When you travel to Puglia, Matera has to be on your must-visit list. We will tell you what to do in Matera and share with you the best Matera tips from an insider.
There is one city near Puglia that is completely carved out of stone. It’s called Matera: one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world. The area of (what is now Matera) has been settled since the old stone age and in 251 BC. the city was founded under the name Matheola. When you set foot in Matera it feels like you are going back in time. It is the most magical and romantic cities of Italy, but it wasn’t always like that.
Sassi di Matera
Matera is famous for its cave houses in the Sassi. This is where the first inhabitants of Italy lived thousands of years ago. At that time, the cave houses weren’t as charming as they are now. The cold and humid houses were filled with large families and animals, making them unsafe places to live. Matera was ignored by the State and was seen as the shame of Italy.
In 1931 Carlo Levi published a book about the dramatic reality of the Sassi. In 1951 the Sassi was declared uninhabitable. People were taken from their homes and put into apartments in the new part of Matera. The city was left abandoned with all its history. Around 1990 the town slowly changed for the better and some people moved back to the caves. Now, most of the caves are renovated into beautiful restaurants and hotels and some are still abandoned. At the Sasso Barisano you can find these boutique hotels and art spaces and at the Sasso Caveoso the caves look more like there were back then.
What to do in Matera
Take the tour
Normally I won’t discover the city with a tour guide. I would rather discover a city by wandering around and asking the locals, but for Matera, I make an exception. The city has such a rich history which makes it really worth hearing the whole story. There are a lot of English-speaking guides that can tell you the mysterious story of Matera and will take you to amazing places in the Sassi. Most tourguides visit both the Sasso Barisano and the Sasso Caveoso, to give you the best view of the old town. Besides the fact that the tourguide can tell you everything about the history and the evolution of the town, it is also the best way to see the most important parts of the Sassi. The old town has a lot of small streets and it can be a bit of a maze sometimes.
Go for a hike
Matera has a beautiful easy hiking route with beautiful views of the Sassi. Please don’t go for this hike during the warmest part of the day. There are not a lot of shady places, so I would recommend to go early in the morning or late in the afternoon. This hiking trail starts on the West edge of the Sassi area. You can park your car at Parcheggio via Madonna delle Virtu. On this trail that is around 6 km you will cross Ponte Tibetano della Gravina and Belvedere Murgia Timone. Belvedere Murgia Timone is the most beautiful part of the hike. Walk into the amazing prehistorical caves and enjoy the stunning view of the Sassi before walking back to the old town.
Visit ancient churches
In the Sasso Caveoso, you will find some amazing ancient churches. The most dramatic and impressive one is Santa Maria di Idris. This church is built into a huge rock between the 14th and 15th century. This church is dramatically visibible from all over this part of the Sasso. Santa Maria di Idris is connected to another chruch, San Giovanni in Monterrone, via a tunnel. Here there are frescoes dating from the 12th to 17th century. This is another amazing experience that is really worth your time. There are a lot more acient cave churches to be found in the Sassi. Not all of them are open for visitors. On the website of Oltre l’Arte Matera you can find out which ones are.
Don’t miss the cave houses
The cave houses is what Matera is most famous for. Some of these houses are furnished as they did in the earlier days. These houses function as museums and are open to the public. It is possible to book a tour to see the best ones or just visit one or two.
Visit artisians and art galleries
As in all other towns in Puglia, Matera has its own arts and crafts. one of the well-known creations in Matera is the cucù: a handmade ceramic rooster whistle that symbolizes strength and fertility. There are a number of artists who make ceramic works of art like Gepetto and Tegia Creazioni. Maria Bruna Festa also has a beautiful store with special ceramic creations.
Where to find it:
Gepetto – Piazza del Sedile 19, Matera
Tegia Creazioni – Rione Malve 46, Matera
Maria Bruna Festa – Via Bruno Buozzi 162, Matera
The art of paper mache is also well-known in Matera. At Il Bottegaccio you can get acquainted with this art. Mario and Carmine have taken over the art from their father and now run the studio together. They make exceptionally detailed objects that have been exhibited in important cultural venues such as the Vatican, Quirinale and in the Arena in Verona.
Where to find it: Via Madonna Dell’Idris 10/11, Matera
An art museum that is definitely worth your time is MUSMA: Museo della Scultura Contemporanea Matera. Here you can find antique sculptures, ceramics, medals, jewels, drawings, graphic works and more. The location is stunning and the objects are very interesting.
Where to find it: Palazzo Pomarici, Via San. Giacomo
Where to eat and stay
As we said before: Matera is one of the most romantic cities in Puglia. The old part of the city is the perfect location for a stunning restaurant and together with an insider, we have selected the best ones. If you want a night that you will never forget: make a reservation at one of these restaurants or/and hotels.
Palazzo Del Duca
At Palazzo del Duca you will find a beautiful restaurant and romantic suites, both of course in a beautiful cave. In the restaurant, you can enjoy this piece of history with delicious pasta and good wines. They also have a great place outside with a special view. The suites are just as magical. Some even with a private pool.
At La Lopa you will experience the authentic kitchen. The owner Antonella is so passionate about her authentic dishes and the wines she serves. She will do everything to make you feel special and at home. She is both loved by tourists and locals, so make sure to stop by for lunch or dinner when you are in Matera.
Dimora Ulmo is located in a beautiful palazzo with a classic interior. Outside you can find a stunning terrace overlooking Santa Maria di Idris. There are three different menu’s with unique dishes and the possibility to have pairing wines. At Dimora Ulmo you will have a unforgettable night with a luxerious touch.
At Regiacorte you can have a beautiful night overlooking the centre of Matera. The The cuisine is inspired by the Mediterranean traditions and influencerd by all kinds of regions troughtout Italy. The dishes are created with such passion and precision and together with the beautiful view this restaurant will touch all your senses.
Sant’Angelo Luxury Resort
Sant’Angelo is a Luxury 5 star restort with stunning rooms and suites. You will fall asleep in a luxury cave and wake up to the most beautiful view of the old centre of Matera. The restort also has a panoramic terrace that looks like it came straight out of a fairytale and a luxurious restaurant. You can also book several experiences at Sant’Angelo like ‘James Bond a Matera’ and ‘Natale a Matera’.
Sextantio is a beautiful hotel with stunning cave suites. Some rooms have amazing views overlooking Parco Naturale della Murgia, the famous national park in the old city. The local breakfast is served in the XIII Century Cave Church. There is also the possibility to book a special private dinner experience.
Seicentotufi is located in the best area of Matera close to some of the famous churches and the MUSMA museum. This makes Seicentrototufi a perfect place to stay when you are going to discover Matera for the first time. The Deluxe Appartement has a very cosy balcony with the most beautiful view of the old city. Imagine having a glass of wine here at night…