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Traditionally Italy’s poorest region, but now rightly emerging as a short-break destination. It is not a new Tuscany, or anywhere near, but in Matera it has a town that can hold its own against any in the country, thanks to its unique troglodyte dwellings – the finest in the Mediterranean, according to Unesco – and several new top-class hotels. We loved it!

Hotels:

  • LHotel in Pietra: this was absolutely spectacular. Very central location, in a 12th century church. Our room had a balcony overlooking the whole town. We stayed two days, definitely need more than one.
  • http://www.masseriasanfrancesco.com: we didn’t make it here, requires reservations and  is often only for large groups. Pool looks pretty epic, though.
  • In an 18th-century house on the edge of the Sassi, with great views from its little roof terrace, Casa Diva (doubles from €85 B&B) opened in 2015 and has eight individually designed rooms with names like Monk and Artist. 
  • For a cave stay, the Basiliani (doubles from €80 B&B) is an albergo diffusospread around dwellings excavated from a rocky outcrop in the Sasso Caveoso. Reception is in a cavern that was once a tannery: tomb-like vats can be seen under the glass floor. Owner Giuseppe Stagno is an avowed hater of il finto antico (“pretend old”), so bedrooms are ultra-modern: illuminated white chaise longues and sleek handmade beech beds.

Restaurants:

  • **La Gatta Buia, 90-92 Via delle Beccherie. http://www.lagattabuia.eu/ – This cozy restaurant is in an old cave jail in Matera. Modern cuisine based on regional classics. AB note: we liked this, not the best view but a good setting and excellent food.
  • [haven’t tried] Ristorante Stano (+39 0835 344101) does pizza, great pasta such as vermicelli with squid ink and tomato (€10), and meat mains from €8. 
  • [haven’t tried] Vegetarians will love Fior di Cucuzza between the old and new towns. 
  • [haven’t tried] Ristorante La Talpa

Leaving Town:

The **Crypt of the Original Sin, a cave church on the outskirts of town (more like 30 minutes away). It’s filled with colorful frescoes painted by monks from around the ninth century who hid there in flight from persecution during the Byzantine Empire. For centuries after the frescoes were painted, the place was used as shelter by local shepherds, who made their mozzarella on the cliff’s edge in a small hole in the stone. But in 1963, it was discovered by conservationists and then restored. Inside is a painting of Adam and Eve’s fall. The two are naked and depicted in an unusually natural way, curvy and fully human unlike much of the art from the Byzantine era, which tends to be more stiff and formal. The Madonna — with Child — on the adjacent wall has full lips and an elaborately painted ocher and lapis lazuli gown, which brings to mind a Klimt painting. Swirly ocher flowers connect all the scenes. The crypt is known as the Sistine Chapel of rupestrian art. It is a wonder.

Notes: this is cool if you’re into religious art. Plan on about two hours, the logistics of getting to the site take awhile.

More reading about Matera:

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