Europe

Matera

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Once the embarrassment of Italy, this is now the jewel in its crown.  Steeped in history, this is possibly the world’s longest living civilisation, having been occupied since the Paleolithic era.  In the 1950s this place had an open sewer running through the streets; Matera was a problem but now it’s a symbol of hope, beauty and strength.  It truly is an inspirational place to be.

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Accommodation here is in caves.  We stayed at Le Dodici Lune which has a display in reception of how this hotel looked just a few years ago and it is remarkable how far this place has come in such a short time.  Our room was very large and was comfortable although you do have the slightly damp feeling when you’re there as you are staying in a cave after all!  This hotel has a wonderful restaurant which sits in the sunken courtyard.  Candles line the stairway up to the passing pathways making this a romantic place to dine.

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Many visitors just pass by and you could probably get a feel for the place on a day trip.  We spent 3 nights here exploring and it was a great decision as we felt a part of Matera and enveloped by its hospitality by the time we left.

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Do away with all maps…..you will not be able to use them here.  Streets are alleys which merge and wind up, down and around.  You will feel lost without a map in this maze but be patient and you will soon learn your way around.  You have to remember that the cathedral is the centre and at the top of the sissi and then just let your feet wander and explore the delights of Matera.  One discovery I made which sounds obvious now I write this is that I expected Matera to be the sassi and so it was a bit of a shock to arrive to the busiest city we’d encountered on our trip and a bit of an alarm clock to our living dream.  However, once we’d found our way to the sassi, we discovered the beauty and peace that existed within.

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A big tip for those staying here is to bring a small case.  I had travelled with a large suitcase and a small carry on suitcase and before leaving Maratea, I had transferred all my things for our 3 night stay into the smaller case.  This makes a big difference if you are staying anywhere other than the hotels just off the main street (‘ground’ level).  Also, take shoes with excellent grip and do away with heels for evenings as this place is super slippy underfoot due to the well worn limestone.

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The best way to start your stay or your day trip here is to take a tour.  One of the best tours we have ever had was here in Matera.  A husband and wife team run tours in English and Italian with great skill, knowledge and energy.  Learn about the history of the area, the architecture and hidden symbolism with Matera Tour Guide.  I would also suggest a visit to Casa Noha at the start of your time in Matera which gives you a great understanding of its history.  This is located not far from the Cathedral but is not necessarily the easiest place to find.

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Matera is the setting for many films, most famously, The Passion of the Christ.  Explore the Madonna delle Virtu and see the Monastery where Mel Gibson chose to film.  This is one of the most interesting spots as it’s hidden away on the outer part of the sassi and has various levels to explore.  Don’t miss Casa Gotta (a reconstructed cave house), La Raccolta (a remarkable water filtration system and now a UNESCO site) and the churches Santa Maria de Idris, San Pietro Barisano and Santa Lucia Alle Malve.  Possibly the most famous of the churches is that set in one of the squares near to the ‘main road’ through the sassi, Chiesa dei Santi Pietro e Paolo al Sasso Caveoso.

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We never usually return to the same place to dine twice as we like to make the most of the experiences whilst staying somewhere.  However, Malatesta’s hypnotic trance had us returning for a second night.  On our first night, a guest stood up and treated us to an hour of opera and on our second night, we met a lovely group of Finnish artists.  The food was plentiful, home cooked and served with a genuineness you will struggle to find elsewhere.  This place lives in the moment and is open to all, a real taste of Matera.

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Europe

Maratea

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A hidden corner of Italy harbours a beautiful secret that is Maratea.  I inadvertently stumbled across this treasure in a fictional novel; reading about the pomegranate tree, Christ the Redeemer Statue and the homely Villa Rosa.  To discover just a few months later that this place existed meant there was only one thing for it…….I had to see it for myself!

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Maratea was the third stop on our road trip around Italy this summer.  We chose to stay at Villa Cheta Elite nestled away in the hillside at Acquafredda just 10 minutes away from Maratea.  It’s located on a coastal road which winds around the cliffs with stunning views out to sea and so walking around this part of Italy is not really an option.  However, Maratea itself is completely walkable.

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Our hotel was a stunning Italian villa beautifully kept and oozing understated luxury.  Our room had a dual aspect view of the turquoise waters below and we could see the outdoor restaurant between the pretty branches of bougainvillea.  This for us was the prefect base for our next adventure.

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Maratea is a small hillside town with narrow cobble roads, a broad selection of cafés and even more churches.  It’s a great way to spend a day taking in history, architecture and enjoying good Italian food.  Stop for lunch at La Caffeteria in Piazza Buraglia which is a tiny piazza full of character.  High above the town and a car ride taking in a few hair pin bends is the Christ the Redeemer statue with its back to the town below it.  In the novel I read, its back was toward the sea as the fishermen had no interest in the statue and the funds it was consuming and therefore, it was decided the statue would not look down towards the fishermen.  In reality, the statue stands atop this wonderful town offering a more protective arm and blessing this historically impoverished part of Italy.  When we visited, the sky was grey with rain and created a moody atmosphere allowing for great photos.

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The harbour hosts several wonderful restaurants which enjoy fabulous views out to sea.  Enjoy the most delicious Italian food and great value wine as you watch the sun set.  We visited Lanterna Rossa perched on the first floor with an almost concealed entrance which is up some steps and around to the left and certainly worth looking for!

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Beaches here are plentiful but don’t expect the sandy beach found in Castellaneta Marina.  This area is home to more pebble beaches but don’t let this discourage you.  We enjoyed La Secca beach for a day to recharge our batteries in advance of our remaining tour of Italy.  You pay a fee to park and to hire a sun bed but it’s all reasonable and there’s a great value beach bar on site which serves up good lunches.  This beach is located in a quiet cove and is family friendly.  Take a dip in the clear calm waters or hire a pedalo to take you further out.  We enjoyed a peaceful day here and would certainly return despite being lovers of sandy beaches.

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If you have time, don’t miss the White Horse restaurant which is very nearby La Secca.  There is a warm welcome and great pizza awaiting you!

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This is not something that is usual but we were lucky enough to watch the release of a turtle on the day we left Maratea.  Before arriving in Maratea, we’d stopped off at the WWF centre in Policoro and had learned that the turtle would be released at midday on the day we were due to leave.  We therefore headed to the beach and waited and waited until the moment finally came.  We felt incredibly lucky to have captured this memory.

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Europe

Volo Dell’Angelo

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We booked our flight on the internet in advance of our trip to Italy and opted to begin our journey in Castelmezzano, over to Pietrapertosa.  We parked on the side of the road in Castelmezzano and walked to the tourist office to collect our tickets.  It’s about a 10 minute quick walk through the town to get there and so leave some time.  You then trace your steps back to the entrance to the town near to where you park your car to catch a minibus to the hill you need to climb to reach Volo Dell’Angelo.  At the top you are given your equipment, then get hooked up to the zipline and you’re away.

Soaring at over 120m above the towns of Castelmezzano and Pietrapertosa, the Volo Dell’Angelo reaches speeds of up to 120 km per hour.  Imagine trekking up a winding steep hill and looking out over the valley beneath you in all its glory, knowing you will be flying above it very soon.  Strap yourself into a body sling and stand beside your partner as you line up horizontally with the waiting platform.  You will hear the words ‘have a nice flight’ before you are launched off the platform and out into the open.  You will hear and feel the rush of the wind, you will feel as though there is little to keep you suspended there above the caverns below and yet the fear leaves your mind as you are blown away by the thrill and peace the flight of the angel delivers.

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Time races by just as quickly as you feel your body is gliding through the air and it is brilliant fun.  At the end you can snap up souvenir pictures capturing that adrenaline rush. A minibus then takes you to the town.  Take a walk past the homes, shops and venture down to see the church as the bottom of the hill and at the end, you will climb about 100 steps to the return flight.  We went further and passed the return flight centre to see the fort on the hill before returning which has terrific views.  Castelmezzano is probably one of the most stunning towns that we had the pleasure of visiting in Italy.  Its yellow and terracotta homes glow in the sun and on the return flight, generated a real wow moment, a memory imprinted for good.  It’s a fun place to explore and provides a perfect lunch stop (just around the corner from the church square on the left hand side there’s a café with the nicest Italian owner serving great paninis!).

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A trip to this region is incomplete if you have not set eyes on Castelmezzano.  The best view is flying towards it; an angelic flight that is!