Ah, Italy. Even with the long list of places we haven't been, when an old friend announced he was getting married in Italy, it didn't take us long to decide we'd make the trip.
And if we're going to go all the way over to our favorite country, it wouldn't just be for a weekend. So we pulled out the maps and books and put together a 2 1/2 week gran giro mostly focusing on the South, but also building in some time for family and the wedding in the central region.
Because we've been lucky enough to visit Italy three times in the last three years (and Claudia has been many more times in her life) we've checked off many of the popular tourist attractions so we focused this year's itinerary on food, relaxation, and a bit of an exploration of our roots.
We arrived into Naples and somehow our bags did too. After hopping into the rental car and stopping for our first pizza in Scafati, a town that we chose to stop in partly because of its position off the highway and partly because we remembered our great friend Matt has family ties there, we made our way south along the coast on increasingly windy, cliff-side roads. A couple hours later we arrived in a small town outside Maratea in Basilicata, an often overlooked region nestled in the south of Italy with a short but sweet coastline. This area of the Tyrrhenian coast boasts small, rocky coves with turquoise water that are often only reachable by boat or foot. We were lucky enough to be staying a ten minute walk from a beautiful beach made of black pebbles in the home of the engaging and warm Sonia and Biagio. For three nights, we fought off our jet lag with daily trips by foot to the beach, relaxing in hammocks, and eating fresh tomatoes off the vine. Our hosts could not have been kinder, constantly feeding us homemade goodies, fresh fruits off their trees, and family-made limoncello and wine.
We did make the short drive one afternoon to the actual town of Maratea, a few miles uphill and inland from the coast, and found ourselves enchanted by the way its streets wound with the hills' topography, the lively public squares, and the breathtaking view from the Cristo Redentor statue a bit further up the mountain.
Having recovered from jet lag and gotten into the vacation groove, we headed to the ancient town of Matera for a history lesson on the region. The city is one of the oldest in the world, dating back to the Paleolithic age, with houses carved out of the region's pliant stone. People lived in these cave-houses ("sassi"), in extremely close and overcrowded quarters, and without any running water, until the government declared them unsanitary in the 1950s and relocated the entire city. However, in the late 80s, the Italian government, with the help of UNESCO, began to rehabilitate the sassi, and now the town is one of the most visited in the South, and one of the European Union's "Capitals of Culture" in 2019. Many of the sassi have been turned into boutique hotels and fancy restaurants and the town has a very unique and stylish feel. Several movies have been filmed there, including Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ (in case you're into self-torture...). Although it was swelteringly hot, we greatly enjoyed wandering around to take in the dramatic views around every corner, watching the locals go about their daily lives, and we even managed to stop in a few museums that depicted how life was in the sassi in the first half of the 20th century.
Having gotten a taste of the slow pace, rugged scenery, wonderful hospitality, and delicious food in Southern Italy, we made our way further southeast toward Puglia, where the next chapter of our trip would unfold.
View the photo album for Basilicata