Sunday, October 11, 2009

Matera, a UNESCO Gem in Italy

Had a lovely weekend in Italy recently with Kaori. Ryanair flights to Bari, which sits on the Adriatic at the back of the "heel" of Italy, then trains along the coast to Monopoli and up into the hills to Matera.

View Map: Bari and Surroundings in a larger map

Monopoli is a pretty Italian seaside town, about 40km from Bari, and a mere 20 minutes on one of the fast trains. The old town has a small harbour on one side, and a small beach on the other. Stayed in "La Porta Vecchia B&B", which was in a great spot, and a gorgeous property, large and with a big rooftop terrace, run by the friendly Maria.

Warm evening sunshine

Of course as it is a fishing town, the food to have is seafood!

Seafood salad

Fish pasta soup

The highlight... the beach!

The beach next to Monopoli Old Town

Matera is a gem, I can't advise people more highly to visit! The town sits on one side of a canyon of limestone, into which caves were cut thousands of years ago. Over time these caves were extended and the rock used to build around the outside, with the result that now the place is a warren of fascinating buildings, known as the "Sassi".


How to get to the town? Either bus, ideally in season direct from Bari airport but I was interested in using the Ferrovie Appulo–Lucano historial train line. This is not easy to work out, but here are my tips:

Ferrovie Appulo-Lucano Train Lines - Bari to Matera
1. Website (Italian only) here:
2. Click through to the home page, then click on Quadri orari (or via Servizi Orari e Tariffe)
3. The Matera Line comes under Basilicata, so either view in html or download pdf of the timetable.
4. The timetable has a number of lines, so you need to scroll down to about half way through to Linea Bari - Altamura - Matera e viceversa.
5. Choose your train times. NB with some trains you may need to change at Altamura for the last leg to Matera.
6. You have a choice of stations in Matera - Centrale is in the modern town bit, but for somewhere in the old town, Matera Sur may be closer (it was for us).
7. In Bari find the station by coming out of the main train station, and turning to the left hand side of the concourse. There's a small ticket office inside, then the platforms are upstairs.
8. The carriages are tiny and old, the train is diesel powered and it's very like being on a bus!

Bring provisions, it's not quick, but it is scenic and fun. Choose which side you sit carefully based on where the sun is - no air conditioning on this train!

Back to Matera. The town was used for filming Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ - the old town area being completely untouched by ugly developments - yet another example of where severe poverty in the 50s and 60s benefits a place greatly!

Lots of climbing to be done

Meat... of... Horse!

Yes, a whole shop filled with horse meat. Horse hamburgers, horse cuts, and a lovely painting of a horse outside the place!

Beautiful Matera

We stayed in a fantastic B&B, Alla Dolce Vita, run by a lovely young Italian / French couple who met each other in Matera. They were friendly, helpful, took time to explain the history of the place, and did everything they could to make our stay wonderful.

Cuteness competition

One of Vincenzo and Carla's recommendations for eating was Il Cantuccio, where one can eat incredible food for very reasonable prices. Reservations are required, so make sure you get yours in as soon as you're there.

Fantastic antipasti at Il Cantuccio

A happy Kaori after being fed

Sunrise over the Matera ravine

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