This week’s dream
Exploring Basilicata, Italy’s best-kept secret
Next year, the world will descend on southern Italy’s quiet Basilicata region, and none of the locals seem hungry for the attention, said Danielle Pergament in The New York Times. Unlike the many pockets of Italy that have welcomed tourists for generations, “Basilicata makes you work for it,” and that’s not going to change simply because its “crown jewel”—the historic city of Matera—has been named 2019’s European Capital of Culture. The region, “a green, rocky, mountainous piece of land” that composes the instep of Italy’s high-heeled boot, has no airports or high-speed trains, and its roads are narrow and “curled like fusilli.” But while Basilicata, despite its relative poverty, doesn’t want a tourism takeover, it is open to visitors willing to stay a while and appreciate its ancient soul.
Maratea, a small coastal town, provided our westernmost stop when friends and I traveled Basilicata by car this past summer. Because mountains rise sharply from the low-set town and its dramatic black-sand beaches, “you almost feel like you could be in Hawaii”—except for the red-tiled roofs, narrow white-stone streets, and cafés pouring aperitivi. From there, we had to cross a national park to reach Basilicata’s southern coast, but I had already learned to lie back in the rear seat and watch the gorgeous scenery roll by. At Metaponto, we toured 6th-century Greek ruins surrounded by flowering oleander, and “no one was there, not a soul.”
Matera is most famous for its limestone caves, which were first occupied at least 8,000 years ago, were still used by thousands of poor residents into the 1950s, and are now being converted to high-end homes, hotel rooms, and restaurants. After a huge dinner in the caves of Ristorante La Talpa, I retired to my grotto at Sextantio Le Grotte della Civita, the city’s fanciest hotel, and soon understood, after drifting off in the cool, deep blackness, why a couple of old-timers never left the caves. “It is a wonder early man ever evolved. ‘Sleep’ is a mild word for the slumber you fall into.”
At the hotel Sextantio Le Grotte della Civita (http://legrottedellacivita.sextantio.it/en/), grottoes start at $174 a night.