An Exclusive Guide to Matera Featured

 Matera, Italy: A city of culture and charm.

by Antonio Chiaese 16 March 2019

When in 1952 the inhabitants of the Sassi, Matera’s historical core dug into the rock of the mountain, were forced to abandon their households, they probably wouldn’t imagine that their district would become, half a century later, the internationally renowned heritage brand for the city. Cherished by filmmakers for its timeless sceneries, Matera was awarded in 1993 the status of UNESCO World Heritage Site, before being appointed as the 2019 European Capital of Culture for its unique blend of natural landscapes, cunning architecture and traditional hospitality culture: locals will tell you how the EU commissioners fell in love with the city, after being hosted in families’ households! LUXOS invites you to discover a unique Italian experience.

Discover the Sassi, between historic heritage and spectacular views

Artfully crafted like a traditional Italian crèche, the Sassi district lies in the heart of the historical centre. Each of the twin “Rocks” preserves a specific identity – Sasso Barisano, dotted with embellished stone facades, and Sasso Caveoso with its perfectly preserved cave dwellings. A stroll along their narrow lanes and winding stairways holds plenty of surprises: start your tour with visiting Palombaro Lungo, a colossal underground water reservoir dug in the 19th century for serving the needs of the growing population of the city. A quick detour will then lead you to Palazzo Lanfranchi, home to an impressive ethnographic collection focused on the local rural culture, and perfect panoramic spot for its sensational views of the Sassi and the Gravina canyon. Beyond the historical centre, don’t miss the iconic frescoes in the 9th-century Crypt of the Original Sin, the oldest among the rupestrian churches dug in the rock of the Murgia Plateau – the dramatic landscape captured by Mel Gibson’s The Passion.

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Eating in Matera

Seasonal, generous, healthy Matera’s lively culinary scene showcases the best trends in Italian gastronomic landscape: contemporary twists on time-honoured recipes, high-quality ingredients, and a renewed lightness that enhances the richness of its flavours. It’s the case of Vitantonio Lombardo, Michelin-starred restaurant housed in the dramatic setting of a revamped cave dwelling. Brainchild of the eponymous chef (a local with a 20 years’ experience in prestigious Italian eateries), Vitantonio Lombardo features two tasting menus, “Battiti” and “Frammenti” – refined homage to the staples of regional cuisine, from lamb to truffles and cruschi red peppers. The concept of zero miles-food and the research for the highest quality are the foundations of food philosophy for Francesco Abbondanza, the mastermind of L’Abbondanza Lucana. He painstakingly chooses the finest ingredients grown by local producers for his delectable dishes, from home-made pastas to steaks and vegetable stews. Portions are generous, here; but try to leave room for an exquisite dessert! A gastronomic tour of Matera can not be completed without tasting Aglianico, one of the oldest Italian wines, enduring legacy of the Magna Graecia civilization. LUXOS recommends Osteria Pico, a family-run tavern with a contemporary flair tucked in the heart of Sasso Barisano: their wine chart features only the best local labels and it’s enhanced by the perfect pairing with delicacies like lamb roast and game stews, beside an interesting range of vegetarian pastas.

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Traditional craftsmanship meets creativity

Matera can boast a timeless heritage of artisanal skills and knowledge, devoted to the creation of everyday tools and beautiful objects for the main events of family life. This long history of traditional crafts has been recently revived by the entrepreneurship of the new generations, who add a creative flair to their creations. A perfect example is Elisa & Janna, contemporary jewellery boutique founded by an Italian goldsmith and a Swedish gemmologist. The creative duo combines precious gems and silver with salvaged materials like aluminium and copper pipes, crafting one-of-a-kind sculptural jewels with a distinctive contemporary taste. Handicrafts’ connoisseurs can’t overlook Mancini Antichità e Restauro, a treasure trove packed with the handmade artefacts created by Emanuele Mancini. The maestro is well known for his personal reinterpretations of the symbols of the rural culture, from the wooden bread stamps decorated with delightful sculptures to the colourful cuccù, bird-shaped clay whistles traditionally donated as talismans for fertility and a happy family life. Before leaving, don’t miss a stop by Sapori dei Sassi, a gourmands’ heaven where you can find the finest delicacies, from the typical sourdough bread to EVO olive oil, the iconic cruschi peppers and homemade preserves.

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For more information on Do, Dine, and Spend in Italy, visit our Destinations page.  

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