We were recently invited on a rather whirlwind press tour of Basilicata. It involved a lot of unpacking and packing. A day here, a night there.
One of the nights we’d be spending in Bernalda. If you’ve heard of it, it’s likely to be related to the fact that Francis Ford Coppola built a luxury resort hotel there, Palazzo Margherita.
I do not follow the rich and famous, and even though I have, by chance, actually seen Mr. Coppola getting a haircut in a North Beach barber shop in San Francisco, I didn’t know of his attachment to this little castle town. I have since discovered that he often speaks lovingly of the life of the village and the people and the festivals and dancing in the street that goes on here.
So as soon as we’d unpacked and checked the free wifi at the Hotel Giardino Giamperduto, we headed out. What a town. We never made it to the castle. The streets were alive with bars and restaurants. This didn’t appear to be a sleepy little town, at least as far as the main street went. I had to have a Prosecco, otherwise we’d be left out of the celebration they call “life” in this bustling place.
Thus fortified, we got off the main street, where traditional Basilicata insisted on showing us its quiet and spiritual side.
I was liking this town. Really liking it.
We scampered back to the hotel. You see, we had a reservation at one of the restaurants along the main drag. Our written schedule had us taking a meal at the Trattoria La Locandiera—and we had to walk to it.
No worries. The nice woman who’d checked us in had arranged a car for us. Driven, no less, by one of the owners of the hotel.
The meal at the Trattoria la Locandiera was spectacular. Yes, I’m a meat man, but there wasn’t a speck of carne in the whole meal. It was as if the owners wanted us to understand this cucina povera thing and had prepared a multi course meal to prove how clever the local women were to weave together a codified cuisine from the little they had.
Can you make a pasta dish from eggless noodles, bread crumbs, dried peppers, and a little oil? Why, not only could you make it, you could make it so that it might become one of your favorite dishes of all time.
Then there were those plump “meatballs” standing triumphantly in a dollop of tomato sauce. They didn’t have actual meat in them either. But you didn’t miss it.
After, there was dessert, of course, then a plate of little bites in case you were still feeling that there was still a couple of millimeters of space somewhere in your digestive tract that wasn’t occupied. One of these small bites was eggplant with chocolate. Yes, it was good.
So we were liking Bernalda even more, except now we were full. Really full.
The Hotel Giardino Giamperduto once housed a cheese making operation, one that made fresh ricotta and, a recent and pleasant discovery for me, ricotta forte, a strong, fermented ricotta that will make you cry if you like stinky cheeses. (I mean really stinky. A little goes a long way.)
In any case, the room was large and included a private back yard as well as both a shower and large bath tub. Outside you could play chess with those large pieces that make you walk around as you play. Or you could just hang around the pool.
The next morning as we ate breakfast we discovered that this was a really hot place to be in summer, when you could hardly squeeze between the people to walk down the main street, even when it is closed to car traffic.
You see, the place is a hub for all sorts of tourism pleasure. In 10 minutes you’re at Metaponto, one of Basilicata’s main archaeological sites.
The temple of Hera, seen above, is also known as the Palatine Tables, a Greek temple from the 6th century bc.
There are four other temples at the actual site of Metapontum. There’s not much of them left, so there are some interesting looking reconstructions. Call it art.
There are also the huge pottery kilns and the arena, where the important people, perhaps like the ancient equivalent of Francis Ford Coppola, would have had those seats in the front. You’ll notice they have backs, unlike all the other seats.
After you have seen the spectacular archaeological museum in the modern town of Metaponto, it’s only a short drive to the sea. So you can spend an afternoon or two roasting in the sun between dips in the sea.
Matera is 40 minutes’ drive away from Bernalda. There is also the ghost town of Craco not so far away, a fabulous place to visit for seekers of artistically-crumbly eye candy.
So, the deal is, in summer and in the shoulder seasons, folks tend to stay a whole week in Bernalda, enjoying the town and going on trips to see the sites everyone misses in Basilicata. I’d recommend such a strategy, if only because I want to do it.