I’ll be the first to admit, the only thing I really knew about Matera before I visited was that Mel Gibson had been there to film Passion of the Christ… and that was reason enough for me. By the end of the day though, Matera was quickly becoming one of my favorite small towns in Italy.
This old gal loved Matera too, but mainly because she was carried everywhere! Matera is full of stairs so definitely come prepared.
After arriving from a 3-hour drive from Naples, we eagerly set out to explore the city named the 2019 European Capital of Culture. Coincidentally, we had just got back from Valletta in Malta, the 2018 European Capital of Culture. For once we’re ahead of schedule!
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Cave dwellers have inhabited Matera for centuries making it one the first human settlements in Italy. People were actually still living in these caves until the 1950s when the city relocated everyone because of widespread malaria and poor living conditions.
Once an area of poverty for most of the 1900s, Matera is now a fascinating destination rich with culture, amazing restaurants and posh cave hotels. The historical Sassi di Matera was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1993. As we explore the ancient city, I didn’t feel like I was in Italy at times and could see why it’s the film location for movies like Ben Hur.
Most of the streets are pedestrian only and it’s easy to get lost in the labyrinth of winding staircases and passages. As we approached a lookout point, we’d say, “Well, what incredible view is this going to be?” Matera is a small town with the most incredible views at every corner. Especially at sunset…
There were so many cute bars and cafes lining the cobblestoned streets. I’m never surprised by how many gelato shops a small town in Italy can have though! I must have passed 6 or 7 just in the historical area alone. We had gelato at I Vizi degli Angeli Laboratorio di Gelaterai Artigianale and Gelida Voglia di Artigianeria dei Sassi. Both gelaterias make delicious flavors. I suggest you try both to pick a favorite!
To be honest, I hardly ever make it to a formal sit down dinner when I’m traveling. It’s much more my style to have a few drinks at different spots around town, snack and people watch. I’m not that useful for fancy restaurant recommendations, excellent at aperitivo and gelato suggestions.
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Ridola is the perfect spot for people watching because it’s located right on the main walkway. We sat outside on the trendy patio and watched families on their evening stroll. It was Easter weekend so there seemed to be a mix of religious tour groups and Italian families celebrating the holiday together.
Area 8 is ideal for having a dinner on their vintage outdoor patio. Alfie approved.
Birrificio 79 has an impressive snack selection with their aperitivo. This is definitely the spot if you are missing some craft beer on your travels in Italy.
We had just enough time the next day to explore the caves on the opposite side of the valley. This was really one of the highlights of visiting Matera. You can freely explore this whole area and see the caves up close.
If we had more time, I would have done a formal tour on a tuk-tuk. I was definitely a little jealous when I saw people driving around in one. There is so much history in Matera and I’d love to know more. So, I guess I came for Mel Gibson, stayed for the views and want to go back for more.