Are you planning a trip to Southern Italy and wondering which cities to visit? You should put Matera at the top of your list. In fact, consider this your essential guide to Matera, Italy’s best-kept secret – at least for now.
Perched right on top of Italy’s high heel, in the eastern extremities of the region of Basilicata, Matera has been inhabited since Paleolithic times. Since then, the ‘City of Stone’ has gone through prosperous, extremely dark, and then prosperous ages again. At last, the rise of Matera came onto the world stage in 2019 when it was chosen as the European Capital of Culture.
Visiting Matera is nowadays a must for every traveler that is planning a trip to Apulia, or Southern Italy in general. If you’re one of them, this essential travel guide will have you plan your visit to Matera, Italy, in no time.
Where is Matera located in Italy?
Matera is situated in the Southern Italian region of Basilicata, also bordering the area of Puglia where Bari, Alberobello, and Polignano are located. More precisely, Matera is 40 miles from Bari and about 150 miles from Naples and the Amalfi Coast.
See the Matera map below for the exact location.
How to get to Matera, Italy?
By flight – The closest airport is located in Bari. From there, it’s a 1.5-hour bus ride to the center of Matera.
By train – The first step is to reach Bari Central Station, which is connected to most cities in Italy through the Trenitalia rail system (timetables). From Bari Central station, walk to the adjacent Ferrovie Appulo Lucane (FAL) Bari Station. The FAL railways service runs multiple trains throughout the day that stop at Matera Central station. See timetables here.
By car – driving is one of the best ways to get to Matera, as it gives you the freedom to explore the area and then head to nearby regions like Puglia. The only tricky part is parking, as the historical center is not accessible by car. However, there are plenty of parking services that also offer pickup and drop-off services. Here’s one.
Is Matera Worth Visiting?
When it comes to destinations off-the-beaten-track and actually hidden gems in Italy, Matera takes the cake. Featuring incredible scenery, unique artistic and architectural works, and views of incomparable aesthetics and charm, Matera is absolutely worth a visit. And if you need more than that to be fully convinced, below are a few interesting facts that make Matera absolutely unique in Italy:
- Matera holds a few fascinating records. The most shocking one? Matera is the oldest inhabited city in Europe and is on the podium as the oldest city in the world. In first place in this ranking, is Aleppo, Syria, with its 13.000 years; second place is Jericho, West Bank, with 12.000 years. And on the lowest step, with a bit more than 10.000 years, there is Matera.
- Matera’s scenery has regularly been used in films as a stand-in for ancient settlements. The Passion of the Christ (2004), Ben-Hur (2016), and Mary Magdalene (2018) were all filmed in Matera, with the city resembling old Jerusalem. More recently, Wonder Woman (2017) and No Time to Die (2021) were also filmed in the city of Stone.
Matera represents a rare case of an off-the-beaten-path place in Italy. But my guess is that this status won’t last long, with the city trending more and more each summer on IG. My suggestion? Don’t wait much longer. Start organizing your trip and get to Matera before everyone else does!
Is One Day Enough in Matera?
Many people visit Matera on a day trip from Apulia, since it’s just a 1 or 2-hour ride from that region, depending on your starting point.
One day in Matera is enough to explore on foot the entire city center and to include a few stops for visiting some of the most beautiful churches and viewpoints along the way. However, you will probably have to skip the guided tour of the Murgia Regional Park and the Salvador Dalì permanent exhibition.
Overall, I would advise spending at least 2 full days in Matera, but if one day is all you can spare, you’ll still get something special out of it.
5 Best Things To Do in Matera, Italy:
For such a tiny town, Matera offers a remarkable collection of things to see & do – ranging from cultural to gastronomical. Here are a few activities you must put at the top of your list of things to do in Matera, Italy:
1) Explore the ‘Sassi’ districts
What stands Matera apart from all cities in Italy are the cave regions, or Sassi (meaning ‘stone’ in Italian). The best way to experience Matera is to walk through the labyrinthine alleys of the two Sassi districts, Sasso Caveoso and Sasso Barisano, where history is imprinted inside cave houses. Some of these cave dwellings have been nowadays turned into hotels or restaurants, but many have been conserved intact, in memory of the historical identity of Matera. You will find some of them even furnished with authentic tools donated by the descendants of the original inhabitants.
Visit Casa Noha, where a multimedia exhibition set up in a cave home will give you an eye-opening insight into Matera’s collapse and newfound rise. Finally, visit Casa Grotta, located in Vico Solitario, to see a reconstruction of a typical 18th-century cave house.
2) Discover rupestrian churches
Cave churches, or rupestrian churches, are also scattered all around Matera. Originally excavated by monks escaping persecution during the Byzantine Empire, these cave churches were later decorated with frescoes which are still visible today. Beautiful examples can be found inside Chiesa Madonna Delle Virtu and San Nicola Dei Greci in Sasso Barisano and Chiesa di Santa Maria D’Idris.
3) Check out Dalì Permanent Exhibition
At MUSMA, the Contemporary Sculpture Museum, you can marvel at surrealist sculptures against the backdrop of a 12th-century cave monastery. An homage to Spanish artist Salvador Dalí, the exhibition showcases a collection of visionary sculptures alongside the artist’s furniture, gold objects, hand-signed illustrations, and more.
4) Explore Murgia National Park
The striking landscape of the Murgia National Park surrounding Matera is also filled with ancient cave homes and rupestrian churches. Lovers of hiking will enjoy exploring the trails of this protected area and marveling at the stunning viewpoint of Belvedere di Murgia Timone.
5) Find the best viewpoints in Matera
You’ll likely stumble upon most of these viewpoints by yourself while touring the city. But if you’re short on time and would like to get that perfect picture in no time, head to these spectacular belvederes:
- Belvedere ‘Luigi Guerricchio’, right off the Piazza Vittorio Veneto
- Cathedral Square, located right at the top of the Civita
- Belvedere of Santa Maria de Idris
- Belvedere of Giovanni Pascoli Square
Where to eat in Matera
Like every city in Italy, Matera will not let you down when it comes to good food. The region’s traditional cuisine consists mostly of rural soups, ‘Orecchiette’ pasta, and the region’s famous bread: Pane di Matera, an IGP-certified product.
Other traditional Basilicata foods to try: ‘Peperone Crusco’ (crunchy fried peppers), ‘Salame Pezzente’ (pork sausage seasoned with fennel), Cacioricotta and Caciocavallo cheeses, and ‘Baccala alla Lucana’ (salty cod with red peppers). Don’t forget to wash everything down with a nice glass of Aglianico wine.
For a unique dining experience, you may want to try out one of the many restaurants that are located inside caves. I particularly enjoyed meals at the restaurants below:
- Trattoria del Caveoso
- La Lopa
- Osteria al Casale
- Terrazza Cavaliere (for snacks and drinks)
Where to stay in Matera
If you’re spending the night in Matera, I would highly suggest experiencing fully the ‘Sassi’ with a stay in a modern, renovated cave.
If looking to splurge, these romantic, luxury cave hotels won’t disappoint:
- Sextantio Le Grotte Della Civita
- Sant’Angelo Luxury Resort
- Corte San Pietro
A few noteworthy alternatives in a middle-price range:
- La Corte Dei Pastori – for the amazing view from the common terrace
- Le Dimore dell’Idris – for the perfect location
- Locanda Di San Martino Hotel – for the spectacular spa
When is the best time to visit Matera, Italy?
Matera can be visited all year round, but the best time is from April to July or September to November. The temperature is ideal for exploring the city on foot and the crowds are usually manageable. I’d avoid August, as the heat can be unbearable.
Tags: Visit Matera Italy; Matera from Apulia; Matera Basilicata