While it may be tendentious to claim that anywhere in Italy remains ‘unknown’, the region of Basilicata does seem to offer one of the few remaining opportunities to experience an unspoilt and unfamiliar region.
As in-step to the heel of Puglia and the toe of Calabria, Basilicata has always missed out on the flow of visitors and the concomitant income that its neighbours have attracted as springboards to the eastern Mediterranean and to Sicily. This also partially explains its historic reputation as one of the poorest regions of Italy. But while undeniably without the more spectacular or influential cultural achievements other Italian regions may boast, humble Basilicata has sufficient fascinating sites and a varied cultural heritage to enthral the visitor.
Matera is the cultural capital of Basilicata – and a 2019 European Capital of Culture. Most impressive are the Sassi, the hundreds of caves attractively tiered along the two ravines that thrust into the heart of the town. Developed, enhanced and inhabited for over a thousand years, the caves were cleared as slums in the 1950s but are now being thoughtfully and sympathetically re-developed. Equally surprising is the rest of Matera, which feels more like a vibrant historic town located in say Emilia-Romagna or the Veneto than in one of the allegedly least developed parts of Italy. This energetic if provincial atmosphere is heightened by the improvements that have recently transformed the town.
But the tour enjoys the whole of Basilicata. Passing through verdant and rolling hills, there are visits to Melfi and Venosa, both of which possess mighty Norman fortresses and evocative Romanesque churches, and lovely Montescaglioso to the south, sprawling across the hills and whose imposing Benedictine abbey flourished under the Norman lords. On the coast, there are the important Ancient Greek settlements of Metaponto and Policoro.
Basilicata seems set to become a major destination for discerning visitors. We would recommend this tour to those who would like to experience it before this happens.
Fly at c. 9.00am from London City to Bari via Milan Linate (Alitalia). Drive to Matera where the tour is based throughout.
Matera. The morning walk includes the church of San Giovanni Battista (1220), the Baroque church of San Francesco d’Assisi and the archaeological museum. The cathedral, a fine example of southern Italian Romanesque, dominates the city. In the afternoon, walk down the Sasso Caveoso to see a handful of cave churches, many of them with frescoes.
Venosa, Melfi. Drive to Venosa to visit the impressive but unfinished monastery of La Trinità, built over an early Christian church. Walk through the charming town centre and see the archaeological collection in the late 15th-century castle. Continue to Melfi, where the impressive Norman castle hosts a good archaeological museum. The Norman origins of the cathedral, rebuilt in the late 17th century, are still visible in the splendid bell tower.
Matera, Montescaglioso. The Crypt of Original Sin outside Matera is known as the ‘Sistine chapel’ of cave wall paintings; it is not only an outstanding discovery for the history of early mediaeval art but is also an example of the most advanced conservation techniques. Drive to the hilltop town of Montescaglioso, overlooking the Bradano valley, to visit the Benedictine abbey of St Michael the Archangel, one of the largest and most impressive abbeys in southern Italy. The afternoon is free.
Metaponto, Santa Maria d’Anglona, Policoro. The ancient city of Metaponto was one of the most important Greek settlements in the West; though its site is ruinous the museum display charts most of its history. Isolated in countryside, Santa Maria d’Anglona is a lovely church, rich in late 12th-century frescoes. There is a picnic lunch here. Visit the Museo Archeologico della Siritide in Policoro which has exhibits from the former Greek colonies of Siris and Heraclea.
Matera. On the way to the airport, visit Altamura, whose Cathedral was built in 1232 by Emperor Frederick II. Fly from Bari to London City, via Linate, arriving c. 7.30pm.
Price, per person
Two sharing: £2,070 or £1,910 without flights. Single occupancy: £2,290 or £2,130 without flights.
Air travel (economy class) on scheduled Alitalia flights (Embraer 90, Airbus 319); travel by private coach; accommodation as described below; breakfasts, 3 lunches (including 1 picnic) and 3 dinners with wine, water, coffee; all admissions; all tips; all taxes; the services of the lecturer and tour manager.
Sant’Angelo Luxury Resort, Matera: A stylish 5-star hotel located in the Sasso Caveoso, overlooking the ravine. Single rooms are doubles for sole use throughout.
Matera’s topography and the hotel’s location mean that there is a lot of walking up and down hills and cobbled steps which can be slippery. Coaches cannot be used within the town centres. Good mobility, sure-footedness and agility are essential. Average distance by coach per day: 66 miles.
Between 10 and 22 participants.
Before booking, please refer to the FCO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting: www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.