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.
Map of Basilicata
Getting Your Bearings
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.
Top Towns to Visit in Basilicata
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
- Where to Stay if you can't afford the Palazzo Margherita: Giardino Giamperduto Country House. We had a great stay here.
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.
- Take a Guided Full-Day Tour: This Basilicata wine tour includes visits to 2 wineries, a visit to Venosa to see its castle and Jewish catacombs, lunch at a farm house, and the castle in Melfi.
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
If you look at the map you'll find a bit of Basilicata on the Ionian Sea. It's home to the resort town of Maratea. Heading uphill, away from the coastal resorts, you can drive up a mountain which ultimately leads to the statue of Christ the Redeemer--and some very nice views of the coastline. There are interesting places along the drive, startin at the Santavenere Hotel, a very nice place to stay that's quite expensive in August but has nicely reduced prices in the shoulder season.
Imagine yourself sipping something relaxing at the Santavenere pool shown here. Could life be better than this?
The Santavenere is a five star luxury hotel, and it will cost you an arm and a leg in summer, but go in fall as we did, when the price has plummeted, and you can get a taste of what the 1% get to go thorough. You can even work out on the hillside with a view of the sea! The private beach will astound you with its beauty. The emphasis here is service, so ask and it's likely you shall receive.
Just up the hill from the luxury playground of the Maratea coast is a thriving agricultural community tucked into a verdant valley. You will find renowned Buffalo Mozzarella, fantastic Salami and at certain time of the year Jiló or Gilo, a bitter scarlet eggplant that came to this corner of Italy via immigrants returning from Brazil.
How to get access since there are no stores? Knock any door and ask who has the best cheese or salami. They'll know. That's how the Italians do it. Then head up the hill to the town of Maratea, the Pearl of the Tyrrhenian.
On the summit of Monte San Biagio you'll find the statue crafted by Florentine sculptor Bruno Innocenzi in 1965. But that's not all. You'll also see the Basilica of San Biagio. Its been a Basilica Pontificia since the tenth of August 1940 when pope Pio XII declared the title of Basilica minore upon the sanctuary, as evidenced by the yellow flag on the left side of the facade. Inside a white marble urn are relics of the Patron saint of Maratea. La festa di S. Biagio a Maratea falls on the first Thursday of May. The saint is paraded from the church down to the town.
And from the top of the mountain...snap away for awe-inspiring views of the Basilicata coast!
The Food and Wine of Basilicata
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).
Unfortunately, the Locanderia is said to have closed, but plans are in place that include cooking lessons featuring the dishes served in the restaurant.
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.
When to Go to Basilicata
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.
A Basilica Itinerary
As a final note, see our map and itinerary guide to plan your way to see the the recommended places to see around Matera.Basilicata Itinerary