Matera: A Sun-Drenched Southern Italian City We’ve Fallen For
Meet Italy’s most magical city, Matera. A sun-drenched landscape decorated with clusters of limestone caves, winding dirt-track roads and great swathes of verdant terrain, this is a must-visit destination for those seeking a romantic retreat
14 November, 2022
Perched atop a rocky outcrop deep within the southern Italian region of Basilicata lies Matera - oldest town in Italy, Unesco World Heritage site and Capital of Culture. Less than an hour's drive from Puglia, this is a place as historic as it is romantic. Crumbling limestone villas, narrow cobblestone passageways and swathes of verdant terrain have seen it treasured for its unique scenery - Bond fans will no doubt recognise the location from its starring role in No Time to Die. We skipped between butter-toned buildings to find the spots that make this a great destination for a glorious and glamorous getaway.
Follow narrow cobblestone passageways throughout the city.
The Sassi caves are what Matera is best known for - a collection of dwellings carved into the face of the limestone rock. The caves are spread across two districts, Sasso Caveoso and Sasso Barisano, seemingly cut into two by the sparkling Gravina River. Inhabited by the third-oldest continuous civilisation (after Aleppo and Jericho), this is said to be the only place in the world where families had lived in the very same house that their ancestors occupied some 9,000 years ago. But in the 1950s, an outbreak of malaria resulted in a level of poverty that saw the town considered the shame of Italy and, in 1952, evacuated, abandoned until the 1980s. Fast forward to today, and a regenerative and fresh wave of tourism has injected a new lease of life into Matera, and new respect for the history that the caves hold.
Where to stay?
Chic hotels aplenty have started cropping up across this craggy landscape. While there are many ultra-luxe snooze-and-spa lodgings in the maze of the Sassi, we're obsessed with Sextantio Le Grotte della Civita. Bedrooms feature stone floors, curvaceous walls and antique furnishings, while private terraces flaunt undisturbed views across the Murgia National Park. Come sunset, scrub and soak in your candlelit freestanding tub, before hopping into a dreamy bed dressed in handcrafted linen.
Sextantio Le Grotte Della Civita tops our must-stay list in the city.
Where to go for dinner?
Sitting pretty in a quiet street in the heart of the city, Osteria al Casale's parasol-flanked tables are the perfect spot to twirl creamy spaghetti on a balmy afternoon. Meanwhile, airy indoor seating comes with bar-facing seating, braided lights and shelves stocked with local wines. The restaurant focuses on "cucina povera", roughly translated as serving provincial dishes that champion fresh ingredients. Our order? Burrata with a side of the tomato-drenched bread ball, followed by a margherita pizza - simple, but absolutely delicious. Desserts are homemade and vary daily.
And for a drink…
When it comes to limoncello, visitors to Matera are a little spoilt for choice. There's Charlie's Speakeasy which draws crowds for its live blues music and brilliant spirit blends, and the fairy-light-strewn courtyard of Area 8, where locals dance from dusk till dawn. There's also the sultry and sophisticated Radino Wine Bar, which is the sort of place you want to whip out your best garms for.
Who to take with you?
As much as we love a getaway with our gang, Matera has an incredibly romantic air about it - even Bond made it his choice for an intimate retreat. We suggest bringing your main squeeze: candlelit dinners and local bottles of red await.
Essentials to pack
Whether it's warm or cold, harsh temperatures can cause dry, chapped lips. Snag this Sisley Comfort Extreme lip balm to nourish, soothe and protect. A blend of hazelnut, plum kernel and sunflower oils combines with a rich shea butter to create some serious hydration.
How to get there
Take a direct flight from London Gatwick to Bari Airport, from where Matera is just under an hour's drive. Alternatively, jump on a train from Bari Central Station to Matera - a scenic less-than-two-hour journey taking in crumbling towns and sprawling greenery.
This article was updated on 14 November 2022. It contains affiliate links, which means SUITCASE may earn a small commission if you click through and book.