This entry chronicles the last 3 nights of adventures. We started off this portion with a stay at Castello di Monterone, a small restored 13th-century castle in Perugia, Italy. It is located in the road that connects Perugia to Assisi, very close to the Monastery of San Pietro and to the Church of San Bevignate. We were fortunate enough to have a lovely room overlooking the courtyard with it’s own private exterior staircase (which wasn’t so bad when we had help taking our luggage up that winding stone staircase). Since we knew we had a long day planned the following day, we opted to have dinner at the property’s restaurant.
The next day we started with a long drive to the Apulia region in Southern Italy. We arrived just after dark at Alberobello. This small town is known for their trulli style of structures. The oldest trulli known today are at Alberobello, dating back to the 14th Century. The trullo’s dry-wall construction, without mortar, was imposed on new settlers so that they could dismantle their shelters in a hurry: an efficient means to evade taxes on new settlements under the Kingdom of Naples, and certainly a good way to deter unruly lords. We did some window shopping followed by dinner featuring local cuisine which was recommended by the very welcoming staff at the resort. The trullo we stayed in had a loft area which demonstrated the cone roof associated with the building style.
We woke up to a light rain the next morning which quickly transitioned into a torrential downpour with lightning and thunder while we were getting some sightseeing done. We checked out and headed to see the Caves of Castellana, quickly to discover once we arrived that the tour was only available in Italian and no photography was allowed. So we opted to make our way to our next destination….Matera.
Matera is in the region of Basilicata, in Southern Italy. The town’s historical center “Sassi”, along with the Park of the Rupestrian Churches, is considered a World Heritage Site by UNESCO since 1993. The area of what is now Matera has been settled since the Paleolithic period. The Sassi are habitations dug into the calcareous rock itself. Many of them are really little more than caverns, and in some parts of the Sassi a street lies on top of another group of dwellings. The ancient town grew up on one slope of the rocky ravine created by a river that is now a small stream, and this ravine is known locally as “la Gravina”.
Matera is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. You are struck by it’s sheer beauty. It is so hard to imagine that in the 1950s, the government of Italy used force to relocate most of the population of the Sassi to areas of the developing modern city. Until the late 1980s the Sassi was considered an area of poverty, since its dwellings were, and in most cases still are, uninhabitable. The present local administration, however, has become more tourism-oriented, and it has promoted the regeneration of the Sassi with the aid of the Italian government, UNESCO, and Hollywood. Today there are many thriving businesses, pubs, and hotels. We were fortunate enough to stay at Sextantio Le Grotte della Civita, who has been a big proponent in restoring some of the sassi into beautiful and charming accommodations which are welcoming while still preserving the simplicity of their prior history. We relaxed in our cave for a while, snacking on crackers with white truffle spread, some wild boar salami and cheese with a bottle of wine before making our way up the steep staircases into the main portion of town. This old part of town is truly charming and unspoiled. I know this area is gaining in popularity for tourists but I hope they keep the charm we experienced. It is a really special area. I mean, it’s not every day you get to sleep in a cave (or one you’d actually want to sleep in)!
We dined on pizza (and more wine!) before slowly making our way back to our cave for the night. Tomorrow, we will have another long drive as we make our way west to catch the ferry to Sicily for 3 nights. Looking forward to more adventures here in Italy!