Cities like Athens, Rome and Pompeii are renown across the globe for their ability to transport you back in time. The untouched ruins, well-preserved artwork and ancient buildings still used every day act as a sort of time-machine, making the gap between past and present ever so close.
One town which does just that and more, and yet is still virtually unknown to most travellers, is the town of Matera, in the Basilicata, region of Southern Italy. The ‘Stassi’ part of town houses a series of cave dwellings carved into the mountainside which were inhabited by locals up until 1952.
It feels like 50BC rather than the turn of the 21st century, which is probably why the town has been used by many filmmakers as the setting for ancient Jerusalem. Movies such as Passion of the Christ, Mary Magdalen and Ben-Hur have all been filmed in these streets.
How to get there
Matera is best accessed from the larger nearby city of Bari. Bari is generally well connected to other main Italian cities, but to get to Bari from a neighbouring country you’ll most likely need to change at a larger central station such as Rome or Milan. See Trenitalia to plan your journey to Bari.
From Bari North Station (Bari Nord), you must change to a special railway called Ferrovie Appulo Lucane (FAL) which offers 14 trains each day to Matera (6 express) and takes around 1 hour 30 minutes.
To get to this special railway, exit from the main station at Bari and head to the yellow building (when you exit the train station out towards the car park it is to your left). Here, you can purchase your ticket to Matera costing around €5. These trains are very modern and will loudly announce the approaching station – you’ll need to get off at Matera Centrale station.
Want to visit the nearby town of Alberobello? Unfortunately there isn’t any transport directly connecting the two as they lie in two separate regions and have different public transport companies. You will need to head back to Bari then take a train or bus on to Alberobello.
How to get around
Matera is a very small town, you can easily walk wherever you need to go. The local bus service also runs throughout town, with accurate schedules available through Google Maps.
Where to eat
The restaurant “Baccanti” offers faultless Italian cuisine for such an affordable price – the olive oil with bread is incredible let alone the authentic and delicious main meals.
Where to stay
A handful of hostels run in Matera, costing between €17 and €20 a night.
The Rock Hostel is an all-round winner; great location and facilities and a 9+ rating on Hostel World. For something a little cheaper, L’Ostello dei Sassi is also a good option – located centrally and has a great kitchen and amenities. But the beds are all in one open room with dividers meaning little sound management, lights generally kept on and very constricted living quarters. If you’re here for one night, a heavy sleeper and plan to get up at dawn you’ll have no problems.
An idea of costs for one day in Matera:
€47 per day
– Hostel: €20 per night
– Deli sandwich for breakfast: €5
– Meal at Baccanti restaurant (including bread & dessert): €17
– Home-cooked dinner at hostel: €5
How long to spend here
1 to 2 full days of exploring can suffice in this small town.
What to see and do
Wandering through the streets of the Old Town is a definite must. Wake up with the sun and stroll through the almost empty sandstone streets, and let yourself be taken back in time.
Hike down into the gorge, across a rope bridge and up the other side of the cliff for a spectacular view back to Matera. By following the worn trails and trekking over the hills and surrounding countryside you will also come across old churches and more abandoned caves – just keep exploring and most paths will link you back to where you started.
If you are staying for the night, Area 8 is also a great place to go for a drink or two and mingle with locals.