Welcome to what is perhaps the most underrated region in Italy. Basilicata is a hidden treasure in and of itself: despite its many and unique attractions, it doesn’t seem to have the pull that Apulia and Campania have on both local and international visitors. The upside of this is that, if you decide to explore this fascinating and mysterious region, you won’t be stumbling along with a throng of loud tourists, queueing for hours to get anywhere. Nor will you experience that feeling of seclusion that is common in major touristic destinations, where the locals have grown weary of visitors and tend not to mingle. Rich in history, culture, art, natural beauty and folklore, Basilicata is the ideal place to visit if you want to experience Italy from a fresh perspective and at a different pace. Here you don’t need to rush: take your time, have a glass of Aglianico del Vulture and take in the beauty that surrounds you. And make sure you include these 5 stops in your visit.
Hidden treasures: 5 things to do in Basilicata
1. Visit Matera and explore its “Sassi”
Sassi literally means “rocks” and you might find it puzzling that anyone should be interested in walking amongst rocks. In Basilicata, however, things are not what they seem and “rocks” is actually an understated term for “caves”. These are prehistoric dwellings, where our ancestors lived as early as 10000 years ago. There are whole villages literally dug into the soft calcarenite rock, in which people used to live up until the 1950s, when the local population was relocated to altogether more modern and salubrious parts of town. The Sassi are UNESCO listed sites and absolutely unique and they are probably the most popular feature of the whole region. These caves have been home to troglodytes and hermits, to monks and warriors, and have not substantially changed since they were first carved into the pillars of a natural canyon. It is possible to book one and spend the night in it, but expect it to be extremely damp and not particularly comfortable.
2. Climb up to the statue of Christ the Redeemer
This is not Rio, but this statue will still leave you breathless. The best time to climb up to the summit of Mount San Biagio is shortly before sunset: try to time your excursion so that you can reach the top and enjoy the magnificent spectacle of the sun going down on the beautiful town of Maratea. The 70ft statue, which can be reached via a stairway from the local basilica, was commissioned to florentine artist Bruno Innocenti in 1963 and it was meant to be laid in place of an iron cross. The cross had been in place since the early XIX, commemorating the destruction, during the French occupation, of the most ancient settlement in Maratea.
3. Visit the temple of Hera in Metaponto
This is one of the most interesting archaeological sites in Italy. The temple itself dates back to the VI Century b.C. and it was built on the ruins of a Neolithic village. Back then, Metaponto was part of a thriving distinctly Mediterranean civilisation, with strong Greek influences, that encompassed most of Southern Italy. The temple originally had 32 Doric pillars, only 15 of which are still standing, and it was the main of three temples, forming a large complex that is believed to have constituted the commercial and cultural heart of the local settlement. The buildings in this archaeological site can be traced back to different time periods, but for the most part they were erected between the VI and the III Century b.C.
4. Lose yourself in a ghost town
A ghost town, not the ghost town. That’s right, there are three: Capomaggiore Vecchia, Borgo Taccone and the slightly better known Craco. The last one in particular has attracted a certain type of niche tourism and was featured in several movies. Craco has been a ghost town for half a century. A landfall in 1963 caused the town to be abandoned by a large part of the resident population, that moved downhill to the safer and newer Craco Peschiera. The remaining villagers left after a flood in 1972 and, finally, an earthquake in 1980. The unique charm of this ghost town lays in the fact that its physical structure is still intact. In 2010 and 2012, the old town has undergone some measure of restoration work, which did not change its appearance, but made it safe for tourists to visit.
5. Zipline between mountain tops
Did you know that there are Dolomites in Basilicata? That’s right: the charming villages of Castelmezzano and Pietrapertosa stand on the summits of the two peaks known as Dolomiti Lucane. The two summits reach respectively 3280 and 2624 feet in height and they are connected by strong cables, allowing for a thrilling flight that thousands of tourists and local residents take every year. Ziplining from Castelmezzano to Pietrapertosa, you will find yourself shooting across the valley at 70-75 Mph. Those who tried it, describe the experience as an adrenaline rush akin to bungee jumping. But then again, that’s what one would expect from someone who enjoyed bungee jumping. If you want to enjoy the local scenery from a unique perspective, this might be the perfect opportunity to shift your point of view.