Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Matera, Italy, a weekend among the stones



Matera in Southern Italy has been awarded the title of European City of Culture 2019, beating off stiff competition from fellow Italian rivals Cagliari, Lecce, Perugia, Ravenna and Siena. Known in Italy as "la città sotterranea" (subterranean/underground city), it is a unique and special place. Full of narrow streets, history, atmosphere, it is waiting; ready to be explored by you. 



The ancient city has been established for over 7000 years, the initial dwellings being caves carved into the soft sedimentary rock. So important is Matera historically, that in 1993 it was given protection as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The historic centre is known as “the Sassi” (the stones), with beautiful narrow streets climbing up the hill as the city spills down with its white stone houses. 


Matera is in the Basilicata region of Italy, neighbouring Puglia. Just in case you look at my pictures and feel a sense of déjà vu, don’t worry. You are right to think you’ve seen it before if you have seen the Mel Gibson directed film “The Passion Of The Christ” or the Richard Gere film “King David”. Both had scenes filmed in the ancient and evocative city. 


My base in Matera was in the heart of the “Sassi”, in Guiseppe’s gorgeous cave house “La Suite de Nei Sassi”. A historic ancient cave, carved by hand into the soft sedimentary rock, it has been a dwelling for centuries. 


Restored to clean away soot deposits from thousands of indoor fires and to put in plumbing and electricity, Guiseppe has turned a primitive and basic place to live into a romantic home away from home. Small niches for candles and poultry are cut into the stone, and in the ceiling are dotted the odd sea shell, giving away the way in which the stone of the caves was created, millions of years ago. The Suite can be booked online: https://www.booking.com/hotel/it/la-suite-nei-sassi.it.html
 


If you want to get a feel for the city, you can get a whistle stop tour in an “Ape” van. Not ape as in primate, but app-pay as in bumblebee. The Ape van, made by Piaggio is the big brother of the Vespa (wasp) scooter. There are several firms offering Ape van tours of Matera, but I recommend Ape Vito, run by Vito as his family have lived in Matera for generations, and his tour gives a real insight into the twists and turns of the city’s history, including his stories from the era of his grandparents. You can check out Vito’s website for more details: www.apevito.com.



Walking around the Sassi, exploring the churches and small museums will keep you busy during the day. But what about food? The very south of Italy boasts some wonderfully vibrant local produce, and the food of Puglia and Basilicata is earthy, rustic and utterly delicious.


La Abbondanza Lucana


After receiving a recommendation of this restaurant from a Materan foodie, we had to visit a couple of times in the hope of getting a cancellation table, so popular is this restaurant. It prides itself on serving traditional recipes made with the best local produce, garnering it an entry in the Michelin guide. 


The mixed starters are a must-have here, because not only does it give you a chance to sample the best of local, seasonal ingredients, but also the best of the traditional cooking techniques of the area. Take a look at the photos on the wall while being shown to your table. Anyone who is anyone who visits this town comes here to sample this superb foodie experience. I recommend the shared starter platter, which promises and delivers Puglia on a plate.  


Vico Bruno Buozzi, 11-11 Bis Sasso Caveoso, Matera


Telephone number: 0835 334574





EGO Restaurant and Bistro


EGO, standing for “enoteca, gourmet, origini”, rather than a person with a big ego, this is a restaurant and bistro with ambitions to use the best of ingredients in highly original ways and/or the utmost of care. The restaurant is on the ground floor level, where Puglian food is reinvented and revolutionised into something very intriguing and individual. The kitchen is in full view of diners, through the huge glass windows and glazed door to the dining room. Downstairs is a bistro serving excellent cocktails and more informal nibbles. Run and staffed by passionate food lovers, you will receive great recommendations and fabulous food. We visited both the restaurant for their tasting menu (highly recommended) and the bistro for evening drinks and were thoroughly impressed by the attention to detail and high quality of the food in an area of Italy where pride in food is very strong indeed.


Via Stigliana, 44, Matera


Telephone number: +39 392 90 30 963





La Cola Cola Ristorante Pizzeria



La Cola Cola is not a fizzy drink tie-in; the name comes from a cockerel like ceramic figure made in the local area. When you need a light meal and pizza is the only thing which will fit the bill, this is the place for you. Set in a small, pedestrian-only road behind the main square, you might find Cola Cola a little difficult to locate. Ask people who live nearby, or follow the hungry locals on their way there. When you get there, the small doorway is immediately underwhelming. However, once you are in, you will realise this is a huge, cavernous temple to pizza. 

Made in the burning hot wood fired oven you walk past to get to your tables, the pizzas are big, thin and generously topped. All the produce is natural and sourced locally. Booking is essential, as this place is very popular with the Materans. If you haven’t booked, you may find yourself joining the queue for tables which gets distinctly longer as the evening progresses. Built in 1700, much of this place has been dug out of the Tufo rock, giving you something to think about when you see there are three large spaces in this restaurant. What a labour of love!


Vico Spartivento, 21, 75100 Matera


Telephone number: +39 339 706 8259




This writeup and reviews represent the genuine views of Snigdha. Snigdha paid in full for her trip to Matera, and these views represent her experience. Snigdha has received no incentive, financial or otherwise for posting this blog post. 

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