Italy

The Sassi of Matera

After our wonderful breakfast, we checked out and rolled our luggage up those stairs to wait for the bus…thinking to save from the transfer cost of €15. We waited, waited and waited for over half an hour and the bus did not show up! We were getting nervous and a lady at the bus stop saw us waited for a long time and offered help to call our hotel to arrange a transfer. Then, a guy arrived, he was the night shift receptionist and said the van is coming. Italians are so nice! The van came and we arrived the ferry port to catch our ferry back to Naples. The houses along the port are colorful as well!

The island across from Procida is Ischia, a bigger island with more choices of hotels but not as crowded as Capri nor as expensive! Another alternative or a day trip if you have more time 🙂

Once we got off Naples port, we catch a taxi to take us to Naples main train station where we’ll be picking up the rental car from Hertz. There was a fixed rate from the ferry port to the main train station – €11 and we got a glimpse of the city – looked very dark, dirty, and crowded. The streets were filled with motorcycles and people crossing the streets, it was chaotic! There was no place for the taxi to pull over to drop us off at the main train station so as soon as I saw the Hertz rental office, I told him that he could drop us across the street. He dropped us in the middle of traffic, yes it was a traffic jam, I didn’t have change so I took out €15. The taxi driver tried to look for change in his car but he couldn’t find any, can you believe it, a taxi driver doesn’t carry change? Instead of giving me back €5, he said sorry and left! People said Naples’ taxi drivers were the most dishonest and I can attest that! If you plan to take taxi in Naples, make sure you carry exact change! Lesson learned!

We picked up the rental car and started our adventurous drive out of Naples because it was really scary; jam-packed with motorcycles, buses, and people! I felt nervous for Jason but he got us safely out of Naples and off we go to Matera!!! It was a good long 3 hours+ drive to Matera and we Googled a restaurant along the way near the A3 highway so we can just exit, eat, and get back on the road. We were so lucky to find a local restaurant, La Vecchia Cucina da Ernesto, where there was no English menu and instead only one menu that was hand-written! Oh wow must be very local!

We ordered a whole table of seafood freshly made in the kitchen that we could see through.

With my limited Italian vocabularies and the waitress tried to explain in her limited English, we placed an order. The clam and mussel pasta, a little bit salty as well, I think this region in Southern Italy tend to be more on the salty side but nevertheless, it was good.

Then, we saw the table next to us with a grilled seafood platter, we asked and ordered that without even ask for the price LOL! The huge seafood platter came out to be filled with my favorite shrimps and we thought those were calamari turned out to be two huge pieces of tuna! We couldn’t even finish the tuna and we were full; I am not a tuna person. The delicious seafood feast cost us €20.50 per person only! Look at this huge plate!

We headed back on the highway again to continue on our journey where we passed by some pretty cruise port towns!

They were so thought to build some lookouts along the coastal-hugging highway! This was our car for the mini road trip, it was pretty new and have all those buzzing sensors great for the narrow streets 🙂

We passed many mountains and once I saw a sign “Matera”, I was on the lookout for the first view of Matera but didn’t manage to do so because Matera was hidden that you wouldn’t be able to see it until you get there! Even when we arrived, it looked nothing like I seen in photos! We followed the instructions from our host (booked from booking.com – Il Tempo Ritrovato)…..those narrow streets but luckily our house was located on one of the main roads:

We were on the street but couldn’t locate the house number so I texted the host and she came out to meet us, her name is Tina and she was super nice! This is her cute house that she rented out while her own house is located on the top of it, how convenient! Matera, similar to Santorini where the cave houses were built stacking on top of each other. While Santorini is built on a cliff; Matera is built on a small canyon.

Our house for the next two nights!

The moment I saw her house at booking.com, I already decided on it! This little cave house was nothing but cuteness filled with warming welcome and felt like home sweet home. The little details decorated by Tina was amazing, was she an interior designer? Even though Tina spoke very limited English but I could feel her effort on trying to communicate with us.

This was one of the loveliest apartment we had stayed in. Tina stocked the fridge with breakfast items and juices, all free for us! I still remember those yummy cute glass bottles of peach juice!

Tina saw the link to my travel blog on my booking.com profile and she read my blog; she told me she enjoyed following my travel adventures 🙂 She even put “Welcome Miss Vacation and Company” on the board, she is such a sweet lady!

Cookies, teas, and biscuits!

Our romantic bed, most of the decors in her house were heart shaped as you can see 🙂

On the very end of the cave house was the restroom and I was pleasantly surprised that it did not have the molding smell, unlike other cave houses we stayed in. In fact, there was no bad smell at bad, instead, fragrance oil. The water pressure in the shower was excellent too, the shower head has changing LED lights that looked very high-tech haha. Tina provided full sized body wash, shampoo, and conditioner and those were definitely not cheap ones! There were napkins, shower cap, slippers, everything you could think of in a 5 stars hotel! The house was simply perfect!

Upstairs was another “bedroom” with a queen size bed, I thought it would be two twin size beds put together like other European hotels but instead it was really a queen bed. 

After a mini tour of the cave house, we had to move our car to the parking garage located around 15 minutes walk from the house. Overnight parking rate wasn’t too bad, I think it was less than €10. The parking garage was “on the top of the hill” near this main shopping street:

Hum…so far I haven’t see the Matera that looked like in photos. Then, we passed by this church, Chiesa del Purgatorio:

We continued walking down the main street and came across Gelida Voglia, the number one rated gelato in Matera! We have to try it even though it was a cloudy day and not hot weather for gelato. Italian gelato is my favorite ice cream!

It was delicious but I had better melon flavored in Alberobello as I told Sokunna. We passed more beautiful buildings and churches all in one consistent color – yellow stone. We saw flags everywhere that Matera will be the Italian host of the European Capital of Culture for 2019; great that we got here before it became popular!

We saw a sign pointing to a panoramic view of the “Sassi di Matera”, the historical center. “Sassi” means stones in Italian which described the city well. WOWWW, now this looked more like the Matera that I saw in photos! The cloudy day added extra “gloominess” to the monotoned color of Matera.

We walked up to Matera Cathedral for another panoramic view of the Sassi.

Matera Cathedral:

Even though the stone color made it look old (Matera’s history dated back to the Palaeolithic age!!!) and dirty but it was extremely clean, not a single sight of trash! They did a great job preserving this unique land, it was a huge contrast to the ancient but dirty Fes in Morocco that we just had been to!

Now I understand that Sassi di Matera is like a “V” shape, when we arrived, we were on the bottom of the “V” where our apartment is located so it didn’t look like the Matera in photos. It took some effort to take a photo of looking down LOL!

From the Matera Cathedral, we walked down one flight of stairs for a different view:

Then we found the angle and spot we like and it was photo time, we were surprised we were the only one there and hardly came across another tourist hahaha!

After probably half an hour or so LOL, we finally moved on, walked down to the bottom of the “V” and up the other way. Those stairs were a good exercise!

Matera was once the “shame of Italy” due to its poverty and living condition in a “slum”. Most of the dwellings were not livable that the government forced locals to move out leaving the whole historical center abandoned in the early 1950s. Then in the 1980s, they had a volunteer program to clean up the abandoned center. Until 1993, UNESCO declared the Sassi as a World Heritage and then the government leased the houses for a nominal cost with the agreement of renovating/restoring the cave houses. Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ was filmed there! You can read the history of Matera’s transformation at: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/travel/mater-went-from-ancient-civilization-slum-hidden-gem-180949445/

Matera is a great example of balancing the historical architectures with the modern world without modernizing it; I much prefer this than high skyscrapers! I generally like colorful villages and on the goal to see all the most colorful villages in the world but I was equally in love with this colorless city!

The souvenir we saw around Matera; I like the yellow square one that reflected Matera.

Church of Saint Francis of Assisi:

Back to Chiesa del Purgatorio again!

A rare pink colored building in Matera as all others are in its natural yellow stone color.

Palazzo Lanfranchi:

Next to Palazzo Lanfranchi was another panoramic view point: Belvedere Piazzetta Pascoli

We walked down and trying to reach Chiesa di Santa Maria di Idris and then surprisingly passed our apartment LOL, now we were better oriented on where we are in the Sassi.

Matera is built on the small canyon carved out by this river, Torrente Gravina, and across from it you can see more historical caves (see those caves on the right side of the photo)?

Chiesa di Santa Maria di Idris, the church carved out of this big piece of rock raised up in the middle and bottom of the “V”!

Here, gave another panoramic view of the Sassi.

Chiesa di San Pietro Caveoso that overlook the river below.

I think this is my favorite spot in Matera!

Jason was carrying his selfie stick around ready to take photos anytime haha!

No idea what the sign on the wall said but it looked very magical haha!

We walked down to Chiesa di San Pietro Caveoso, the rock on the right side is Chiesa di Santa Maria di Idris.

With all those flights of stairs, we were super hungry so we headed to Soul Kitchen, a highly rated restaurant in the Sassi. The restaurant is also a cave house, unique right?

The restaurant is famous for its grilled beef…..grilled perfectly!

Jason ordered a huge T-bone!

For dessert, Sokunna and I opted for tiramisu, my favorite even though the waiter highly recommended their famous panna cotta with peperoni cruschi. Jason was curios about it so he ordered the panna cotta to try it out.

The tiramisu turned out weird, it was not the same as the ones I had before in Italy, it was lacking the creamy texture and coffee taste 🙁

Jason’s panna cotta with peperoni cruschi looked interesting, he took a bite and said it was VERY GOOD! Both Sokunna and I dug a small piece and it was SOOOOO GOOD! We looked at Jason enviously LOL and the waiter came to ask us on how we like it. We both said we wished we ordered the panna cotta with peperoni cruschi instead!!!

Guess what, in a few minutes, the waiter brought out a panna cotta with peperoni cruschi for us two for free!!! It was such a touching moment, Italy is the friendliest country I have ever been to!!! The wonderful meal cost €26 per person and totally worth it for the steak quality and the service!

After dinner, we walked quickly back up to the panoramic viewpoint: Belvedere Piazzetta Pascoli for the night view of the Sassi, it was beautiful!

Next, we walked to the Matera Cathedral for more night photos, the yellow stoned cave houses lit up with lights turned stone into gold colored. It was such a romantic ending to our day in Matera 🙂

Matera Cathedral that we’ll be checking out in the next morning.

As we were walking down the hill to get back to our house, more photos of Matera at night. It was very peaceful and we felt absolutely safe to walk around at night, we really enjoyed this atmosphere!

Palazzo Lanfranchi at night:

More night photos of Matera from Chiesa di San Pietro Caveoso, this is my favorite viewpoint day and night!

The mysterious and magical looking sign again as I was waiting down there for Jason LOL!

Goodnight Matera! We all agreed that Matera is our favorite stop in this trip so far!

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