Travel /
Basilicata

Matera and Altamura

Matera is made of stones, bread and extraordinary beauty.

It is an intense place where history, memory and ancient flavors live expertly guarded by its inhabitants.

The first time I visited Matera it was summer.

Arriving at the hotel in the historic center of the city I could not believe my eyes such was the beauty that I had in front of me: the ancient and primitive Matera, the Murgia plateau, the Sasso Caveoso and the majestic rock on which the church of Santa Maria de Idris is carved. The view was spectacular, so real and incredibly unique at the same time.

Matera is entirely excavated in the rock of Basilicata in the south of Italy. Its particular landscape was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993.

In the Città dei Sassi (“city of rocks”) you can easily recognize the Sasso Caveoso, made up for the most part of caves, and the Sasso Barisano made up of masonry houses. The Sassi rise on one of the slopes of the Gravina and together with the Civita and Piano districts they form the historic center.

Matera collected an exceptional architectural heritage from different eras, from prehistory to modern times, through the Middle Ages, Renaissance and Baroque periods. A perfect combination of natural and architectural beauty. To discover it you must get lost in the maze of alleys, terraces, gardens, see the rock churches carved into the rock, the tunnels and the caves and then find yourself admiring breathtaking views.

Visiting the Casa Grotta helps to understand what life was like for the peasants in the houses excavated in the Sassi. Centuries seem to have gone by and instead these houses remained active until 1952, when at the behest of the government the Sassi restoration law was enacted, which forced their abandonment.

After walking far and wide to discover the city and its incredible attractions, all that remains is to book one of the many characteristic restaurants in the historic center for dinner.

The culinary tradition of Matera is based on simple recipes but with intense flavors.

Dimora Ulmo is an elegant restaurant in an 18th century building in the heart of Matera, founded by Nico Andrisani together with Michele Castelli and Francesco Russo, chef and sommelier of Massimo Bottura’s “family”. Few seats, a quiet atmosphere and a beautiful terrace where you can eat while enjoying the sunset that colors the sky.

 

For lunch I recommend Enoteca dai Tosi located inside a historic stone. The wine shop is arranged on three levels underground. It is the right place to taste the quality of raw Lucanian ingredients.

Matera smells of freshly baked bread. Formerly prepared in the Sassi and brought to cook in the public oven, the characteristic bread embodies all the excellence of the Lucanian territory. Due to its historical and organoleptic qualities it has become a PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) product. Its typical irregular and elongated shape recalls the profile of the Murgia Materana.

In Lucanian bakeries, however, there are many other formats, the “cuddura” has the shape of a large donut while the “ficcilatìdd” is covered with fennel seeds.

Driven by curiosity, I decided to invest the remaining time of my journey to discover this ancient knowledge between the historic ovens of Matera and nearby Altamura, about 20 minutes away by car.

Altamura is another small southern jewel with an elegant historic center. Its bread was the first to receive the DOP designation.

Like the bread of Matera, that of Altamura has a very strong identity. First of all, its shape is unmistakable, similar to a wide-brimmed hat with a yellow crumb.

Over the years between Basilicata and Puglia, also thanks to the short distance, a real rivalry has broken out over the best bread!

Among the best historical ovens where you can taste the top baking traditions are the Antico Forno Santa Chiara and Di Gesù Bakery in Altamura, while in Matera stop at the Forno Quintano, Forno Paoluccio (for focaccia) and Forno Gennaro Perrone.

 

WHERE TO STAY

To sleep there are many alternatives, but top on my list is Sexantio Grotte della Civita: a hotel made up of 18 caves and a common space in an ancient rock church. The whole complex, the result of a careful conservative restoration project, is located in the oldest part of the Sassi, the Civita, overlooking the Gravina stream, facing the Murgia Park and its rock churches.

Also in the historic center, Corte San Pietro is a widespread hotel where the rooms are old renovated houses overlooking the Coorti. In each room there is a strong link with the landscape thanks to the use of materials such as local stone, wood and iron.

Casa Diva boutique hotel is an ancient manor house revisited with modern and refined touches. Located on the Civita, from its terraces you can enjoy a suggestive view of the Sassi and the Park of the Rupestrian Churches of the Murgia of Matera.

Sant’Angelo Luxury Relais is located a few steps from Piazza San Pietro Caveoso, one of the most beautiful squares of the old city in the heart of the ancient stones. You can choose whether to sleep in the charming rooms carved into the rock, or in those “palazziate” in tuff, typical houses of the Sassi.

 

EAT

Dimora Ulmo

Enoteca dei Tosi 

Regia Corte Matera

L’Abbondanza Lucana

 

VISIT IN MATERA

I Sassi

Parco Regionale delle Murgia Materana

Casa Grotta nei Sassi

Musma Museo della Scultura Contemporanea Matera

La Cripta del Peccato Originale

Chiesa di Santa Maria De Idris

Casa Noha

Chiesa Rupestre di San Pietro

Museo laboratorio della civiltà contadina

Chiesa di San Giovanni Battista ed il Purgatorio Nuovo 

 

BAKERY

Schiuma, don’t miss the tette delle monache, soft sweets filled with Chantilly cream.

 

MATERA HISTORICAL BAKERIES 

Forno Quintano

Forno Paoluccio (per la focaccia)

Pane e pace

Forno Gennaro Perrone

 

VISIT IN ALTAMURA

Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta

Pulo di Altamura 

 

ALTAMURA HISTORICAL BAKERIES

Antico Forno Santa Chiara

Panificio Di Gesù