On the way to Matera, we stopped in Alberobello to see unique stone trulli houses. They were built in this fashion because they were easy to dismantle before the tax man came around. After he left, they were put back together again.
The homes are round, tiny, but very efficient. They are really only one round little room, with little cubbies for beds and a kitchen. Hey, they’re making orecchiete in the kitchen!
We were introduced to the “slow food” movement, which was founded in Italy to combat fast food.
Each course was accompanied by an appropriate wine, and we were given little holders to wear around our necks to hold our wine glasses, and we couldn't resist purchasing a few bottles of wine to bring home with us. Some in our group had the wine shipped home.
At Enoteca Tholos, we literally got a “taste” of slow food, where we were treated to a variety of cheeses (including fresh mozzarella), crackers, pizzas and desserts.
Before we entered Matera, we stopped at the "belvedere," or overlook, to see it from a distance. We got right up to the edge of the canyon to take a few pictures. And yes, there was a dog wandering around way up there too!
Mel Gibson’s film, The Passion of the Christ
, was filmed in Matera because it so much resembles Jerusalem at the time of Christ.
The next day we had another great local guide who showed us around and gave us the fascinating history of this unique place. The town of Matera has been inhabited continuously since the Paleolithic era when man lived in caves. It’s amazing that you can stand in one spot and see the caves that once sheltered cave men, the sassi (stone and cave dwellings that are hundreds of years old), and the modern town built right on top of it all.
You can see the Paleolithic cave dwellings above. Sewage was dumped down into the canyon and the river below. Diseases such as cholera and typhoid were rampant, and infant mortality was 50%. Shepherds used to cross the river to the hills across the canyon with their sheep.
Wow! That view is incredible!
It’s hard to believe, but people lived in these sassi until 1956 at which time they were basically condemned. Eleven people lived in this one room. Children slept in drawers, and someone even slept on top of the dresser. The animals (donkey, pig, goat and chickens) were prized more than children and were kept at the back of the caves where they would be safe from thieves.
In 1956, new housing was built for the inhabitants at the top of the town. Matera was abandoned until 1968. Right now the sassi are being rehabbed, and 4,000 people live in them now.
The best part of staying in Matera was living in a cave. Each one of the cave dwellings in Hotel Sassi is different, and ours is pictured above. I took the picture on the right while standing on our terrace, looking across at Robin and Lisa who were checking out Ann and Bob’s sassi. Yes, you can see about six levels here; and, yes, we did have to carry our luggage up and down these stairs. Rita and Lev were at the bottom, where they used to keep the donkeys! (The hotel had made arrangements for someone to carry bags up for 5 Euros each when we were leaving if anyone wanted to pay for that service.)
We had many happy hours on the trip to discuss the next day’s events. They usually included lots of goodies and always wine, but the highlight of this one was the view from the terrace!
It’s not polite to handle the fruit in markets. The clerk will select for you. The same goes in all stores. Be careful not to rummage through clothes. You can, however, bring your dog into the restaurant with you!
After our tour, we took off on our own to explore Matera. We were craving fresh fruit, and we picked up a little extra for our happy hour that evening.
One of our most fun dinners was impromptu. Some of us tagged along with Rainer and Maurizio for another slow food experience. Maurizio arranged for the restaurant to provide a five course meal with wine for a set price. The menu was their choice. As usual, we had a great pasta as the “primo.” For the “secondo,” the meats came wrapped in brown paper. There was sausage, lamb and liver wrapped in strings of intestine! When I admired the pizza at the next table, the waiter brought one for us. And let me tell you, it was really, really good.
You will be on tour with lots of great people, people you’ll want to socialize with even in your free time.
In Italy, it’s very important to present a “bella figura,” or make a good impression. The locals will dress presentably when they leave their home. Remember the Italian tourists’ shoes in Rome? On the other side, you don’t want to present a “mal figura,” or give a bad impression. You don’t want to look or act too much like a tourist if you want to blend in.
In the evening, Italians get all dressed up and come to the piazza for a leisurely evening of strolling, sitting and socializing with friends and neighbors.
“Fare una passeggiata”
You’ll have plenty of time to mingle with the locals and get the flavor of the city you’re visiting. These tours are a perfect mix of tour time and free time.
I loved watching the old men walking with their hands clasped behind their backs. It almost looked like they were ice skating, gliding from foot to foot. It was so cute! Maurizio told me that there is a name for it in Italian: “fare una passeggiata” (going for a walk.)
After dinner that night, we mingled with the Italians gathered in the piazza. There was a political rally going on and music was playing. We couldn’t help but do a little dancing even though there were no Italians dancing. “Mal figura?” Maybe, but we didn’t care. We were having fun!
Matera was also beautiful at night!
And what’s this? It looks like even our very own
Joe (above) and Rainer (right) have a little passeggiata
It was such a fun evening! We’ll never forget it.
While we were in Matera, we had our very own “terrace kitty” that Robin just loved. As we were packing up to leave, our kitty came into our room to say good-bye!
Believe it when you’re warned that there will be lots of stairs and that
you’ll be carrying your own luggage. Heed the advice to pack light!
Here is the very, very best tip I can give you:
If you take this tour, pack just enough of what you’ll need for your two night stay in Matera and leave the rest in storage on the bus. The bus can only go so far in Matera, and it is about a 10 minute walk to the hotel (and you can see the stairs!).
All too soon, it was time to say good-bye to Matera, and off we went to our next adventure!