Why consider Basilicata? If you've already pushed through the crowds in Rome, Venice and Florence and stumbled along the deteriorating trails of the Cinque Terre you might be ready for an expansion of your definition of Italy. Are you ready for something completely different? Is it time to push into the shadows and visit Basilicata?
Yes, the picture above depicts the camelion cornerstone of Basilicata, everybody's favorite cave city Matera. Once a hardscrabble depression in the earth pockmarked with dwellings painstakingly chiseled out of soft rock where people lived under appaulling conditions of poverty and starvation, the town has now become a sought-out experience for folks with ample disposable income and a romantic notion of the joys of living underground.
But Basilicata isn't only about older travelers living out their romantic impulses in cave dwellings. Imagine, if you will, being strapped into a four-seat glider attached to a 1200 meter steel cable and launched in a free fall back down into the wilds of Pollino National Park, shown on the map below. You and three strangers could fly like the park's famed golden eagles looking for field mice to eat. Imagine! In fact, the attraction is called: Flight of the Eagle.
But let's start perusing the map before your tummy gets all queasy on you.
Basilicata forms the "instep" of Italy's boot. The region has access to two seas, a slice of the Tyrrhenian on the west coast, and a more extensive shorline on the Ionian Sea, where ancient Greeks set up shop which you can witness by visiting the Greek city of Metaponto.
Montescaglioso is a hill town that was the center of the Norman Kingdom of Sicily. The top sight is Montescaglioso's 11-15th century Abbey of San Michele Arcangelo. In August the Festa di San Rocco is a colorful local festival with religious parade and fireworks.
Bernalda, made famous by Francis Ford Coppola, who built the luxury Palazzo Margherita hotel here, is a lively town with a small historic center, castle, and long main street with many good restaurants, bars, and shops. It makes an excellent base for visiting Matera, Craco, Metaponto, and the coast. Bernalda and Metaponto Greek Temples
Craco is one of Italy's top ghost towns. Once a thriving hill town, it was mostly abandoned following a mudslide. Go to the visitor center for a fascinating and eerie guided tour (available in English). Craco Photos and Visiting Information
Metaponto is a famous Greek settlement on the Ionian coast formerly called Metapontum. Archaeology buffs should visit the Museo Archeologico Nazionale and the ruins outside town that include a Greek temple. Metaponto also has a fine, white sand beach.
Policoro offers the Lido di Policoro, a famous beach, and the ruins of the Greek settlement of Heraclea on the outskirts of town.
Stigliano is a good place to start your exploration of the Basilicata mountains.
Aliano was the town where Carlo Levi was exiled. You can visit his house and see the stunning landscape he wrote about in his book Christ stopped at Eboli, which includes an awe-inspiring drop into a valley that farmers and shepherds had to navigate every day.
Melfi was a Roman, then a Longobard city which later became a Norman city. There is a Norman castle to visit and a baroque cathedral and Bishop's palace, Palazzo del Vescovado. Inside the Castle is the Museo Nazionale Archeologico Melfese, a good archaeology museum with many important collections of materials from the surrounding area. Melfi is on the rail line.
Venosa was once a Roman town called Venusia. The poet Horace was born here in 65 BC. Venosa has a 15th century Aragonese castle, a Baroque Church of the Purgatory, and the Palaeolithic period is represented by the Archaeological Area of Notarchirico, in which a Homo Erectus femur fragment was found.
Rionero in Vulture has been in existence since at least 290 BC, and was seized by the Normans around 1041. The towns in the Vulture area sit in the shadow of Monte Vulture, an extinct volcano which provides the fertile soil in the area. Aglianico del Vulture is a famous DOC wine from the area.
Potenza is a modern city that suffered much destruction from bombings in World War II and earthquakes as late as 1980 . Only 1 tower of the castle still stands and the old cathedral was restored in the 18th century. A 17th century mansion, Palazzo Loffredo, houses the archaeological museum and there are remains of a Roman villa.
Many publications will tell you to skip Potenza, But a very recent one, Karen Haid's Basilicata: Authentic Italy, start right off with a vibrant description of Potenza today, rather than tourist favorite Matera.
Right around the corner from the cathedral is a museum not to be missed. Most people pass through Potenza with a brief stroll in the old town, a quick pop into the church or bar and go on their way, which is unfortunate, but the upside for my visit was that I had the place to myself. The Museo archaeologico nazionale della Basilicata "Dinu Adamsteanu" is housed in the early 16th century Palazzo Loffredo, one of the few patrician houses that have survived the area's many earthquakes... - Basilicata: Authentic Italy.
You'll find some dishes in Basilicata spicier than in the north. The town of Senise near Policoro lends its name to the local spicy pepper.
The meat specialties of Basilicata include lucanica sausages. Apicius describes it as a spicy, smoked beef or pork sausage originally from Lucania, the ancient name for a region nearly mirroring the modern Basilicata.
Chestnuts designated "Marroncino IGP are among Italy's most revered. You'll find them around Melfi.
Basilicata has been a poor region for a great long while. The good thing is that you can still get the cucina povera, albeit in larger portion sizes, in restaurants like the Trattoria la Locandiera in Bernalda you can feast on the traditional specialties. Meatballs without meat? check. Pasta with breadcrumbs and peppers to die for? Check (and see below).
Of course you'll be looking for a wine to drink with all this, and the northern part of the region is known for Aglianico del Vulture, which was awarded DOCG status in 2011. You'll also find DOC wines Grottino di Rocanova, Matera and Terre dell’Alta d’Agri.
Spring or fall is best, especially if you're pinching pennies on your resort expenditures. Our fall trip offered good weather.
Here is an average high and low temperature graph in Fahrenheit for your travel planning; the data is from Bernalda. The most rain falls in Bernalda in October, November and December.