We went through the first part of our 4-day trip and we covered Bari in the first part. Now we should talk about the more commercial part starting with the town that was crowned as the European capital of culture for 2019 (along with Plovdiv, Bulgaria of course). And that is Matera.
But first – renting a car or using public transport?
If you ask people who have been there (like we did), most will advise you to choose public transport. It would be cheaper (for two people), safer and it’s quite fast. Italians also drive a bit risky and they have quite a few accidents – just look at their bent cars. However, that’s not what I would recommend.
Yes, public transport might have some advantages as having a car in the small streets of Italy might be a bit challenging. Parking, especially in Bari, was a bit of a mess too. But the pure pleasure of driving through Italy is on another level. We got our little Fiat 500, which to be honest surprised me by being a pretty good plucky car.
Matera – European Capital of Culture
An amazing and definitely a must-see town. The population is a bit over 60 000, the architecture is astonishing, the roads are medieval in the old part. The ancient part of the town is on a hill and the view is spectacular. It gets even better if you go on the other side as you will be seeing the full magic of Matera.
Itinerary touristic routes are designated in the whole ancient part and they show you the pedestrian way. It makes everything easier and simpler making sure that you don’t miss a thing. We followed the route, checked the sights and it was especially mesmerizing when we were around the furthest part of the town.
Matera is an incredible place. The main street is full of cute restaurants, gift shops, small pasticcerias with amazing sweets like fresh croissants, brioche, and canolli. There were quite a few tourists but I guess that later in the year it gets crowded. We let ourselves get lost in the upper part of the old town after going through the full tourist route. Fewer tourists but more natives, fewer crowds but more smiling Italians.
It won’t be a real trip to Italy if we don’t spend time on their specialty – the food. Most restaurants were working but we had a very hard time finding a free table for two. By going through the whole ancient part we were left with the impression that there aren’t enough restaurants to cover the incoming tourists.
We finally struck some luck in a big restaurant on the upper side. You should definitely try the traditional Matera bread, especially on bruschettas. Since the region is close to the Adriatic sea, seafood is a must and it can be combined in numerous options. The one that I chose was Spaghetti alla chitarra with codfish, pesto, and pistachios – incredible! My girlfriend had pappardelle with porcini mushrooms and goat cheese – another amazing dish!
On the Other Side
While being in the town itself is an experience out of this world, being on the other side of the canyon is nothing less than stunning. There is a good but narrow road that will get you to improvised parking – no more than 15-20 minute drive. Another 15-20 minutes of walking will take you to the place where you want to be. The hill opens an unbelievable view over Matera. We stayed there and waited for the sunset and it was amazing. It made the day in Matera even more special.
The only thing that we regret is not staying at least one night to sleep in this beautiful part of Puglia. For one day you can see a lot but having a night spent there and being as close to the natives as possible will give you a more thorough point of view.
We also didn’t get the chance to see the Casa Grotta di Vico Solitario – a former cave hose and now a museum. Sassi area included cave dwellings carved into the mountainside where people actually lived up until 1952. They were all abandoned because of poor living conditions back then. Today, with the help of UNESCO and the European Union, some of them are thriving with successful businesses like pubs and even hotels. I would definitely want to spend a night in one of those amazing historical inheritances.