Matera is an ancient city that’s built on top of rocky cliffs for the most significant part, which makes it one of the most spectacular destinations in the south of Italy. In 2019, Matera was the European Capital of Culture, together with Plovdiv in Bulgaria. Matera has been featured in numerous movies, The Passion of the Christ and Wonder Woman, being just two of them.
With its exciting cave houses, stunning architecture, and superb Italian restaurants, Matera caters to the holiday needs of any traveler.
Tips and recommendations
- Book your accommodation through Booking.com. They have the most extensive selection of properties, including Matera’s enchanting cave houses.
- You can discover large parts of the city by simply wandering around and getting lost in the maze of streets.
- Enjoy the views from the many Lookout Points in the city.
- Matera has excellent bus and trains connections with cities in southern Italy, such as Naples and Bari. Therefore, a car isn’t needed to get to Matera.
- It’s safe to drink tap water in Matera, so you don’t have to worry about buying bottled mineral water in shops.
- Bring proper walking shoes. Because Matera is ancient and built on top of rock outcrops, the city has countless stairs that force travelers to workout.
Where is Matera?
Matera is located in the southeast of Italy, near the heel of Italy’s boot. The city has a population of approximately 60,000 people and lies quite close to both the Adriatic Sea and the Ionian Sea. Near major cities include Bari (70 kilometers distance), Foggia (150 kilometers), and Naples (250 kilometers). Matera received 125.000 visitors in 2016, which makes the city quite an undiscovered gem compared to places like Rome and Milan.
What to do in Matera?
Matera’s charm mainly revolves around its stunning architecture; buildings carved out of the rocks, and its beautiful location on the slopes of cliffs. A fantastic way to get a sense of Matera’s architectonic treasures is by visiting the ancient churches.
A proper place to start your Matera adventure is the Cathedral of Madonna Della Bruna (Matera Cathedral), the most prominent church of Matera that’s dedicated to the Virgin Mary. This 13th-century cathedral has an astonishing interior with golden decorations and paintings on the ceiling.
Another extraordinary religious sight is the Church of Santa Maria de Idris, which is carved out of a massive rock outcrop on the eastern edge of town. From the outside, the only indicators that this could be a church are the doors and some straight walls built for extra support.
Much of Matera’s secret can be found under the ground, or behind solid rock walls. Some of the hidden chambers host great museums, like Musma (website only in Italian). This exhibit of artifacts, sculptures, and age-old pottery is displayed in a system of cave houses that dates back to the 16th century.
Another sweet spot within Matera is Casa Grotta di Vico Solitario. This used to be an inhabited cave house until a century ago, and it now functions as a museum that portrays the real-life within Matera’s cave dwellings back in the days. The once-abandoned house has been re-arranged, including original kitchenware and furniture like beds and cupboards. Casa Grotta di Vico Solitario provides a realistic image of life in Matera before the 20th century and also is a fascinating place to visit with kids.
In the inner city, Castello Tramontano is worth a visit as well. This fortress was built in Aragonese style, which gives it a different look from all other structures in Matera. Kids certainly will enjoy walking around the park that surrounds this 16th-century fortification.
Follow the exciting Ponte Tibetano suspension bridge over the Torrente Gravina river, that meanders through a dazzling ravine east of town. On the other side of the river, more caves and carved-out structures await. The Grotta dei Pipistrelli (website only in Italian) is a cave system that was used by shepherds to take shelter and can now be explored by travelers.
The best viewpoint overall is Belvedere di Murgia Timone, on the same side of the Torrente Gravina river. The terrace-like structure of Matera is perfectly visible from here, and so is the gorge that surrounds this part of town.
Where to eat?
Do you lick your fingers when you hear the two magical words, ‘Italian food’? Matera has you covered, for the city has an endless selection of restaurants, coffee bars, and delis.
Dimora Ulmo Ristorante is one of Matera’s best establishments in terms of the scenery. On a lovely evening, the rooftop terrace with views of the ancient structures around is the perfect setting to have a bite. They have set menus, and dishes are a modern take on Italian classics like pasta.
Osteria Al Casale gets international praise for its experimental pizzas, while Baccus Ristorante offers traditional Italian food at a very attractive price point. Beautiful steaks, deep-fried vegetables, and hearty pasta dishes; it doesn’t get any more Italian. Here, you can sample local dishes such as pignata (lamb stewed with vegetables) and the famous bread of Matera.
Best family hotels in Matera
The owners of this fine establishment have turned run-down cave dwellings into a secluded paradise in the heart of Old Matera. The upscale rooms are equipped with cozy living rooms, bathtubs, and private courtyards where the kids can play all day long. Sant’Angelo has an on-site wine-cellar and restaurant with tables inside the cave and on the rooftop, where you can indulge in views of Matera’s rocky outcrops.
This centrally located hotel has apartment-style rooms that can fit up to 5 guests. Here, you can enjoy the complimentary breakfast and a fully equipped kitchen. There’s even a washing machine and dryer available, which comes in very handy if you’re on a more extended trip. Pets are welcome so that the entire family can enjoy the holidays here.
If you’re on a budget, La Casa Di Olga in an interesting option for you and your family. Stay in the two-bedroom apartments with a kitchen, a coffee machine, a flatscreen tv, a dishwasher, and supreme city views for guests to enjoy. To make everyone feel at home, the rooms have board games and books.
There’s no better way to reside in Matera than in your luxurious cave chamber. Every room is equipped with a spacious bathroom with robes, slippers, and toiletries. Guests can enjoy 60 minutes of free access to the spa with its sauna, hammam, and the indoor pool.
The hotel rents out cars and bicycles as well, which makes it easier for you to explore the surrounding area.
Where to go for shopping?
Bringing mementos home from a holiday is one of the fun aspects of traveling, especially when exploring with children. Peperoncino is a formidable shop to stroll around. This stylish boutique is located in an amazing cave-dwelling, where local delicacies are on display. Stock on the most excellent wines in the region, homemade pasta, and jams. The crafted toys in this atmospheric store will undoubtedly please the kids.
More gourmet foods can be found at Il Buongustaio, an excellent deli with high-quality cheeses, meats, wines, and locally dried vegetables. Il Buongustaio is a Promised Land for foodies, and it’s guaranteed that you’ll find something yummy to pack in your suitcase.
Go to Elisa & Janna if you’re keen to bring home some carefully crafted jewelry. The artisans in this creative factory make bracelets, pendants, earrings, and more out of recycled metals.
Best time to go for Matera, Italy
Matera’s beauty and extraordinary history didn’t go unnoticed among the traveling public. Therefore, the city can get crowded, especially during the high season. Matera receives many visitors in the summer months, from June to September. However, in May and October, the temperature still reaches 20 degrees. During those months, you can discover Matera’s treasures with a fraction of the crowds you’ll see here in summer.
The winter is even quieter, and temperatures rarely drop below zero. If you don’t mind a bit of cold, the ancient streets of Matera could be all yours.
How to get around?
The city is best explored by foot; the compact heart of Matera has narrow streets and slopes, so many lanes are traffic-free. To get to the old part of Matera, you can take a city bus from the central train station to I Sassi di Matera.
How to get to Matera?
Matera has excellent connections with regional hubs and larger Italian cities in the south. Regular buses head for Matera from Naples and Bari, the closest large city near Matera. From Bari, you can also travel to Matera by train. This journey takes about 90 minutes.
Bari International Airport lies 65 kilometers north of Matera and is the nearest airport. This airport receives flights from Italian cities such as Milan, Rome, Turin, and Bologna. Travelers from the USA can transfer flights at the airports of London, Rome, or Paris, and continue to Bari from there.