‘I’ve never heard of Basilicata, really,’ a friend of mine said shaking his head as he poured me a cup of tea while I was too busy scoffing my face with Hob Nobs. I had just told him I was going to be visiting Basilicata in Italy in a few days. Offering my thanks as I accepted my hot beverage from him, I wiped the crumbs off my shirt and asked him why he hasn’t heard of Basilicata.
‘People don’t really talk about it. I mean, in Italy, people want to go to Rome, Florence, Milan, Naples and what’s that place where people are encased in ash?…Yes, yes, Pompeii. I mean, is it worth visiting Basilicata? What do you get out of it? Why haven’t we heard of it?…Why do you keep eating all my hob nobs?’
Days later as I strapped my seatbelt on the plane, that question still rang in my mind. No, I don’t mean about the hob nobs, but is it worth visiting Basilicata? Little did I know that a beautiful discovery awaited me.
Let me briefly tell you about Basilicata so you get a good idea about it.
Basilicata is a region in the far south of Italy known as the ‘in-step’ of the Italian Boot with Puglia acting as the heel. Dramatic mountainous scenery takes its form from the Apennine reaches and the stunning coastline along the Ionian Sea. Only just two provinces cover the sparsely populated region that are Matera and Potenza (the regional capital). I was told that Basilicata was not overrun by tourist visitors and that it was relatively untouched save for its residents. Now, that’s what I’m talking about. As I read my guidebook on the plane headed to Bari from Stansted Airport, I became more and more excited. The book boasted that Basilicata was covered with ghost towns, castles, hill-side towns, Greek ruins and some of the earliest sites of human civilisations. Not only that, I could go sailing in the Ionian Sea, cycling on the winding mountainous roads and walk on history. So, really, why isn’t everyone heading to Basilicata?
Here’s the reason, by the middle 20th Century, Basilicata was known to be one of the poorest regions of Italy with most of its population emigrated north to find a better life. Thus, the region was preserved as it is today with its people slowly but surely coming back and bringing tourism with them. If you really want to know what life was like in Basilicata in the 1930s, why not read ‘Christ stopped at Eboli,’ by Carlo Levi who through his observations of everyday life in Aliano in Basilicata, will give you a better understanding of the region.
Anyway, that’s enough from my guidebook, what I’m really here to do is tell you what I thought of Basilicata. Is it really worth visiting Basilicata in Italy?
I pondered this question as I bathed my feet in the cool Spring waters of the Ionian Sea, gazing at the orange sunrise on my last day in the region. To be honest, it was a big fat yes. It was a complete no-brainer. And I’ll tell you why in five reasons.
1) Flight of the Angel
Il Volo dell’angelo, or Flight of the Angel as it is better known in English (of course!), is the world’s fastest zipline at speeds of up to 120kph and suspended at heights of 888m between two mountain top towns overlooking spectacular views of the valley below. Sounds awesome, doesn’t it? I agree, because I freaking went on it!
It was a true adrenaline rush as I soared, connected to a single zipline, from Pietrapertosa to Castelmezzano, screaming with joy and jubilation. I couldn’t believe my eyes as I felt I flew unsupported like an ‘Angel’ with wings hopelessly in awe of the fantastic green scenery below. I could even block out a view of a moving car with just the tip of my thumb. So what did I do? I went on it again! This time returning to Pietrapertosa. Buzzing on a high, this was indeed a top highlight of my time in Basilicata.
So move over Skydives and Bungee Jumps. This was definitely the most exhilarating activity I have ever done! If you want to see me in action there, why not check out Neil of Backpacks and Bunkbeds’ video made on his GoPro.
If you would like to know more about the Flight of the Angel, check out their website here.
2) Basilicata Food
We all know that Italian food has a great reputation. After all, who doesn’t love pizzas, gelato and of course, home-made pasta? (If you are one of them, we will be having words.) So it wasn’t to no surprise to my family and friends how much I rubbed my belly and licked my lips in anticipation to sample a wide range. But I’ll tell you this now in a careless whisper, Basilicata actually has the best of Italian food. I’m actually surprised why the zip on my trousers could manage to go all the way up after the gluttonous amounts I ate at every stop in Basilicata. Just take a look at the pictures below. Delicious, delectable and exceedingly mouth-watering!
Not only that I got to eat Italian food but that I got to make the food! I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to make home-made Pasta in a variety of techniques in the rustic kitchen of The Palazzo Margherita in the township of Bernalda. The chefs were all authentic and, in great humour, taught my already non-existent knowledge of pasta-making to that of a semi-skilled pasta chef, which was no mean feat!
If you would like to know more about the Palazzo Margherita, check out their website here.
Only just an hour away from Bari Airport, you can jump on a bus for only four euros to get to this city that will make you fall instantly in love with Matera. I know I did. I think I timed it just right to enter the city at night because within the first hour of my time I saw the splendour of Sassi di Matera, the historical centre and a declared UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1993. Check this out.
This subterranean city is perched perfectly within a small canyon with the Gravina stream running a long the city. It has seen a long history since the Palaeolithic where evidence of early human civilisation found here. Matera was founded by the Romans in the 3rd Century BC and has seen it in the hands of ruling empires throughout Europe including the Normans and Aragonese.
It’s easy to see why everyone loved Matera. It’s all due to the Sassi di Matera that are houses dug into the rock side becoming cave homes. Did you know that the streets are actually rooftops of these caverns? However, in the 1980s, this area was viewed as an area of poverty as these houses became abandoned and unlivable due to its residents emigrating north or moving to the new area of the city. But today, regeneration has seen the Sassi di Matera become a thriving centre of business, restaurants and homes thanks to the efforts of Italian Government.
I was impressed when I wandered through the winding narrow cobble-stoned streets only to appear into large squares or the cliff edge to see the view of the spectacular Gravina Canyon below. It was just like walking on history and I could have easily spent a week exploring the timeless city.
If you want to experience staying in these cavern like homes, I heartily recommend ‘Corte San Pietro’ Hotel.
4) The Ionian Coast
You know what? I’ve seen a lot of sunrises throughout my travels in the last three years and I honestly believe Basilicata’s is one of my top three sunrises.
Waking up at the (ungodly) hour at 5am, I cycled past the harbour at Porto Argonauti, through a mysterious wood and finally onto the beach only to be greeted with the majestic display of the rising sun over the clear blue waters of the Ionian Sea. Porto Argonauti is certainly where you can find Italy’s legendary humour from far too good-looking Italians while you set sail along the Ionian Coast. Or perhaps, it’s where you can find the best pizzeria that will serve you extra-large freshly made and Italian style pizzas (oh my god, it was so good, I positively almost exploded!) Leaning out on my balcony of my apartment in the basking sunshine looking at the rippling white sails of the harbour was definitely a highlight of my Basilicatan adventure. Also, the sunrise. Oh yeah, and include the food!
If you would like to find out more about Porto Argonauti, check out their website here.
5) Crazy Yet Loveable Festivals
Did you know that to start my first full day in Basilicata, I had the option to drink red wine at 8.30 in the morning? Yes, you read that right. It’s my favourite drink and it’s of the Italian kind. So where was I? I was in the Accettura National Park surrounded by joyous and singing Italians as they prepared to kick off one of the craziest yet loveable festivals I’ve ever seen – the Festival of the Marriage of the Trees. Yeah, I was confused at first. But it didn’t matter as there was red wine to be taken advantage of! Probably the oldest folk festival in Italy, two trees are united in a marriage ceremony to guarantee a rich harvest. The male Oak and the female Holly tree are carried around for 15km in the national park before reaching the town of Accettura to undertake the ceremony.
My favourite thing about this festival was how everybody came together in jubilant celebrations. People helped carried the heavy tree, everyone shared food and wine, bands played catchy music to jig to, the elderly and young sang old folk songs in accompaniment to accordions at our mass picnic lunch and last but not least, the Italians loved to experience this event with you.
If you would like to know more about the Festival of the Marriage of the Trees, read here.
Of course, there were plenty other reasons why it is worth visiting Basilicata in Italy including visiting Craco – the ghost town, the panoramic scenery, the hotels, the drinks and more. But I think I’ll reveal more in future articles in the next week, so watch this space.
Upon my return to the UK, I saw my friend again who asked that all important question in the first place.
He jealously tutted at my lovely brown tan as he gave me a cup of coffee before sitting down in front of me with an eager face,
‘So, tell me about Basilicata! Was it worth it?’
I simply smirked and replied,
‘Oh, I’ll tell you all about it, only if you give me a hob nob…’
Disclaimer: My trip to Basilicata was organized by Basilicata Tourism as part of their #HelloBasilicata blogger campaign. All content, thoughts and opinions on RexyEdventures are always my own.