Matera, magic still exists in Italy

Where do we start with Matera, Italy? This place is profound, undiscovered and incredibly beautiful. A town literally dug out of rock forming caves set against a backdrop of outcrops and gorges. The magic of Matera starts with its history, formerly the shame of Italy (we’ll get onto this) the city has seen massive transformation over the past few decades from slum into chic cultural destination.

Matera’s History is Unique

It’s surprising when we were told Sassi di Matera (sassi meaning rock in Italian) was once completely abandoned. In the 1950s the sassi was condemned by the Italian government due to widespread disease and poverty. Even by Southern Italy standards, Matera was grossly impoverished. The 20,000 residents mostly lived in caves, had a literacy rate of just 10% and were often prone to malaria. Electricity or running water was also a luxury they could not afford. Residents were rehoused and relocated nearby at significant cost, the Italian government took ownership of the caves.

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The shame of Matera kept the city firmly off the radar for decades. It wasn’t until the 1990s that interest in Matera was rediscovered. First squatters, then artists moved into ramshackle accommodation. The city connected basic utilities and investment started to pour in. It now features up-market shops and boutique hotels, all leased from the Italian government. In summer it is visited by well-heeled Northern Italians on vacation. The future looks good for Matera, in 2019 it will be the European capital of culture so try get there before the tourist boom!

Look and Explore

Matera is beautiful from any angle and each viewpoint reveals something slightly different. Explore the popular viewpoints, get lost in the narrow streets and climb to the tallest church, the best time is at sunset.

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Hiking

Whilst in Matera you have to climb to the best viewpoint in town. The hike takes about 1h30 and is moderate difficulty. Make sure you wear some good shoes and take water as there is little shade in the valley. The route descends from the sassi down a  cliff face, across a rope bridge and up again. Your efforts will be rewarded with an amazing view. You can also get buses to and from this point. After you head back into town, head to that all important post-hike gelato, our favourite place was Gelida Voglia di Artigianeria dei Sassi (Via del Corso, 114, 75100 Matera), the best dark chocolate gelato ever.

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Stay

We stayed at The Rock Hostel, Via Santo Stefano, 96, 75100 Matera. The staff and travellers we met were amazing. Stay inside an actual cave from around €20 – recommended.

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