Matera, Italy is not only one of the most unique towns in the world, it’s one of the most breathtaking. Sitting atop a ridge with deep canyons on either side, people here live and dine in caves. Humans began to settle this area in southern Italy at least 9,000 years ago, and likely much earlier than that.

Those early settlers lived in the natural caves of the canyon walls, extending them until eventually, there were thousands of caves throughout Matera. UNESCO calls Italy’s oldest continually inhabited dwellings, “the most outstanding example of a troglodyte settlement in the Mediterranean.”

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Matera
Credit: bigstock.com
Matera

While today Matera is considered one of Italy’s most impressive cities, it was once a source of shame. This was a place of poverty where there were high rates of malaria and infant mortality. Residents lived in the caves without any running water, electricity or sewage.

When a book written about Matera raised awareness of what was happening, the people were moved out. All of the cave homes were gradually abandoned between the 1950s and ’60s, but just a couple of decades later, the caves began to be considered as a fascinating glimpse into the past. Soon, some of the wealthier former residents returned to renovate the old cave homes, and in 1993, it was named a UNESCO heritage site.

Le Grotte della Civita, Matera, Italy
Le Grotte della Civita, Matera, Italy

Matera is becoming an increasingly popular tourist attraction for visitors, with many of the caves transformed elegant eateries and stylish hotels that make for a very unique stay.

Dining at II Belvedere, Matera, Italy
Credit: Belvedere II
Dining at II Belvedere, Matera, Italy

Il Belvedere is just one of them. The view of the Sassi from the terrace, where you can enjoy your complimentary breakfast, or a glass of wine and appetizers, is absolutely stunning.

The hotel is the result of the impeccable restoration of Sassi old houses and is unique in its details, with old caves, granaries and cisterns. It offers several types of rooms, some in the cave and others on the upper floors.

Oi Mari dining room, Matera, Italy
Credit: Oi Mari
Oi Mari dining room, Matera, Italy

There are many outstanding restaurants offering authentic Italian fare, like Oi Mari, situated in the heart of Sassi di Matera, a cozy, intimate restaurant specializing in authentic Napoli-style pizzas, along with other favorite dishes from the southern Italy region like fresh seafood and stuffed pasta.

historic center, Matera, Italy
Credit: K.C. Dermody
historic center, Matera, Italy

Old Matera is split into two sections, with the Sasso Barisano and the Sasso Caveoso separated by a ridge which is topped by Matera’s elegant cathedral, a 13th-century Apulian-Romanesque style church with frescos, artwork, painted ceilings, and even two small chapels.

The entire area is filled with magnificent buildings, making it a wonderful place just to walk, though you’ll find numerous shops, restaurants, cafes – and, fabulous gelato

Matera, Italy
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