Tag Archives: Matera

Italian destinations for 2018

Whats on the radar for exciting places in Italy? Here are a few ideas…

As I write this my mood is one driven from emotional and physical exhaustion. I want to travel and itching to get out and go yet somehow I crave a much easier and more laid back kind of destination. Less tourists and fuss, but still charming and visually appealing. Places that have some authenticity in the era of mass travel yet not so off the beaten path that it will take a while to get there. This usually means going to places before they are on the radar and in the mainstream. Let’s face it, by the time a place is being written about in the New York Times as the “new” place to go to before everyone else does that destination is way past its prime. It is about the quiet hum rather than the loud roar so with that in mind here are my choices of travel inspiration…

 

Bologna Long overlooked by tourists, Italy’s university town is filled with history and most importantly great food. Its not known as the Stomach of Italy for nothing. Rich in culinary history both through its produce and its cuisine, Bologna makes for an alluring destination for that alone but thankfully it has a great deal to enjoy off the plate as well. With vaulted porticoes, medieval streets and bustling cafe life this is everyday living done right. Of course not to be missed are the markets many with their produce tumbling out into the medieval streets and the elaborate food shops showcasing their goods as if in a painting. Less tourists and more local living make it a true Italian experience.

Procida Often ignored because of the popularity of its glamorous neighbour, Capri, Procida possesses local, small town charm. Colourful houses cascade down the island like pastel marshmallows floating on the azure sea. Its fishing port and little boats are exactly how you imagine a small Italian sea village to be.

Catania  Sicily’s other big city and far too often neglected by visitors as a great Sicilian destination. Perilously seated between the sea and imposing volcano Mount Etna it has stood defiantly in the wake of constant volcanic activity. While most people go through Catania on their way to more polished local spots such as Taormina, Catania like much of Sicily’s eastern towns offers grand architecture with decorative baroque polish and a traditional old world Sicilian market. Not as big or overwhelming as Palermo yet possessing true Sicilian spirit.

Ponza Along the west coast between Rome and Naples lies a small island offering laid back elegance. A secret summer getaway known by a few Romans and their friends, Ponza offers a quieter alternative to Capri a bit farther down the coast. It does not offer the glamorous lifestyle because it is not trying to. However that does not mean it is lacking of allure. Its refinement is in the low key, stylishly retro, casual with creature comforts of one staying at an Italian friend’s delightful beach house. If you really want to get away and sleep by the sea, this would be a great pick.

Sorrento Unfortunately many vacationers just drive through Sorrento on their way to more popular Amalfi Coast destinations, which is a shame since Sorrento possesses much to stop and look at. It has more of the energy you find on Capri than other of the towns on the Coast. And when Italians go to the Amalfi Coast they come here, much more going on and equally breathtaking views of the sea.

Matera Last chance to get there before the crowds and the mass tourist push that will come when Matera take on the honour of City of Culture in 2019. Matera is a unique part of Italy unlike any other. A town filled with an almost mythical soul with its Biblical feel in its Sassi cave living and honey coloured streets. Matera is really two parts with an elegant old town that looks over the the ancient Sassi town right below. Together but somehow separate, two different worlds in one town. An easy day trip from Puglia, however Matera really is a jewel lit up at night and merits an overnight stay at one of the Sassi hotels where you can live history.

 

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Where to go next: 2017

Every year I always make a wish list of places to go, some of them new, some are places to return to, but mostly because there is a buzz about them and the time to go is now…

Southern Italy: Mainly Calabria and Basilicata which are looking like the next big things in travel.  While I have been to and mentioned Matera in Basilicata before, with it set to become the 2019 City of Culture it is best to get there before so as to enjoy and explore all the nooks and crannies of the Sassi town without the tour groups. As for Calabria, it is Italy’s final frontier, the ‘toe’ of the boot that is Italy, and mostly overlooked by travellers.  The charming seaside town of Tropea is fast becoming a popular warm weather destination. Get there now.

Patmos: Santorini and Mykonos remain popular and filled with tourists, so where to go with a bit of flair but not the crush of people. Patmos is growing in popularity but still hasn’t hit the tourist Greek island holiday crawl of people. Quaint villages offer romantic views and charming cafes without the clubby atmosphere.

Rhodes: For a bit of history with your Greek Island escapade, Rhodes is a delightful destination. The old town has fortifications built by the Knights of Saint John during the crusades as well as an ancient Greek acropolis

Sayulita, Mexico: Already hot and gaining popularity, this colourful, laid back beach town is far from the madness of Puerto Vallarta and the opulence of big hotels on Punta Mita. On Mexico’s glorious Pacific coast, this artsy little town is a bit more unique.

Iceland: Is the big thing for the right now. Expansive natural landscapes made popular in many big movies and TV shows, have put it on the ‘go to’ travel list. Go for the natural baths of the astonishing Blue Lagoon but stay for the people.

Finland: Is starting to percolate lots more interest in part due to being the Scandinavian country less traveled and in part because Scandinavia is trendy. With Sweden and Denmark already popular, this is Scandinavia with less tourism, good skiing, and unique experiences like sampling Reindeer meat on the menu.

Charleston, South Carolina: For a bit of genteel Americana, the historical city of Charleston in the the United States proudly maintains the southern way of life by upholding traditions and good manners. The historical center boasts pretty cobblestone streets, gas lit lanterns and landmark buildings dating back to the first settlers.

Palermo: Faded yet grand architecture and a faceted history have always made Sicily’s capital city a draw, yet has been ignored or passed over in recent years. With Sicilian cuisine and wine becoming increasingly popular and a new old world sophistication polishing the city, Palermo is starting to buzz.

Provence: For a classic vacation in the purest sense, it is time to return to the south of France, mainly Provence. The land of great painters, this region has it all including great wine and gourmet cuisine, not to mention fields of lavender and perfume. What’s not to love in the land of charming villages.

Northern Italy’s “Second” cities: For a foodie’s trip, head to Bologna, Parma, and Turin. Learn to cook in Bologna, taste some of Italy’s more innovative restaurants in Parma, and hunt for truffles outside of Turin. While “second” cities, they are no lesser than their more famous counterparts, just a little less traveled. All offer historical sites, cafe culture, and most important fantastic dining experiences.

Bon Voyage!

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Rooms with Views: Sextantio Le Grotte della Civita

Sextantio Le Grotte della Civita

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Step back in time… Literally. Saying that a stay at the Sextantio Le Grotte della Civita in the hill town of Matera is a unique experience would be a complete understatement. Perhaps the best way to describe a holiday at this cavernous property is to state that it is so completely part of the town it inhabits. Matera is a one of a kind destination, known for its Sassi caves and living and this hotel exemplifies this ancient way of life.

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 First of all this is definitely not a typical hotel in the sense it has no lobby, no formal dining room, and no communal areas. That is its charm and what makes this hotel so extraordinary. Instead there is a very open and organic plan literally part of the inside of the hill and landscape. Upon arrival there is  a lower terrace where one finds a very small reception office, the breakfast cave which was a former church, both off an open terrace to join the two. From this point one goes up and down a set of steps to their own cave or room. The rooms are stand alone spaces off this pedestrian staircase with steep steps taking you from the lower terrace up past different levels of the scattered rooms. Needless to say very comfortable walking shoes and light luggage are essential here. Each room is different, varied, and inhabits its own one of a kind cave space. Some rooms have shared terraces with others have separate balconies of their own, each room is a natural cave with ancient arched ceilings carved into the rock, all depending on the original historical and natural structure.

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Turning the large iron key of the heavy wooden door you already sense you are not in the modern world. Step through the door and back in time you go as the room is dark and minimally lit like a Caravaggio painting. The decor of vaulted stone space and dark wood fixtures is very sparse and spiritual. Lighting is limited to mood lighting and white pillar candles throughout give the cave a very monastical feel to it. Quite visually stunning. There is electricity to charge mobile phones and even free internet, but obviously in a place like this don’t expect a television or even a telephone, as everything about a stay here is about being as close to an authentic as possible.

A stay here is completely out of the ordinary and special yet it should be noted that certain creature comforts are missing. The lodging here is not cheap and if you are expecting plush surroundings that is not what you are paying for here. You are paying for a unique experience and the chance to contribute towards the upkeep of a historical site and way of life. For example, because of the low lighting, putting on make-up in the morning or shaving was a challenge as it was dark. And you cannot just call down to the reception should you need anything as there is no phone in the room. Also the steep steps several times a day can be tiring on a daily basis. That is not to say there are no creature comforts what so ever as there are Philippe Stark bathroom fixtures, wine or prosecco can be brought to your room, plus the absolute thrill of bathing in a cave make for an enriched experience.

 

A sojourn here is enchanting and even a bit mystical. While it may not be to everyone’s taste, I highly encourage you to try it as you will be enriched by the very distinct destination and you will be looked after by a caring staff. The hotel is like the town of Matera itself, rare and in its individuality quite exclusive. The Sextantio creates a total destination experience that will be remembered forever.

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Pros: A one of a kind experience where you can live like the locals and be part of the historical past. Great design concept.

Cons: No amenities. Lots of steps.

Extras: The staff can arrange guided tours to many cultural destinations in the city as well as out to the countryside. Fresh fruit in the room and natural handmade shampoo and liquid bath soap.

Please note, I paid for my own stay and my review is based on my personal experiences while at the Sextantio Le Grotte della Civita.