Go Ahead traveler Mark recently ate and drank his way through Italy on our Food & Wine: Southern Italy & Sicily tour. Here, he shares his experience of a day in Matera, where he explored ancient ruins and tasted the best local cuisine. You can read about the rest of Mark’s trip on his blog.
Today we woke up in Matera. We got a great night’s sleep once we got the room cooled off. We ended up sleeping with the window open just to keep the temperature down. We were up at 6:30am (as usual) and dressed and ready for the day by 7:15am. We went down for breakfast and then returned to the room for a little while until we had to meet the group in the lobby for our tour of Matera. Our local guide for the day was Emilia and she walked us through the Piazza Giovanni Pascoli. We stopped for a minute at the Museo Nazionale d’Arte Medievale e Moderna della Basilicata, then went to a scenic overlook where she introduced us to the region.
Then, we headed down into the Sassi di Matera and as we walked, Emilia continued giving us history and stories of the area. The Sassi are a series of walkways, stairs and alleyways of buildings (most of which are carved into rock with caves as the base of the building). We were able to go into a home that isn’t lived in but is set up like the way it had been in the past. One of the interesting things we learned was that most of the families had a donkey for a variety of uses—this donkey was more important to the family than the children were.
It was interesting learning about the area but also confusing since there is so much history here. They believe that this area was inhabited thousands of years before Christ. The architecture was pretty amazing and the way the buildings were arranged reminded me of the Anasazi Pueblos. After about an hour or so there, we ended our tour and went for a food tasting.
We arrived at a restaurant where we tasted an olive tapenade, chili peppers fried in olive oil (they were like chips), bread with olive oil, a tomato-based spread (like marinara but thicker) and a focaccia. I ended up buying some of the peppers (Peperone “scrokkia” dolce) as a snack for later. Once everyone was done, we were all ready to head back into town and to the hotel. But then a traveler asked about hiking to the caves.
Our Tour Director said we could go if we wanted and gave us directions, so a group of us headed out. We followed the road for a short distance and then took some stairs that headed down into a canyon. The stairs turned to stone and then to dirt as we got lower into the canyon. Eventually we reached a suspension bridge that crossed a river (or stream) where the trail continued from there.
It took a little while and some climbing to finally reach one of the caves. We were glad we did the hike—it was interesting to see them. It truly reminded me of the Anasazi and places like Bandelier or Mesa Verde. After seeing the caves, we retraced our steps back to the Sassi and then made our way back into town. We were a little hungry but it was past lunch (around 1:30) and we didn’t want too much so that we would be good for dinner and wine tasting later. We stopped for a gelato and found a nice spot to sit and eat, then we went back to the hotel and rested.
At around 4:30pm we went down to the lobby and met the group to head out for our wine tasting and dinner.
We went to Polvanera Winery in Gioia del Colle. This is a family-owned place and we got a tour of the winery with Alessia. After a tour of the facilities, we were taken into a beautiful dining room for dinner. For starters we had focaccia with olive oil and frittata. The first course was pasta with broccoli rabe and the second course was pork on skewers. During dinner we tasted four wines: a sparkling rosé, two reds and one white. Everyone there was extremely nice and the food and wine were delicious—we all felt like we were eating with family. It was a nice relaxing night with lots of laughter and fun. I think we all may have had too much wine. Oh well, we are on a food and wine tour.
We said our goodbyes to the staff at the winery, boarded the bus and headed back to the hotel. I think some of us may have napped during the ride because the bus was awfully quiet. Now back in our room, I am getting this written while it is still fresh in my mind. Tomorrow we leave Matera and head to Benevento.
Read about the rest of Mark’s tour on his blog, or leave your questions for him in the comments!