite. Its not got any bigger but if it doesn’t go down in the next day or two we will need to find a vets. After dinner we watch a bit of TV, the first in months but it isn’t long before we are all in z land.
Our Bumble free car park at Matera GPS position: N040.661686, E016.606254
In the morning we booked our ferry ticket from Naples to Sardinia for €175. We set sail on Friday 25th August at 19.00 and arrive in Cagliari some 13 hours later. Our energy levels pick up and it gives us something to head for. A little behind on posts but by the time we have recovered from the overnight sailing we should be up to date!
From Matera there are with hidden caves in the hillside all the way to Grottole. It is here we first crossed the Bradano river bed that dried up several weeks ago. We wind our way north following the rolls over concertina creased hills and livestock grids. Then in to Basilicata agricultural heartland, barren with parched and dried up wheat fields. The odd field of unhappy and droopy sunflowers and eagles in search of prey. The drive further north is to encounter very little signposts. This speaks volumes for the remote and wild, Basilicata as it is one of the poorest regions in Italy. It is underdeveloped and under visited, and rural areas remain unspoiled. There are a curious mix of industrial looking villages and the odd town but in the main solo farm dwelling dot the landscape.
At the village of Lucania we stop for afternoon coffee and cake. A walk around a few fields for Mac n Tosh before our motorhome is back on the road and the next 30 miles zip by with the tempo of 80’s groove tunes. We veer east to the birth place of the poet Horace, the town of Venosa. Parking by the archaeological site and under a half-moon sky. Dinner is chicken curry and rice, washed down with cool beers. And to end the night on a high a fantastic religious parade followed by fireworks (click to enlarge).
Our Bumble free car park at Venosa GPS position: N040.968573, E015.825916
Morning in Venosa followed by a 30-minute drive west, the road corkscrews into hills carpeted with firs and ferns, some as giant as pantomime beanstalks, then careers down the other side to meet Melfi’s mound, Monte Vulture. It’s mid afternoon when our campervan trundles into Melfi, passing scattered shabby houses and parking on the only available space in the town. The open space piazza is also home to the holiday season fair ground.
Photo’s from Venosa
The town is so laid back and low key that if the sun didn’t rise, it would surely disappear off the map completely. It is so quiet, we stroll around and manage to find a pizza takeaway for dinner. Back in Vin and Mac n Tosh lick their lips in anticipation of a treat. This pizza is too good to share but we do let them lick the pizza box. At 10pm the fair ground lights started to twinkle and the laid back town came alive. Following a different clock to the rest of the world, Italian’s rise with the moon and the streets empty at sunset. We had no alternative but to join and party!