I’d heard that Matera was enchanting. I’d read that Matera is “the only place in the world where people can boast to be still living in the same houses of their ancestors of 9,000 years ago”. And as for the Sextantio Le Grotte della Civita, this was luxury of another kind. But when I arrived I was still speechless. The owner of Sextantio is passionate about preserving Italy’s history but at the same time has created spaces that are both rustic and the height of indulgence inside these spectacular caves built into the side of the hill underneath Matera’s centro storico.
I’ve seen a lot of beautiful hotel rooms in my time, but this suite inside several adjoining caves of creamy stone, every alcove lit with cream candles, a giant egg-shaped bathtub and views out over the mountains, blew my mind. You don’t feel like you’re in a hotel at all. They serve breakfast in an abandoned church (again, inside a cave) with homemade cakes, marmalades, fresh fruit, coffee, cheeses, breads and the dulcet tones of classical music resounding off the high cavernous rock ceiling.
If you can bear to step outside your achingly romantic grotta, you’ll find the whole village is breathtakingly ancient. To be honest, I expected to find a fairly sleepy little town in the middle of Basilicata and yet at night the squares were full of people of all ages eating, drinking and strolling through streets that seem a part of a film set.
There’s one thing you must do when you come here. Eat at Le Fornaci (Piazza Firrao Cesare 7 – 0835.335037). At first I questioned my friend’s recommendation seeing as the restaurant isn’t in one of the main streets or piazzas. However, I sat down and devoured the best meal of my life. Baccala fish on a creamy bed of polenta with truffles and prawns. A mixed seafood platter. Succulent lamb cooked in a terracotta pot with local vegetables. Stuffed mussels in a spicy tomato broth. Homemade pasta with a rich sauce of ricotta and pecorino and semi-dried chilli peppers. A dessert plate of almond semifreddo drizzled in dark chocolate, fresh fig mousse with choc chips and ricotta cannoli.
Sextantio Le Grotte della Civita
Via Civita, 28 – Matera
How to get there:
Train from Rome to Bari. At Bari station take Ferrovie Appulo Lucane train for Matera.