Travel journal: September in Salento and Basilicata

We’ve just come back from our vacation in the South of Italy, Salento (Apulia) and Basilicata, and we’ve realised it is definitely worth sharing this beautiful journey with you.

The choice of the destinations was a combination of pleasure (Salento) and duty (Basilicata). Not because we didn’t consider Basilicata good enough to be there just for pleasure, but because it is such an amazing and little known region that we wanted to find local contacts, get to know the area, in order to include this amazing region among our destinations for 2019. Salento, on the other hand, is one of our consolidated and full-speed running destinations, where we also love to spend some of our own vacation time.

So that was the plan: land in Brindisi, head South and spend some days relaxing, sunbathing, swimming, snorkelling and diving, trekking and enjoying the beautiful towns and amazing food and wine of Salento. Then transfer to Basilicata for scouting.

In Salento everything was up to expectations, starting from the breath-taking crystal clear seas. On the East coast, high cliffs surrounding small beaches and rocky areas as an access to the sea: a real heaven for snorkelling fans! On the West coast, long and white sand beaches are more common, so there’s something for all tastes. The best part of spending vacations in September in this area is that the crowd of tourists has already left. Few tourists are still there, mainly from Northern Europe, but you will mostly find local people at the seaside, claiming that swimming and lying on the beach is possible up to the end of October. Occasions for trekking weren’t missing, along the amazing “South-East trail”, offering uncommon scenarios such as the ex-bauxite cave and endless fields of centenarian olive trees. Moving along the coast, we crossed several enchanting villages and towns, where we could stop for a quick seafood lunch. The architecture is characterized by the presence of Lecce stone, a limestone rock, from white to straw yellow under the sun light, and that lights up with an intense yellow under night lighting. In the evening, we couldn’t do without hitting the larger towns, like Otranto and Lecce, to enjoy an aperitivo and a dinner, to later come back to our cozy B&B, hosted in a historical building from XVI century.

Too soon it was time to leave Salento, but we were already looking forward to our next destination: Matera, European capital of culture 2019. This city is located in Basilicata, a region that isn’t a main touristic destination yet, but it has very good chances to become one in the next few years. We crossed a beautiful countryside with gentle hills to reach Matera, the “murgia”, an area stretching between Apulia and Basilicata, a karst plateau hills reaching up to 600-700 meters above sea level. This area is so suggestive that it has been chosen as set for several movies. Matera itself is just amazing, perched on the top of the hill, with the “gravina” (sort of canyon) on one side, and small houses dug into the stone on the other side. It is just magical to get lost through the large streets and narrow alleys, it feels like being time-travellers gone back in time. The story of the city, which we were told by our city-guide, is incredible as well. The first settlements in this area date back to prehistory, and they have been inhabited without interruptions all over the centuries, turning the city into that we can see nowadays. For this reason we can really say that Matera is a very ancient city. The typical cave-houses or “casa grotta” were dug into the soft limestone of the hill, on two or three levels, going quite deep underground. The stone removed from the inside was used to build the outside. Next to these simple houses, later in history magnificent buildings arose, such as the Cathedral overlooking the city. In 1950, the ancient cave-houses were still inhabited by people, without electricity, plumbing or running water. Carlo Levi in his book “Christ stopped at Eboli”, published in 1945, describes the inhuman conditions of the people who lived there. This started a process that in 1952 led the government to declare these houses uninhabitable, move the tenants into proper houses and proceed with the rehabilitation. Today the cave-houses are museums, restaurants, shops and even luxury hotels with spa. A marvel that has led to the awarding of the title of European capital of culture.

Matera is also quite a strategic location to visit the surroundings and discover at least part of this beautiful and forgotten region. With a daily trip we got to the high mountains of Basilicata, the “Dolomiti lucane”. There we experienced something similar to what the local hawks must feel, with the first Italian and deepest European zip line. Two ways, back and forth, almost 3000 meters in total, sliding down from two enchanting small mountain villages enlisted among the most beautiful in Italy. If this kind of activity is not your cup of tea, you should not give up on visiting this area, where you can enjoy other outdoor activities but also cultural and food&wine related, maybe relaxing in an authentic country house in the charming countryside. It is the land of local wildlife and herds, like the Podolica Cow, whose milk is specially good to produce the local cheese “caciocavallo”.

Our trip has been by far too short but we left totally amused by this region and with the desire of going back soon.