National Geographic Traveller (UK)
DAY ONE CAVES & CULTURE
Daniel Craig might have raced an Aston Martin through Matera’s cobbled alleyways, but a more productive way to explore the city is with a guided walking tour. While some are purpose-built for cinephiles, Martulli Viaggi offers one that focuses on the fascinating story of the fall and rise of Matera from an anthropological perspective — while still pointing out where the film scenes were shot. Tours wind through the two Sassi (stone) districts, Sasso Caveoso and Sasso Barisano — part of the old town where ancient excavations carved out of the soft limestone are now occupied by hotels, restaurants and museums. For a window into life before the sassi were abandoned, be sure to visit a casa grotta, a museum where the subterranean space has been faithfully modelled to replicate an original cave home.
As a former European Capital of Culture, Matera has no shortage of fine museums, and the Museum of Contemporary Sculpture is as good a starting point as any, with its spectacular setting and modern masterpieces. You’ll venture deep into a myriad of caverns; there’s a poetic symbolism in the housing of sculptures by contemporary artists like Arnaldo Pomodoro in an environment itself sculpted centuries ago. It’s then a fiveminute walk to the Santa Maria de Idris, one of Matera’s 150 frescoed church caves. The church and its crypt’s medieval murals might have paled with time, but it’s still worth visiting for its winning location, lording over the Sassi to the west and the Murgia National Park to the east. Plus, Zipa cafe next door whips up some great cocktails, including z-panch (spiced rum, sweet sage and lemon liqueur).
The 17th-century ‘new’ town, which rests atop the sassi districts, is made for a leisurely evening stroll, with its alleyways spilling out onto piazzas fringed with pretty cafes and gelaterias. Dusk is when Matera’s magic really comes to life: the Sassi’s sandy hues begin to glow in soft pinks and oranges, while lamps twinkle like fairy lights. Nightfall transforms piazza Giovanni Pascoli from sleepy square into a dynamic hub. The place to be is Area 8, by day a co-working space for creatives and by night a cocktail bar with live music and the occasional cinema screening. For something more exclusive, head around the corner and dip your head into Sasso Caveoso for a dinner of Lucanian black pork and a glass of full-bodied red at the Radino Wine Bar, a celebration of Italy’s wine culture built within — you guessed it — a cave.