Puglia, Italy Day 5: Caves and Cathedrals in Matera

This is the continuation of a series of blogs about a trip to Puglia, Italy, for a friend’s wedding (I’m just getting to write now —  been planning my own wedding). See Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.

Wednesday 9/17
Matera

This morning, after our 7-hour bike tour around Aberobello and Noci the day before, we wake up only when the alarm goes off, at 9am (first time for me this trip!). Rush out of house at 10am in caffeineless haze and drive an hour and a half to Matera:

Matera map

This is the jackpot of our trip. Matera is incredible — a Unesco World Heritage site — that still doesn’t seem to be too inundated with tourists (those that are there are Italians).

It’s on a small mountain, nestled by a river; people have been living in the area since the Paleolithic age. Houses are literally carved into the stone mountaintop, with wealthy medieval castles and a cathedral nestled at the peak. It was a big city, too for the time — 30k people lived here hundreds of years ago.Matera 19

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We meet Angela, who takes care of the home where we’re staying, in Piazza del Sedille — one of towns oldest courtyards now filled with tourist cafés with menus in English. We are lost. Then late. She is not amused. We thought that was how the Italians did it?

We’re staying in a castle at the top of the hill on Castille Street. The apartment is HUGE and cost $160 for a night again on AirBNB. A steal.

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Downstairs, we stop at a restaurant (something Gato?) for tuna steaks and pasta with shellfish — though the presentation is better than the food:

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I treat myself to a cannoli (better than the main courses):

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We settle up and start walking, down the steps on backside of the cathedral near where we’re staying:

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The view from this side of the village is breathtaking. We look down on a valley hugged by a river, and a mountainside filled with hundreds of grottes — ancient cave dwellings where poor people lived; this area is called Sassi (which means stones).

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We take a tour of a mock cave (people would have lived in something like this — but less lit — as recently as the 1800s:

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We continue. Olivier walks into an abandoned grotte — many are just open for visitors to wander in — and pretend to take a poo on what looks to be the toilet while I take a photo. We both think this is very funny.Matera 5 

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We visit a medieval church literally built into a pyramid-shaped mound of rock on a cliff. Its walls are covered with Medieval (11th, 12th 13th century) paintings of saints:

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The view from the cathedral is breathtaking:

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View from the other side of the mountain, toward the cathedral:

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Wood carvings on a church door:

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After a nap at our apartment, we get dressed to explore other half of the city Sassi. We walk down into town square and then down the steps to the bottom of the town basin.

I comment how there seem to be only Italians — no Asians,  Arabs or black people living in Puglia. Probably more in Rome through?

Matera 2

We stop for a glass of primitivi at the terrace of La Ptèj d’Nadi (local for “Nadi’s Boutique”), located at the bottom of village.  DSC_0734

We’re starved by this point: It’s time for dinner. We consult a map and decide the restaurant we want to go to is near our apartment, which is on the other side of the mountain.

We trek up the side of a cliff, over and around to the cathedral near where we’re staying.

And we can’t find the right road. Maps in Matera are terrible.

In short: We walk up and down the cliff three times. Just as we’re about to give up, we realize the restaurant is literally a two-minute walk from where we started. We’re too hungry and tired to find this funny — and I have to pee — but we know we will laugh about it soon (we have).

The restaurant, Malatesta Osteria, was suggested by our host; it’s delicious and affordable. We order simple pasta with olive oil, fried bread and chilis, and it’s the best we’ve had yet. We order a plate of olives (maybe the most delicious I have ever eaten) and cheese. We discuss introverts vs extroverts, Darwinism, orciette pasta (it looks like ears! must be where got its name), Noci (=hazelnuts??). I wonder: is Nutella from Noci? Or is the guy who invented Nutella from Noci? Or did I just take my brilliant deduction skills up a Noci? We’re full but want more pasta, though the server is MIA. When we do find her, I have a hard time saying the name of the pasta, arrive derchi, or anything vaguely Italian.

We walk back from the restaurant. What took us an hour to get to takes 10 minutes (and no hills) on the way back. But it was well worth the effort.

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