Why Matera should be on everyone’s bucket list + the complete guide of things to do in Matera
Matera is a place you simply have to visit.
When you first see it, you feel like you’ve travelled back through times: millennia ago, above a steep canyon, man carved dwellings into the rock to establish one of the oldest cities in the world.
There are not many places left in the world where you can experience what a city looked like millennia ago; that’s why Matera should be on everyone’s bucket list.
What you’ll find in my travel guide to Matera:
– Things to do in Matera #1 – Murgia National Park: a spectacular canyon dotted with ancient caves and rupestrian churches
– Things to do in Matera #2 – The rupestrian churches in Matera: their unique architecture and their extraordinary frescoes painted hundreds years before Giotto
– Things to do in Matera #3 – Wandering around the old town: buildings and corners you shouldn’t miss
– Things to do in Matera #4 – Where to stay: Corte San Leonardo B&B. A lovely place with one of the best views I’ve ever had from a hotel room
– Things to do in Matera #5 – Culinary experience: where to taste the most authentic local products, where to eat the best pizza and, last but not least, an underground cave (visually striking) where to enjoy a wine tasting
Murgia National Park
Things to do in Matera #1
Try to picture a landscape where canyons, dwellings carved into the rock, cliffs and rupestrian churches are all perfectly in symbiosis. That’s what you could see at Murgia Park; here the connection between man and nature is so strong that is kind of hard to distinguish natural rock formations from the caves carved by our ancestors.
I’m not surprised Mel Gibson chose this place to film the Passion of the Christ!
The countless caves around the Murgia Park have been used by humans since ages; they are so well-preserved that you can picture how the life of our primitive ancestors must have been. If you want to get an idea of this incredible place, check out this video here.
I recommend you visit this can’t-miss place with a local guide; the caves that, in the Middle Ages, were turned into rupestrian churches can be visited only with a local guide. I had the tour with Nicola from Sassi Tour and I can really recommend it.
Here are my favorite spots at Murgia National Park:
– The rupestrian churches Madonna della Croce and Madonna delle Tre Porte: they are only 2 of the 150 rupestrian churches (yes, 150. It’s not a typing mistake!) spread around the Park.
The rupestrian churches were originally caves; so, to enter inside, there are no doors but big holes in the stone. Inside, time seems to have stopped. These spots take you back to another era when monks from Europe and the Middle-East settled in this rocky land.
Since then, monks started to decorate the caves; the result is a unique mix of Greek-Byzantine and Latin symbols.
– Belvedere and San Vito alla Murgia: for the most scenic views of the canyon and of the town of Matera, head to Belvedere or to San Vito alla Murgia.
The Belvedere lookout point is on the edge of a steep canyon. Once you get there, look down to see the Gravina river which carves the canyon; and then enjoy the view of Matera right in front of you: the Cathedral, the white buildings made of tufa and the maze of paths and stairs.
– The Neolithic Village: like many other places in the Murgia National Park, the Neolithic Village has a long history. This village has been inhabited since the Stone Age; indeed, this area is one of the oldest continually inhabited settlements in the world.
The rupestrian churches in Matera
Things to do in Matera #2
The rupestrian churches in Matera are much bigger than those in the Murgia National Park. There are many rupestrian churches you can visit in the old town; that’s why I’ve prepared a list of those that, for their architecture and paintings, are for me really worth a visit.
Most of them are located in the Sassi of Matera (Sasso Caveoso and Sasso Barisano, which are two districts of the town).
– Santa Maria de Idris and San Giovanni in Monterrone: the unique architecture of this church is one of the icons of Matera; located on top of an enormous scenic stone, this church is visible from every corner of the town.
Santa Maria de Idris and San Giovanni in Monterrone were originally separated, but now they are connected by a passage carved into the rock. The paintings inside are among the most well-preserved in Matera.
Admission fee: 3,50 €. Or, you can buy a cumulative ticket (7 €) to visit Santa Maria de Idris/San Giovanni in Monterrone, San Pietro Barisano and Santa Lucia alle Malve. Opening hours: from end of March to mid April: 10 am – 5 pm. From mid April to beginning of November: 9 am – 8 pm. From beginning of November to end of March: 10 am – 5 pm. For more infos, click here
– San Pietro Barisano: this is definitely worth a visit especially for the hypogeum underneath the church. Many tourists don’t know about the hypogeum and they usually miss out. When you are in the church, take the stairs (you’ll find them on the left) to get to the hypogeum: a labyrinth of underground passages and stairs carved into the tufa.
Admission fee and Opening hours: same as Santa Maria de Idris and San Giovanni in Monterrone
– Santa Lucia alle Malve: inside this rupestrian church, you’ll find arches, columns and walls decorated with frescoes which still retain their vivid and beautiful colors after 1000 years.
Admission fee and Opening hours: same as Santa Maria de Idris and San Giovanni in Monterrone
– Complesso Madonna delle Virtù: the huge size of this cave is astonishing (for me it was a WOW!). Unfortunately, there aren’t many frescoes left, but I liked how these huge spaces were filled with modern sculptures.
Complesso Madonna delle Virtù is so big that inside you can visit another rupestrian church (San Nicola dei Greci); and, you can also visit many case grotta (caves where in the past families and animals used to live together).
Admission fee: 5 €. Opening hours: October, April and May (every day: 10am-1.30pm and 3pm-6pm), from November to February (every day: 10am-1.30pm), March (from Monday to Friday: 10am-1.30pm. Saturday and Sunday: 10am-1.30pm and 3pm-5.30pm), from June to September (every day: 10am-8pm). For more infos, click here
– Crypt of the Original Sin: it’s considered as the best rupestrian church in Matera. This place is unique in every way: it lies in a canyon close to Matera and it was discovered only in the 60s, so the amazing frescoes inside remained hidden for more than 1000 years! The visit of this place is an incredible experience you shouldn’t miss.
You have to book the visit in advance. Here you find all the infos.
Wandering around the old town
Things to do in Matera #3
First things first, don’t follow the map when you visit the old town. Most of the streets are pedestrian only and it’s easy to get lost in Matera labyrinthine alleyways (trust me, even with a map!).
I’ve been wandering around the old town for days to explore every corner. Here’s a list of can’t-miss spots:
– Casa Noha: in this ancient dwelling, you can watch a 30-minute video to immerse yourself in Matera history from Stone Age to the 1900s when the town was considered “the Shame of Italy” due to poor living conditions, until the present day when the beauty and uniqueness of Matera have been recognized also by UNESCO.
– Materasum Ipogeo: if underground passages and spaces are your thing, then Materasum should absolutely be on your itinerary. Besides, it’s still relatively non-touristy; so it’s easy to have this place to yourselves.
– Casa Cava: there aren’t many places where you can see a concert in a cave. Well, at Casa Cava you can! This cave was turned into a concert hall and a theater; the ancient and modern architecture blend perfectly together in this place. Inside, you can also watch a short movie on Matera.
– Lookout point at Sant’Agostino church: one of the best views on Murgia National Park and on the town.
– The Cathedral: it lies at the highest point of Matera; the view is magnificent. Once inside, I was blown away by the decorations, especially by the ceiling.
– Lookout point at Piazza Vittorio Veneto: one of the best views on the Cathedral and on the Sassi of Matera.
– San Pietro Caveoso church: this church lies on the edge of a cliff. It’s spectacular especially at night when the cliff on which it is situated is dark and the church, all lit up, seems floating in the air.
– The stunning facades of the many churches around the old town. My favorites: the baroque facade of San Francesco d’Assisi church and of Purgatorio church and the romanesque facade of San Giovanni Battista church.
Last tip: if at sunset you are in Sasso Caveoso, take the path that leads to the church of Convicinio di Sant’Antonio. Though the church is normally closed, the path is fascinating: on the left, the spectacular rocky ravine, while on the right you could see many disused caves.
Afer a while, stop and turn around to enjoy the sunset over Matera and the canyon (this is by far the best view I had in Matera). Wait until the town is all lit up. So romantic!
Corte San Leonardo B&B
Things to do in Matera #4
At Corte San Leonardo everything is simply perfect.
I still dream about the view from my room…
And all the rest was also superb: the quaint courtyard, the ancient building, the decor, the freshly made breakfast, the location in the heart of the old town and, last but not least, Maria the perfect host who makes this place even more special.
This is definitely the right place if you want to have an authentic local experience in Matera.
To have a look at this unique place, click here and if you book your stay on Booking.com by clicking through that link, I’ll get a small commission from Booking, at no cost for you. In that case, I’ll know you found my post useful!
Things to do in Matera #5
Thanks to some great insider tips, I had an unforgettable culinary experience in Matera.
Of all the places I’ve been, here are the top 4 restaurants where I could come back again and again!
– Agriristories: here I found the most authentic local food. They offer a selection of locally sourced delicacies in a beautiful underground cave.
The guys who run the place are very passionate about what they do; they describe each dish telling you from which farm it is from. It’s definitely more than a simple meal. Besides, there you can also buy local products (I did of course ).
– Pizzeria Da Zero: I don’t care if pizza isn’t a typical dish of Matera. Here I had one of the best pizzas I’ve ever had. So if you are pizza lovers (who isn’t?!), go to this pizzeria.
– Enoteca dai Tosi: this wine bar is visually striking. Once inside, a dramatic stairway leads you to the heart of a cave which was once used as a cistern.
The unique setting with Italian music in the background creates the perfect atmosphere for a wine tasting (they have a great selection of excellent wines from different Italian regions).
– Vitantonio: in this restaurant, run by a Micheline-star chef, I discovered the history of Matera’s cuisine. I had “menu Matera” and it was a top-notch culinary experience. There are also more experimental dishes that I can’t wait to try next time I’m in Matera!
Is Matera on your bucket list or have you already been there? Leave your comment below. I’d be happy to know about your Matera experience!