Matera is a remarkable city in Basilicata, a little-visited region in Italy’s extreme south.

A visit to Matera steeps travelers into a unique world of art, history, culture, folklore and the slow pace of Italy’s Mezzogiorno. Matera is famous for its cave dwellings located in the Sassi neighborhoods; homes carved into the soft tufa rock that have been inhabited since the Paleolithic period. It’s ancient on another level, and yet also a working, modern city.

Visit Matera to see this beautiful panorama by night

Foto di blank76 da Pixabay

Rural and remote, Matera isn’t the easiest place to reach, which is likely why it hasn’t long been on the radar of many international travelers. But after gaining UNESCO World Heritage Status in 1993 and being declared the European Capital of Culture in 2019 the city is finally starting to get the mentions it deserves.

Today many visitors travel hundreds of kilometers to see this ancient city made contemporary. With one-of-a-kind accommodations complete with modern amenities, travelers are ready to see Italy’s magical city of stone.

Here’s why you should visit Matera on your next trip to Italy:

To walk the stone streets of one of the oldest cities in the world

Matera is counted as one of the three oldest cities in the entire world. It’s been inhabited since the Paleolithic period, the earliest period of human development, as troglodytes carved cave dwellings into the steep rock. Though estimates on the exact dates of Matera’s first occupation vary, evidence from the Neolithic period and even earlier has been found. Today it’s one of the few locations this ancient that is also so comfortable to our modern tastes. Where else can you sleep in accommodation first used 9,000 years ago?

To visit one of the most unique destinations in the world

Visit the Sassi in Matera, Italy
Photo by  Tomas Turek from Pixabay

Matera is one of the most unique destinations on earth, and certainly one of the most unique in Italy thanks to its infamous Sassi districts. In the Sassi, hundreds of cave dwellings spot the steep landscape. Here you can step back in time to walk along ancestral roads and staircases, to rupestrian (carved in rock) churches, and elaborate cave systems-turned-houses or wine cellars or hotels

The Sassi of Matera were a splendor of history, but by the 1950s they were little more than squalid hovels, unacceptable to today’s standards. The caves had barely changed or improved from hundreds of years earlier and the squalor and unsanitary conditions in the town were declared the “vergogna nazionale” or the national disgrace. The citizens were forcibly moved out and relocated to modern houses in a village atop the nearby plateau, leaving Matera abandoned.

In the 1980s interest in the Sassi returned, and many residents began moving back to the area to renovate the old cave houses, eventually turning the empty shell of a town into a fascinating urban center set in an ancient landscape. In fact, UNESCO declared the entire town a World Heritage Site for being the “most outstanding, intact example of a troglodyte settlement in the Mediterranean region, perfectly adapted to its terrain and ecosystem.”

Today, Matera’s cave-dwellings are elegant and comfortable, complete with spas, gyms, restaurants, and wifi.

To marvel at the underground architecture

Though the caves might seem like simple dugouts, they’re actually intricate structures that can be quite complex architecturally. Elaborate renovations were made during the Renaissance when many caves gained new façades, vaulted ceilings or complicated staircases connecting arches, attics, balconies, and cantinas. The Sassi have dozens of tunnels connecting them, proving that what we see is just a scratch under the surface of this elaborate cave system.

Besides the caves, head underground to see the wonders of ancient technology in the Palombaro Lungo, the largest of the Palombari water collection tank system. The Palombaro Lungo is a giant cistern carved into the rock, as large as an underground cathedral, that has supplied water to Materans as far back as the 16th-century. Ingenious and state-of-the-art for the time, the system located under Piazza Vittorio Veneto is one of the best-conserved examples of historical hydraulics and architecture in the world.

To follow the faith across centuries

A view of San Pietro Caveoso Church in beautiful Matera
Photo by chatst2 from Pixabay

Matera is a land with a strong faith going back centuries. There are at least 21 parishes and several churches that have been carved into or out of the rock, as well as others built aboveground on the Piano (plateau) above the town. Then there are the more than 150 churches in the Sassi district itself along with the Murgia National Park.

Though it might be impossible to properly see them all on one trip, the town’s churches are a fundamental part of its history and truly a must-see. Start with the Romanesque Cathedral, whose privileged position atop Civitas hill gives breathtaking views overlooking the Sassi Barisano. Other favorites include the death-themed Chiesa del Purgatorio, the Lecce-inspired San Francesco d’Assisi, the simple interior of Materdomini and the great views from Sant’Agostino.

To see the rupestrian churches of the Murgia National Park

The Park of the Murgia Materana overlooks Matera from gorges and caves beyond the Gravina ravine. A UNESCO World Heritage site along with the Sassi of Matera, here you’ll find more than 150 rock churches to explore.

These rock churches, known as rupestrian churches, were mostly constructed in the Byzantine Empire of the 8th and 9th centuries. Though many are not so well conserved, some of the cave churches still have faded Byzantine frescoes inside. A favorite rupestrian visit is Santa Maria de Idris. Partly carved into the rock and partly built, this 12th-century church is connected by tunnel to the rock crypt of St. John in Monterrone.

Though they were created as religious places of worship, over the years many of the rupestrian churches became multi-use, serving as homes or stables for animals, including the popular Crypt of Original Sin, considered the Sistine Chapel of rupestrian art for its magnificent 8th-century frescoes.

To experience a real-life movie set

Ancient and enchanting, Matera is the perfect setting for historical films and TV series. Though there are older settlements in the Middle East that film crews could use, few are as easy to access with as comfortable accommodations and amenities as Matera.

Approximately 90 movies have been filmed in Matera, from documentaries to neorealism pieces to TV fiction. Film buffs who want to catch a glimpse of Matera’s majestic backdrops can rent Nel Mezzogiorno Qualcosa È Cambiato, a documentary on the plight of Matera in the 1950s; Gli Anni Ruggenti, a comedy about an insurance salesman caught in a misunderstanding in the South; L’Uomo delle Stelle, which is set in Sicily but shot in Matera; or of course, The Passion by Mel Gibson, a story of the last 12 hours of Jesus’ life.

To view modern art in the world’s only ancient cave museum

A city carved into the rock, Matera is innately a city of sculpture. Though the ancient sculpture is the town itself, more contemporary fare is still available. Matera’s Museum of Contemporary Sculpture, or MUSMA, is the only cave-museum in the world. Housed in the underground of Palazzo Pomarici, the story of Italian and international sculpture is told through 500 different pieces.

After all, what more delightful place to view contemporary sculpture art than in a remarkably ancient town carved by cavemen themselves?

To celebrate the Festa della Bruna

Visit Matera during the Festa della Bruna to see these wonderful lights
Photo by Fabio Eramo via Festa della Bruna Gruppo Ufficiale Facebook Page.

The Festa della Bruna is the principal event in Matera’s calendar, truly the Materans’ New Year’s Day. Though it’s celebrated for an entire week, the culmination is on July 2nd when time stops in Matera to celebrate the town’s patron saint. Dating back to the 14th century and in remembrance of the Madonna, the festival is far from solely religious, going from sunrise into the dead of night.

The entire town is illuminated by bright lights and decorations. Market stalls and town bands set the atmosphere and a procession of shepherds “wake up” the town at the crack of dawn on the day of the event. Later, the statue of Madonna della Bruna is carried through the town streets on a parade float to the Duomo. Once there, the crowd attacks the float, destroying it piece by piece – a piece of the float is thought to bring luck. The entire event concludes with a huge firework display on the other side of the ravine in the Murgia Park.

A festival for locals by locals, it’s a dramatic event for tourists who, if prepared, can witness the excitement, passion, and euphoria of the event.

Travelers to Matera experience a unique destination, taste the city’s distinctive slow pace and step into a world unto itself. And that’s reason enough to visit!

Visit this one-of-a-kind city with Ciao Andiamo’s expert guide on our Mediterranean Escape trip

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There are few places as innately romantic as Italy. A sentimental land of beauty and indulgence, Italians embrace romance in all its forms. Here beauty is appreciated for beauty’s sake – in the art, the architecture, in a truly good meal, and in the details of a finely-stitched dress. It’s easy to find love, fall in love, and appreciate love in a country as glamorous and passionate as Italy. Not only that, but the entire country is absolutely breathtaking. Each location serving as the perfect backdrop to your romantic dreams. You don’t need to come to Italy in February to tap into the country’s romance – it permeates the air year-round!

Here’s How to Find Romance in Beautiful Italy:

Walk along the water 

A beautiful view over Lake Como in Italy, one of the most romantic places in Italy
Image by Burghard Mohren

Little beats a romantic water walk with a breathtaking landscape. Set against the foothills of the Alps, northern Italy’s lakes offer the perfect backdrop for a scenic lakefront walk. Whether it’s the popular Como, or less well-known Iseo, Garda, Maggiore, or Orta, the landscape and charming villages have plenty to enjoy. Try the brief but suggestive lungolago in Varenna on the Lago di Como, aptly named the “lover’s walkway”, or stroll the elaborately paved path along Como’s lakefront.

Visit Limone sul Garda, an ancient fishing town with suggestive alleys on Lake Garda, the largest of the northern Lakes. Check out the sunset at the lemon grove of the town’s castle (because shouldn’t every romantic Italian town have a castle?) or criss-cross the lake with the ferry. Another favorite is beautiful Sirmione, often called the pearl of Lake Garda. 

Though it’s usually overlooked for the above-mentioned lakes, Lake Iseo is just as beautiful as its big sisters. Smaller than Como and Garda, Lago di Iseo is intimate and cozy and described as the most romantic lake by its own tourism board. Tour the area’s quintessential towns or catch a ferry to Monte Isola, Europe’s largest lake island. Iseo also happens to be nestled in the gorgeous Franciacorta wine region, known for its high-quality, sparkling wines. From some vineyard tours, you can catch glimpses of the sparkling water beyond. 

In Italy’s northern lakes, it’s all about enjoying beauty for beauty’s sake, whether you’re strolling the promenade, eyeing the expansive mountains from the water, or surrounding yourself with the lush gardens of the elegant villas.

Soak in a thermal spa 

Find romance in Italy with beautiful views like this one over the bay from Ischia

 

You may not think to travel all the way to Italy just to visit a spa, but Italians are masters of la dolce vita, and a huge part of that includes some classic self-care. Thermal springs were used by the ancient Romans to cure what ails, thanks to the aqueducts that allowed the Empire to control the flow of water. 

Today, try the Bagni Vecchi in Bormio, Lombardy, an ancient spa complex roughly 2,000 years old. Written about by Pliny the Elder and mentioned by Leonardo da Vinci in his Codex Atlanticus, it was visited by the Archduchess of Austria and her husband, Archduke Ferdinand, and possibly even Napoleon during the Napoleonic period. Located in the mountains, the baths have a natural steam cave, Roman baths dug into a cave, a sauna with a view, and a massive panoramic outdoor pool looking out across the valley. 

Or, follow the sun to the beautiful island of Ischia, off the coast of Naples. The volcanic geography of the region has created hundreds of natural thermal springs, cementing the relaxed island as a premier thermal destination and wellness retreat. The sulfuric waters are thought to provide relief with arthritis, skin conditions, and respiratory diseases. Between the relaxing thermal springs and the gorgeous seafront views, you can easily turn on the romantic vacation mode with a full day of pampering on Ischia.

Watch the sunset

Twilight over the romantic city of Florence

The sunset in Italy is beautiful in just about any location, but there are a few views worth planning for. 

One of the best views of Florence is from atop the hill at Piazzale Michelangelo at the evocative San Miniato del Monte church. Though it is just a thirty-minute walk from the banks of the Arno, visitors can choose to catch a bus to the top of the hill if they prefer. Time your visit just right to catch the last rays of the golden Tuscan sun set over this spectacular city.  

Or, head to the top of the Duomo of Milan – a massive terrace that brings you up close and personal to the beautiful marble, spires, and gargoyles of this infamous Gothic cathedral. Though you won’t be able to watch the sun officially set (it closes before dark), you can enjoy the setting sun with views over the city and, on a clear day, to the Alps beyond. 

Finally, we can’t forget a classic beachfront sunset. Take a romantic vacation to one of Italy’s famous islands, like Sardinia, and be sure to carve out some time to sit on the beach and enjoy nature’s free event. There’s little as simple, effortless and memorable as a sunset with a loved one.

Stroll the streets of an ancient city

Love locks on a bridge in Verona, one of Italy's most romantic cities
So called “love locks” can be found in city’s throughout Italy, supposedly symbolizing eternal love and commitment.

In Italy, romance is everywhere. It rises from the cobblestone streets and sweeps across the scenery. The truth is, much of Italy’s romance is simply in the atmosphere. Filled with charming villages to stroll and explore, grab your loved one’s hand and enjoy the details of Spello, Umbria, officially one of the most beautiful villages in Italy, or head to the true via del amore in Pienza, Tuscany.  

Of course, there’s always the cobbled streets and architectural icons of Verona— the setting of Shakespeare’s celebrated Romeo & Juliet. Italy’s veritable city of love, travelers can step back in time with a visit to Juliet’s balcony, and after, find their own romance among the stylish shops on via Mazzini and impressively frescoed houses of in Piazza delle Erbe. Besides just enjoying the beauty of the pink limestone Arena di Verona (built before its Colosseum lookalike), visitors in the summer can actually see an opera inside the arena, sitting under the night sky on the same stone seats as citizens in 30 AD. We have all the details for you on How to See an Opera in the Verona Arena.

Tour a garden in bloom 

beautiful orange vase and a view of the sea from the Amalfi Coast

Italy knows how to do gardens. With a spring that arrives earlier than most American temperate regions and a summer that extends well into October in some areas, there’s no shortage of gorgeous blooms, perfectly hedged pathways, and magnificent sculptures to see. There are gardens from knee to toe of Italy’s boot, but one of our favorites is the unexpected splendor of the Isola Bella gardens in Piedmont. Located on an island of Lago Maggiore, Isola Bella is a botanic and architectural dream; a craggy rock-turned paradise. Literally, ‘beautiful island’ in English, tons of soil was shipped to the island in the 17th century to build what we see today: a perfectly terraced Italian garden with greenery on staircases, a show-stopping amphitheater, statues, obelisks, and of course, peacocks. It truly lives up to its name! 

Further south is the widely famous Villa d’Este gardens in Lazio. A UNESCO World Heritage Site in Tivoli, just 20 minutes outside of Rome, they’re considered some of the most beautiful gardens in all of Italy. Built on the grounds of a 16th-century villa, the Villa d’Este gardens were an impressive feat of hydraulic engineering, with fountains that sprayed nearly 50 feet without the use of pumps, water that flowed uphill, and an organ fountain that could play a musical composition by water alone. Though the musical fountain no longer plays, the garden is still mind-bending, with more than 600 fountains, spouts and water jets, 64 waterfalls and nearly 900 meters of canals, each working entirely by the force of gravity without any mechanical intervention. 

With beautiful weather, beautiful surroundings, and more than impressive sights, why not take your loved one through a stroll of one of Italy’s most beautiful gardens? There are plenty to choose from at 13 of The Most Beautiful Gardens in Italy.


 

Relax seaside

The beautiful beach in Polignano al Mare, Puglia: Where to Find Romance in Beautiful Italy

Little can compare to the atmosphere and beauty of Italy’s coastal towns. Whether you just want to soak in the salt air or spend your days in luxury on the beaches, with nearly 5,000 miles of Italian coastline, you just have to take your pick!  

Try the scenic Amalfi Coast with quaint towns built into the green hillside. Here you can tour the coast, shop for ceramics or olive oil, and enjoy a seafood dinner with local, homemade limoncello. With dramatic landscapes, winding roads, and non-stop coastal views, it’s hard not to feel the romance in a place like the Amalfi Coast. 

Then, cross the country to visit the Adriatic coastline in gorgeous Puglia, the heel of Italy’s boot. There you can visit charming seaside towns such as Monopoli, Ostuni, or Polignano a Mare, with dramatic limestone cliffs and crystalline water that can take your breath away! A jutting peninsula between the Adriatic and Ionian seas, travelers can find sandy beaches, pebble beaches and steep cliffs among the many Blue Flag awarded beaches. There are hundreds of beaches and beach towns to enjoy in Puglia, here are some of our favorites

Revel in the seaside beauty of southern Italy on our Mediterranean Escape trip to the Amalfi Coast and Puglia. 

Get your hearts pumping

find romance in the snow-capped peaks of the Dolomites

For some, the best romantic date is action-packed. Luckily, Italy has a wealth of outdoor activities and adrenaline-packed adventures. By far the easiest place for this is the Dolomites, with skiing and snowshoeing options in the winter (and even heli-skiing for thrill-seekers) and hiking and biking in the summer. You could even try skiing or hiking on an active volcano. Mount Etna in Sicily is Europe’s biggest volcano and one of the most active in the world! A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Etna is a fundamental part of Sicily’s history and geography, and also happens to offer some great adventures for active travelers!  

Travelers to Italy can tour caves in Le Marche, sea-kayak off the coasts of Elba and Sardinia, ride bikes in Tuscany, and cliff-jump in Puglia. There are plenty of active options in Italy. Sometimes getting moving and trying something new together is romance enough in such beautiful destinations! 

Explore the breathtaking Dolomite mountain range by day and relax in mountain lodges at night on our Alpine Adventure trip in the Dolomites


 

Ignite your taste buds with a wine tasting

The vineyards of Piedmont: Where to Find Romance in Beautiful Italy

Dive into the sights, aromas, and tastes of Italy with a romantic vineyard tour and wine tasting. For many, Italy is synonymous with wine, and what better way to try it than with a fully immersive experience? Some favorite vineyards are in Tuscany, but remember, it’s not the only world-class wine produced in Italy. Try a wine tasting in the verdant green hills of Montefalco, Umbria or in Piedmont’s Langhe region, a UNESCO World Heritage site for its wine production. 

It’s in Piedmont that you can find the “king of wines” made from the delicious Nebbiolo grapes: Barolo. Home to Barolo and Barbaresco, challenge your loved one to find different varietals and discover different native grapes, like Ruchè, Grignolino and Moscato Bianco, or Arneis and Roero. Wine, cheese, the pungent and decadent white truffle, charming villages and rolling Italian vineyards – it’s everything you need for romance. 

Tour vineyards and delight in Piedmont’s gastronomical delights with Ciao Andiamo on our Castles, Truffles and Barolo trip. Click here to learn more!


 

Indulge in a lingering, Italian dinner

Wine for two at a romantic table in ItalyHere’s How to Find Romance in Beautiful Italy

When in Rome, do as the Romans do. The easiest way to “look like a local” is to eat like a local. Italians love their food and they wholeheartedly enjoy a good meal. So, when in Italy, get caught up in the dolce vita and don’t rush it! Whether you’re in the Eternal City soaking in the romance of Rome, in the sun-kissed land of Sicily, or the tip-top of the Alps, you can enjoy a lingering Italian dinner. 

Order an antipasto, primo, secondo. Enjoy the conversation, the company. Take a break before dessert and coffee. Linger, indulge, and soak in the true romance of Italy. Buon appetito! 

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