A complete and detailed guide to 10 things to do and to see in Matera
The capital of Culture 2019, UNESCO World Heritage, a film set and an open-air museum: Matera is unique in the world. The Città dei Sassi enchants travelers with its charm, but also with ancient traditions and a delicious food to be tried.
1. Visit the stones of Matera
A visit to the city can only start from its most famous feature, the Sassi. It is an ancient settlement excavated within the limestone rock that characterizes the area, formed by a particular intertwining of cave houses, alleys, terraces and underground passages. A spectacular architectural complex unique of its kind, which seems to arise from the very heart of the earth. The two districts where you can admire the stones are Sasso Barisano, the largest and most touristic, and Sasso Caveoso, which has retained its original appearance more.
2. Sleeping in the cave hotels among the stones of Matera
Many of Matera’s ancient caves have been transformed into unique and charming hotels: to fully immerse yourself in the magic of the city, we recommend staying in one of these hotels within the Sassi. There are of all kinds and for every budget, but among the most particular we suggest Sextantio Le Grotte della Civita, eighteen rooms hotel renovated with local recycled materials, Caveoso Hotel, delightful with its balconies overlooking the stones, and Aquatio Cave Luxury Hotel & SPA, refined boutique hotel in the heart of the city.
3. Taste the bread of Matera IGP
The bread of Matera IGP is a true gastronomic symbol of the city, characterized by the softness of the crumb and the crunchiness of the external crust, as well as by the classic croissant shape. The origins of the bread date back to the times of the ancient Kingdom of Naples, and it is still prepared today using genuine local ingredients. Durum wheat semolina from the Matera area, mother yeast, salt and water give Matera PGI bread a fragrant flavor, perfect both to eat it alone or as an ingredient of traditional recipes.
4. Discover the rock churches of Matera
The stones are not the only architectural peculiarity of Matera, which in its territory also preserves more than 150 ancient rock churches. They are mystical places carved into the rock and dating back to the early Middle Ages, when the monks settled in the caves and turned them into prayer centers. Among the most evocative to visit we suggest two, unique for their conformation: the church of Santa Maria de Idris, excavated in the heart of the Monterrone, and the crypt of San Giovanni, united to the church by an internal passage. Both are decorated with magnificent frescoes, perfectly preserved.
5. Get to know the modern soul of Matera at the Musma Museum
Matera is famous for its ancient jewels, but it also has a modern heart to be discovered. The perfect place to do it is the Musma, Museum of Contemporary Sculpture of Matera located inside the majestic Palazzo Pomarici. Within its walls, which date back to the 16th century, there are many prestigious national and international works of art, but also the Vanni Scheiwiller Library with its over 5000 volumes. The palace, with its hundred and more frescoed rooms carved into the rock, is an absolute must.
6. Try the dishes at the L’Abbondanza Lucana restaurant
Cruschi peppers, home-made pasta, cheeses, soups, Gorgoglione sausage: these are just some of the typical products of Matera’s gastronomy. If you want to taste them, a must is L’Abbondanza Lucana, the realm of chef Francesco Abbondanza. In its well-kept and quiet restaurant, the raw materials of the territory are the protagonists of the dishes that recount the excellent local flavors. In particular, try the fresh pasta and the tasting of Lucanian local products.
7. On the trail of the films shot in Matera
An original way to visit the city is by retracing the steps of the locations used by great directors in their films. Matera, in fact, with its unique beauty, has often become the scene of great film productions, including the most recent chapter of the 007 No Time To Die saga. Sassi Web Matera organizes a guided tour of about two and a half hours in the places where the most famous film sets in Matera were shot, including The Passion by Mel Gibson, The Gospel according to Matthew by Pier Paolo Pasolini and The Man of the Stars by Giuseppe Tornatore.
8. Watching Matera from the sky during the Matera Balloon festival
If you don’t suffer from vertigo you can’t miss the Matera Balloon Festival, a spectacular event that has been organized every October for some years. For 3-4 days, the Murgia Materana Park hosts huge hot air balloons which, piloted by expert teams, allow you to admire one of the most beautiful cities in Italy from the sky. On board of the colorful flying balloons, the bravest visitors can fly over the stones of Matera, the Canyon della Gravina and admire all the breathtaking landscape around the town. We leave at dawn and fly for about 6 hours: an exciting and unforgettable experience.
9. Take a photo from a viewpoint
Wandering among the stones of Matera is fascinating, but so is admiring the city from one of the many panoramic points. Do you want to take a unique souvenir photo? Go to Piazzetta Pascoli, a small terrace in front of Palazzo Lanfranchi from which you have a spectacular view of Matera. The Luigi Verricchio belvedere is also very scenografphic: it is located to the right of the Materdomini Church and overlooks the nucleus of the Sassi and the Cathedral. Also noteworthy is the panorama that opens up next to the Convent of Sant’Agostino, which embraces the Murgia and the Cathedral.
10. Buy a cuccù as a souvenir
The most characteristic souvenir to buy in Matera, in addition to bread and other typical products, is a particular terracotta whistle. It is called cuccù. The cuccù is originally two-tone and has the stylized shape of a rooster, although today it is made in many different variants. One story says that it was the gift for children for Easter Monday, while another traditional story tells that the cuccù was a symbol of a promise of love: the more the whistle was decorated, the greater the promise was.