Matera Travel Guide

Matera: an ancient and encapsulating city in the south of Italy that you can discover with our Matera travel guide.

BBC Two in the UK recently aired an episode of Italy Unpacked that took viewers to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Matera – a hidden gem in the region of Basilicata that is known for its ancient Sassi. The Sassi di Matera are considered among the first human settlements in Italy, and Matera consequently draws those interested in history and archaeology from across the globe. If Italy Unpacked’s From the Stones to the Stars episode had you thinking about a Matera holiday, read on for our top tips on the top attractions and cuisine in this Matera travel guide.


History of Matera

Historically, South Italy has been a poorer region in Italy compared to the north, where vibrant cities and commercial hubs, such as Milan and Venice, can be found. As a consequence, South Italy became known as the Forgotten Land of the Mezzogiorno – a nod to the hardship faced by South Italians. Unfortunately, few tourists chose a Matera holiday or day trip in the past; however, all this changed in the 1960s and 1970s, when a light was shone on the importance of Matera and its fascinating Sassi. As a result, since then around half of the Sassi have been restored and Matera is now a wonderful day trip in South Italy if you want to discover Italy’s cultural past. It is equally as captivating for a cultural Matera holiday, perhaps combining this ancient settlement with Apulia on a South Italy touring holiday.


Top Attractions in Matera

The Sassi di Matera


It is impossible to visit Matera without taking in the fascinating Sassi di Matera – the well-preserved, rock-cut cave settlements that have made Matera famous. In fact, the ancient town of Matera and the Sassi are a UNESCO-protected World Heritage Site, having been awarded the status in 1993. Amazingly, up until the 1970s, many inhabitants of Matera still lived in these cave dwellings, but today they are an intriguing attraction that you can enjoy on a Matera holiday. We especially recommend visiting Casa Grotta di Vico Solitario – a Sassi cave that has been recreated with historic furnishings, so you can imagine how people lived so many years ago.

The Sassi di Matera are located on both sides of the valley in which Matera sits – Sasso Caveoso on the south side and Sasso Barisano on the north side. We recommend visiting Sasso Caveoso if you have a stronger interest in history, while Sasso Barisano is more developed and the perfect place to explore modern-day life on your Matera holiday.

Matera Cathedral and the Volcanic Rock Churches

Within the ancient town of Matera, there are some rock-carved churches that are particularly special. On your Matera holiday or Matera day trip, we highly recommend seeing Sant'Agostino, Matera Cathedral, San Giovanni Battista and San Pietro Caveoso. However, as Matera is renowned for its alleys and winding streets, we highly recommend booking a guided tour of Matera to ensure you see that top attractions on your Matera holiday!

Château Tramontano

Château Tramontano is a castle that dates back to the 16th century and was designed by Gian Carlo Tramontano, the then Count of Matera. It is a popular attraction in Matera and boasts three towers and a city wall, aimed at protecting Matera from rebels during South Italy’s turbulent past. Today, the castle overlooks the hills of Matera and is a wonderful treat for a sweeping vista of the town on your Matera holiday.


Matera Cuisine

We have no doubt that Italy Unpacked’s From the Stones to the Stars had your mouth watering with its decadent recipe for pignata di pecora, made with chilli, fresh rocket and mutton, which Andrew Graham-Dixon and Giorgio Locatelli bought from the local market in Matera.

Matera is known for its enchanting cuisine, which is slow-cooked to allow the vibrant flavours to combine, creating dishes that are intense and unique in flavour. Caciocavallo cheese is a particularly good example of the ideology of Matera cuisine – the cows that help make this cheese graze in the hills on grass and wild rocket, which gives the milk a special flavour. The cheese is then carefully and thoughtfully prepared, usually by hand to stretch the curd and hand-shape it into the classic tear-drop shape. The flavour is consequently intense – a testament to the time invested in creating this example of Matera cuisine. Try Caciocavallo cheese with the local Matera bread as it is reported to be the best in Italy and a must-try on your Matera holiday!


Facts About Matera

Did you know that scenes from Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ were filmed in Matera? In fact, the Last Supper was filmed at the rock church of San Nicola dei Greci and the procession of the cross was filmed on the steep alleys of Sasso Caveoso.


We hope you have enjoyed our Matera travel guide and that we have sparked your interest in visiting the ancient city on a Matera holiday. If you would like to find out more about our tailor-made holidays to Italy, please click here to browse our selection of Basilicata packages. Alternatively, you can call a friendly member of our expert travel team on 01223 637331 or click here to send an online enquiry.

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