Italy’s renowned for its food, natural beauty and iconic monuments, so it’s no wonder it was voted the number one most beautiful country in the world for 2018.  But there’s a new Italy happening and it’s brewing down south (the heal of the boot), in the Basilicata region.

Basilicata is best known for its produce and wine, and has a strong focus on agri-tourism. Situated in the south of Italy, bordering Calaberia and Puglia, the region is full of lush farming land and crowning mountain tops.

Up until recently I hadn’t heard a lot about this region, more about the bordering towns like Lecce in Puglia. I was on my way down to Puglia from Amalfi, when I saw the sign to Matera and literally took it.

Matera won the coveted rights to host Europe’s Capital of Culture for 2019, along with Plovdiv, Bulgaria and was up against one of Italy’s most beautiful cities Sienna, so that’s no easy victory.

Matera is a relatively small town in Italian terms, with a modest population off 60,000 its best known for its sassi district, rumoured to be one of the first and oldest living civilizations in the world. Literally built into the rocks and divided by a mysterious large canyon, it is known as the underground city and was listed as a world heritage site in 1993, by UNESCO.

One side of the canyon is an archeological site and we walk the ridge to catch the spectacular sunset and marvel at the festoon lighting that illuminates from the caves. The other side of the canyon is the Sassi and is home to contemporary art studios restaurants, luxe hotels, boutiques and age-old monuments and churches.

Matera has an otherworldly feel about it, almost as though it’s to good to true, like the rocks were just plonked there to create a movie set.  (side note blockbusters like Wonder Woman and Ben Hur were filmed here).

Matera literally stole my heart within 10 minutes of arriving, the hospitality was impeccable and the people are warm and inviting.  You get the feeling the city has been injected with an extra bout of mojo, a facelift of sorts and is definitely on its best behavior, primed for 2019.

We stay at a pension style bed & breakfast, Casa de Sol up a steep set of sandstone stairs and like everything in Matera it’s also built into the rocks. The interior is modern, with hand made Italian floor tiles and textiles that are unique to this region.

There is an array of eateries to entice, we opt for the newly opened Michelin star Vitantonio Lombardo  (a renowned chef who recently returned to his home town) the restaurant occupies a thousand year old cave. Contemporary in design the dishes are a fusion of the region with traditional undertones.

An ideal middle road between Amalfi and Puglia, Matera is a unique travel destination, both modern and age-old, this cave dwelling wonder is one of the most intriguing this intrepid traveller has ever seen.

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