When we sat down to create our most recent tours, Matera, Italy — a cave town in Basilicata — was right at the top of the list of places we wanted our clients to see.
Going to Matera, Italy is like stepping back into Biblical times. Or onto another planet.
And it’s no wonder — Matera is one of the longest continuously inhabited human settlements in the world. First occupied in the Paleolithic Era, it’s said to have been founded by the Romans in the 3rd century BC.
In other words, consider packing a toga and your cutest leather sandals, because this place looks like it’s hardly changed since ancient times. In fact, Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ was filmed here because it still looks like what Jerusalem might have looked like thousands of years ago.
Dreaming about an Italy trip in 2018 or beyond?
Behold our hot list of the best places to travel in Italy in 2018! These are the lesser-known spots that we’re lovin’ now.
1. Matera (Basilicata)
Matera is a wise addition to your Italy trip in 2018. After all, this might be the last year that it can truly be considered “off the beaten path” — it’s been named European Capital of Culture for 2019, which will no doubt hotfoot it right onto the world’s radar. Go anytime before then and you’ll have the caves to yourself. In drizzling winter or in peak season summer, this place is nothing short of impressive.
What’s so special about it? Two words: cave dwellings. This is one of the few places on the planet that has been continuously inhabited since Paleolithic times. Paleowhaaaat? Just means these digs are old! The Sassi is a district in Matera characterized by 1500 prehistoric cave dwellings that were home to its inhabitants for thousands of years, until as recently as the 1950s.
The caves lay abandoned for decades until a group dedicated to restoring them stepped in and began to clean them up. By 1993 they had been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Little by little boutique hotels, restaurants and bars started to open up right in the caves themselves. On our gorgeous Southern Italy tour, we bring guests to stay in one of the most enchanting of these hotels.
Matera only just started to become a real tourism destination in 2014 — a mere four years ago! That’s virtually unheard of in Italy, one of the most visited countries on earth and home to places like Venice, which are practically (and literally!) sinking under the weight of the visitors that tromp through every year. Now, we’re recommending it as one of the 5 Best Places to Travel in Italy in 2018!
Every once in a while, I get amped about a place.
Right now, it’s a guesthouse on the southern coast of Italy, called Il Cannito.
I can imagine myself poolside sporting my straw hat and cotton dress, with one leg dropped into the water, reading my book. Then later, just because, I’d sit under the bright orange umbrella and ponder something important, like if I’m gonna have that third cappuccino.
For dinner, I would start on the homemade cavatelli pasta, then tuck into the fried calamari. As usual, I would linger to coax the spicy sauce onto my last morsel of crusty bread. (This Italian eating ritual is called, la scarpetta).