By Amber Paulen*
At the bottom, carved into yellowish stone, was a cross apparently used to tell the time: the sun shone through a hole above the cave's doorway at noon, angling down and illuminating the cross. The slant of the caves was intended to get maximum usage of sunlight, essentially the only "technology" the residents had at their daily beck and call.
Matera's people exuberant. Maybe it's the rebirth of the sassi. During my four-day stay, the town hosted a photo exhibition, a candle-lit night, a women's literary festival, and the Basilicata Border Games (a youth game festival to help promote Matera's candidacy for the 2019 European Capital of Culture Award). Artisans were busy selling handmade goods. Bars and restaurants were buzzing on weekend nights.
Morning was another story: all birdsong and the quiet of wind and voices. All of which confirmed my first impressions: Matera is a hard slice of paradise.
— From Rome: Fly to Bari on Ryanair (45 minutes) or take Trenitalia's Freccia Argento train to Bari (five hours; €50). In Bari, change to the Ferrovie Appulo Lucane (FAL) that runs from a small station located off Corso Italia. The ticket is about €3 and the trip lasts 90 minutes.
Where to stay
— L'Albero di Eliana is a one-room bed and breakfast with a very gracious hostess, Eliana of course. Her B&B in the Sassi Caveoso is a wonderful and quiet place to start and finish your day. She also serves among the freshest breakfasts I've had in Italy.
Where to eat
— Soul Kitchen is a new restaurant at Via Casalnuovo, 27 in Sassi Caveoso. It has modern decor and serves traditional food with a refined twist. The owner is one of the most outwardly happy people I've ever met.
— Order the antipasto at Trattoria del Caveoso on Via Bruno Buozzi, 21 and get portions suited to kings or queens. The specialties are delicious local staples, including Crapiata soup and cavatelli pasta served in the cave.
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