When you think of the country Italy, a few popular things come to mind. Italian food, the famous tourist sites, and the famous tourist destinations. When it comes to Italian food, we always think pizza, pasta, tomato sauces, and cheese; not very healthy, but delicious food. When it comes to tourist sites, people always think about the Colosseum, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Venice Canals, Saint Mark’s Square and Basilica, and the Pantheon. For cities and towns, the names at the top are Rome, Venice, Milan, Florence, and Tuscany. However, Italy has a little secret, ‘un piccolo segreto,’ as the locals would say. Down in the south, there’s a place hidden and tucked away from modern life and civilization, a peaceful little Eden as worthy of praise as any of the other places mentioned above.
In the southern part of Italy, right between Campania and Apulia, and right above Calabria, is the region called Basilicata. A magnificent place, complete with everything an exhausted traveller wishes for. Peaceful town, quiet streets, close to nature, fresh and delicious food, amazing local people, a down to earth vibe, the simple life. Once you are there, you’ll immediately forget to ask for the wifi password. A perfect combination of all the little things you wish for in every tourist destination you’ve been in, Basilicata has them all. Here are twenty things about the place and why it’s Italy’s best kept secret.
The beauty of Matera is evidenced by its inclusion in UNESCO’s World Heritage sites. It’s the northeastern city in Basilicata, and was the capital until 1806. Matera is one of the oldest towns in the world, having residents in the town since the 3rd century BC. In the town lies the Sassi, countless churches so old they are all picturesque and rich in history and culture, and amazing food including the delicious Matera bread.
The Sassi, since 1993, is another designated UNESCO World Heritage site, the towns and houses are so panoramic that it attracts filmmakers every once in a while. Notable filmmakers who’ve shot films in these areas are Francis Ford Coppola and Mel Gibson.
In Potenza, a province in Basilicata, there is a town called Maratea. This town has a lot of activities in store for the average tourist. It has a coast stretching 20 miles, with differently colored sands like pebble and black volcanic sands. For accommodations, try out the Locanda delle Donne Monache, a hotel turned convent, quiet and peaceful.
Before the sun goes down, take a stroll in the town, down to the main piazza and see bars, restaurants, and cafes all around. The next day, take a boat ride and explore all the little islands around the coast, then enjoy the view of the Christ the Redeemer statue looking over the town of Maratea from a mountaintop just above the coastline. A blissful 2 or 3 days is what’s in store for a tourist visiting in Maratea.
Bernalda is another marvelous town in Basilicata, located in the south of the province of Matera, the town is all about the laid back ways of daily Italian life. Enjoy the houses on the hilltop complete with clotheslines, pots, plants, drying peppers under the sun and locals going about their daily routine, it’s surely a blast from the past.
For the best dining experience, go to La Locandiera. Swim amongst the locals in the public beach Spiaggia 48, or arrange a tour to the abandoned village of Craco. A great place to stay in is the Palazzo Margherita, a hotel with Moroccan and Italian Baroque designs.
17 Castle Tramontano
One popular tourist site in Matera is the Castello Tramontano. Situated on top of a hill, people will get a good hike reaching the site. Off-limits to the public, it is still a sight to behold. A castle built in the 16th century by a nobleman named Giovanni Carlo Tramontano, Baron of Sorrento, and who was the Count of Matera.
Castle Tramontano was unfortunately not finished, the Count was assassinated during an uprising by the people. Apparently, he was not loved by all, as he was beaten to death outside a church after hearing mass. The castle still stands, and for now, people are free to take pictures and stay outside the fence.
16 Amazing Cuisine
Usually rustic and rich in taste, popular regional dishes in Basilicata, some are the following. First, it’s the Senise peppers, grown all over town but probably most in the town of Senise, the peppers are sweet and crunchy, best for drying and making into powder. Locals put it in cheese, meat, and soup.
They also have their own brand of sausage, Lucanica sausages, mixed with fennel seeds. Their staple is the very famous Matera bread. Another is Rotonda red eggplant, sweet and very tasty, used in most local dishes. Some popular dishes are ciammotta, pupazzella, scarcedda, and of course, their popular world-class red wine, the Aglianico del Vulture.
If at any level you admire the written works of Horace or the man himself, visiting Venosa is a must-do for you. The most famous Roman poet of his time, Horace was born and raised in Venusia, now called Venosa.
The town is rich in history and culture. You can visit the Archaeological Area of Notarchirico and see fossils of ancient Roman wild animals. There are various old structures like churches, Jewish catacombs, and the Aragonese castle. There’s also the House of Horace and the Le Onde Venosapark, a water park perfect for a great and fun day with the whole family and the kids.
14 Christ Stopped at Eboli
Christ Stopped at Eboli is a novel written by Italian author Dr. Carlo Levi. It is a memoir about Levi’s exile to the Basilicata towns of Grassano and Aliano. He masked Aliano in his memoir and called it Gagliano. In this town, one can enjoy museums such as the Carlo Levi Museo Storico and the Museo della civilta contadina de Aliano.
One can also explore nature by checking out the Fosso del Bersaglieri and the Aliano Badlands. In Grassano, experience the history and culture of the town by visiting the following churches: Chiesa della Madonna della neve and Chiesa di San Giovanni Battista. Or enjoy authentic Italian cuisine in their most popular restaurants: Il Lammione and Osteria Santa Maria.
13 Pollino National Park
Tourists who love nature will hit the jackpot in Basilicata. The Pollino National Park is only the largest national park in all of Italy. The natural forest spreads almost 1,242 square miles through Basilicata and neighboring Calabri.
In it are countless trees such as the common beech tree, the rare Bosnian pine tree, and the oldest tree in Europe, believed to be more than 1,200 years old. One can also see prehistoric caves with matching cave drawings, ancient burial grounds, and natural hot springs. The most beautiful towns worth visiting are Rotonda, Morano Calabro, laino Castello, and Mormanno. But as a nature enthusiast, one can just go to the highest peak they can get to, find a nice spot, sit back and enjoy the view.
12 The Passion of the Christ
There were key scenes in the film The Passion of the Christ that were shot in Basilicata. Christ carrying the cross up the hill was filmed in the towns of Matera. If you notice the scene where he’s already nailed to the cross, the background was Matera.
Also, the scene where Judas kills himself was filmed in the ghost town Craco. Basilicata is such a beautiful place, like a world forgotten by technology and civilization. And that’s the reason why filmmakers choose to film in Basilicata for period pieces. Other movies filmed here were the 2006 remake of The Omen, and the 2017 blockbuster Wonder Woman.
The capital city of Basilicata is Potenza, a city located in the lower northwestern region of Basilicata. Although Matera is more popular with tourists, Potenza deserve a visit as well. Just by walking the city center you can soak in all the culture of the place and wonder at the old structures like the Potenza Cathedral, the Musmeci Bridge, the San Francesco Church, the Torre Guevara and the Palazzo Loffredo.
It’s also quite an experience to visit the ancient villages of Tolve and Vaglio Basilicata. In Potenza, one can also enjoy a number of water activities like underwater photography, diving, underwater photography, water skiing, fishing, canoeing and windsurfing.
10 Francis Ford Coppola
Francis Ford Coppola is a director famous for award-winning films and Oscar-winning masterpieces. His greatest work is The Godfather. A film with a star-studded cast of Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, James Caan, Robert Duvall, and Marlon Brando. The motion picture was based on a novel written by Mario Puzo, and the towns in Basilicata were mentioned and featured in the novel and film, respectively.
Coppola’s grandparents were former residents of Basilicata, in the humble town of Bernalda, before emigrating to America. Coppola, in fact, owns a hotel in Bernalda, the Palazzo Margherita. If you chance upon someone in Basilicata that looks like him, chances are it’s Francis Ford Coppola. He often spends his down time with his family in Bernalda.
The province of Potenza has a total of 100 comuni or towns. Some of them are listed in this article and are veritable tourist sites. The city of Potenza is one, Campomaggiore was a ghost town in Potenza, but it is now a growing and developing town. Maratea with its Christ the Redeemer statue is another. There is one more town, or commune, in Potenza worth mentioning for the wandering tourist.
Latronico is a town known for its cooler temperature as it stands higher than the rest. But people go to this place for the thermal springs of Basilicata. A town that looks like it came out of a fairytale book, Latronico offers a peaceful time spent in silence and relaxation. Try and experience it firsthand.
8 Natural Parks
The land of Basilicata is actually covered with 30 percent forests and grasslands. These are mainly protected natural wildlife areas, two national parks, and two regional parks. The largest park is the Pollino National Park where people flock to see the oldest tree in Europe, the famous Bosnian Pine.
The first national park, the Appennino Lucano Val d’Agri Lagonegrese, is in between the Pollino National Park and the Cilento National Park, the second national park. The Regional Park of Gallipoli Cognato has the peaks of Lucanian Dolomites where tourists take the zip-line ride called Flight of the Angel, which takes them through at least two villages.
7 Vulture Melfese
Also called Vulture Alto Bradano, or just simply Vulture, Vulture Melfese in Italian is called Il Vulture. It is located in Potenza, up north, and is named as such because of the volcano that towers over the land. Mount Vulture stands 1,326 meters tall, it was a volcano. Vulture Melfese is also the home of the makers of the popular Italian red wine Aglianico del Vulture. The region’s popular towns are Bernalda, Melfi, and San Fele. Do not forget to take a tour of the vineyards and the wine cellars here, and enjoy their rustic Italian cuisines matched with the perfect red wine.
6 Ionian coast
The Ionian Sea touches several countries in Europe, namely Albania, Greece, and Italy. These are blessed countries who can boast of perfect picture beaches and the bluest waters on their own Ionian coast. The Ionian coast of Basilicata is equally blessed, with beaches with long stretches of sand, and the blue of the sky and the blue of the sea kissing the horizon.
A legitimate tourist spot, the Ionian coast of Basilicata has the complete package for the visiting tourist. They have great accommodations and plenty of facilities for the right seaside and water activities. One can go sailing, surfing, and canoeing, to name a few.
In the latter part of the 7th century BC, the Greeks discovered a land along the coast of Italy and called it Metapontum, now known as Metaponto. Today, Metaponto is in the municipality of Bernalde. This town is most popular for the beaches, since it is a coastal town located right along the Ionian Coast.
If one is familiar with how beautiful the Ionian Coast is, they would understand why Metaponto, a small town with just a thousand residents, is a very popular tourist spot. People travel to Basilicata to go straight to Metaponto and its beaches. But in the town, you can also marvel at the ruins of the old Greek town Metapontum.
The sassi are actually kind of cavehouses, to say it simply. They are called tufo by the locals. Once one of Italy’s poorest communities, the Sassi was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. Now with the emergence of young artists and craftspeople, the town has that bright and electric energy that welcomes guests and tourists from all over the world.
The cave houses were turned into inns and cafes, workshops and stores. For a nice tour, visit the Santa Lucia delle Malve, Santa Maria de Idris, and San Pietro Barisano, these are three churches with frescoes as old as the 11th century.
3 Little Pompeii
Just last year, archaeologists dug up a Little Pompeii in France. It seemed these kinds of places are all over the Roman Empire lands. These places are such a cool find because of the beauty and intricacies of its architecture. Stones carved in ways very few civilizations of old can.
The Little Pompeii of Basilicata in Italy is also known as the Archaeological Park of Grumentum. It’s a place rich in archaeological digs like an amphitheatre, Roman baths, temples, and some more amazing structures. It would be a shame if a visit to this place is missed, so be sure to put it in the itinerary.
2 Craco and Campomaggiore
In the simple beauty and elegance of the small towns of Basilicata, it would seem life would be very easy to manage. That is not the case with the ghost towns of Craco and Campomaggiore. Craco is located on a steep cliff overlooking the Cavone River valley.
Natural disasters and townsfolk emigrating to America led the small town of Craco to be an abandoned town. An earthquake in 1980 led the last remaining people to completely abandon the town. Campomaggiore is another ghost town located in the middle of Basilicata. This town was destroyed by an avalanche and abandoned in 1885. Guided tours can be arranged in both these towns.
1 Red Wine
Basilicata has been producing one of the best red wines in the world. This particular wine is called Aglianico del Vulture DOC. Winemaking has become Basilicata’s main source of income and a way of life. As a matter of fact, winemaking is such an important thing that there are events and festivals held every year in recognition and honor of it. The Aglianico Wine Festival is celebrated every year in and around the Vulture Melfese castles. It’s a delightful event that welcomes locals and tourists as well. The wine cellars in Basilicata look so amazing that a tour of them would be a good idea.