Basilicata Cultural Tour

Basilicata Cultural Tour, Much More Than Matera!

Basilicata is off most travelers’ radars despite the recent popularity of Matera. My new tour is designed to remedy that! The program explores the entire region, a lesser-known jewel of the Italian south, and I am proud to say that the Basilicata Cultural Tour, the first of its kind, had its maiden journey this fall, and it was a resounding success!


Looking at a topographical map of Basilicata, you’ll immediately notice the mountains, which take up almost half the region, then there are the hills for a good bit of the rest and one large plain in its southern zone. Even though the territory is relatively small, measuring between our states of Connecticut and Delaware, the region is incredibly diverse. (For larger images and captions, click on a photo, which will open up the gallery.)

On my comprehensive Basilicata Cultural Tour, we explore the magnificent natural beauty, rich culture and traditions of the entire region, not just of Matera. We start out with four nights in the “Vulture,” the area of the extinct volcano in northern Basilicata, then we move to Maratea on the western coastline for two nights, then across the Pollino Mountains to Policoro on the eastern coast for two nights and finish the tour with three nights in Matera.

As with my Calabria tours, the Basilicata Cultural Tour is designed for a maximum of 15 guests. Many big companies use “small group” with reference to 22 or even 25 travelers – a far cry from a busload of 40 or 45 but certainly not to be compared with the individual attention and intimate experience that comes with a truly small-group size.

Basilicata doesn’t have an airport, so the tour begins in Bari with a pleasant drive through the Puglian countryside to reach our first hotel in Melfi. Now, let’s look at the details!


Our first taste of Basilicata brought us face-to-face with Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II, who reigned from Melfi’s castle, and curiously, his frescoed image graces the wall of a 1000-year-old grotto church, dug out of the Vulture’s volcanic stone outside the city walls. We would later visit the castle from where the first crusade was proclaimed, as well as the bishop’s house and a winery deep below the oldtown on an atmospheric day, reminiscent of kings, popes and templars. 


The long-reaching ecclesiastical arm of Acerenza’s majestic cathedral is said to have given rise to Basilicata’s name. We wandered the streets of the medieval old town, one of the Borghi più belli d’Italia (Italy’s Most Beautiful Villages), and drank their wine, featured in the film From the Vine. We didn’t have to sing for our supper or stomp for our wine, but we did explore Pietragalla’s historic wine caves and let our imaginations run through the hobbit-like complex. We also gave a nod to those less fortunate as we stuck our heads in the isolation cell at the Brigandage Museum in Rionero in Vulture.


We experienced Mount Vulture (pronounced VOOL-tuh-ray), Italy’s only volcano east of the Apennines, with a drive through the lush woods that grow on its gradually sloped sides. At times, the area of the spent volcano served as Frederick II’s hunting ground, at others, a brigands’ hiding place. Moreover, monks and other religious figures carved out chapels and built churches, holy places with a view of the lovely lakes formed in the volcano’s crater. Nearby in Ripacandida, we enjoyed the tranquil gardens that surround the Sanctuary of San Donato, an unassuming Romanesque church gloriously adorned with 16th– century frescos known as the “Bible of Ripacandida.”


What an irony – the place that gave birth to the man who coined the phrase, “Carpe diem,” has been unable to complete a building project begun over a thousand years ago. In Venosa, we toured the Roman archeological park and the impressive Abbey of the Holy Trinity, known as the “Incompiuta” (Unfinished), and strolling through the old town, it was clear why the birthplace of Horace is one of the Borghi più belli d’Italia.


Nestled in the Lucanian Dolomites, Castelmezzano is the definition of a picture postcard and another of the Borghi più belli d’Italia. We gazed upon the village amongst the rocks, admired the Norman staircase, marveled at the flying “angels” whizzing past on the overhead zipline and dined like royalty. In Potenza, we took an elevator to the top of the “vertical city” and learned all about Basilicata’s capital, Italy’s highest regional capital.


Our two nights in Maratea gave us one spectacular view after another with its position on Basilicata’s dramatic Tyrrhenian coastline: the Christ Redeemer statue on Mount San Biagio, the historic center, the Gulf of Policastro with Campania and Calabria in the distance, and even an underground cave.


Free-range podolica cattle accompanied us on our walk in the Pollino Mountains, vibrant with fall color. Our delicious lunch featured the special red eggplant of the area, and on our stop in Senise, we paid homage to the origins of the region’s renowned peperone crusco, a special sweet pepper that is dried and used in many local dishes.


Driving through Basilicata’s calanchi, a type of eroded badlands with an unearthly beauty, we were transported to the world of Carlo Levi, author of Christ Stopped at Eboli, with a visit to Aliano, town of his internment, where we were able to see his home and many of his moving works of art. In nearby Tursi, we visited the Sanctuary of Santa Maria Regina, all that survives of ancient Anglona, a city built after the Romans destroyed Pandosia, which according to mythological legend was founded by Oenotrus, father of the Oenotrians, people from the land of vines. In Metaponto, a more visible reminder of ancient peoples stands proudly in the form of the “Palatine Tables,” remains of a 6th-century BC Doric temple of ancient Metapontum, an important city of Greater Greece on the Gulf of Taranto.


We ended the tour in the Città dei Sassi, the City of Stones as Matera is known. Our multi-day exploration of this unique UNESCO World Heritage Site featured an illustrative peasant house, frescoed rupestrian churches, the stately Romanesque cathedral, an enormous underground cistern, the Medieval and Modern Art Museum with Carlo Levi’s monumental mural to the people of Lucania and the Crypt of the Original Sin. Not to leave out the jaw-dropping view of the Sassi from across the ravine in the Murgia Materana Park, the savoring of culinary delicacies in cave restaurants and the sipping of modern cocktails at the rooftop bar of our luxury hotel, while gazing on the Sassi and listening to church bells chime.


Guests on the Basilicata Cultural Tour were constantly amazed. They had read my book, they had looked at photos, and in some cases, perhaps even watched the occasional video, but from their reactions on each and every day, I realized that there couldn’t be a spoiler alert to experiencing the region. Basilicata in all its beauty with its abundantly rich culture is fresh.

I am all too aware as I write this and select the accompanying photos that this post can only begin to scratch the surface of a region with such depth. As I’m fond of saying, Basilicata is one of those deceptively small packages that, upon opening, reveals a very big reward.

Is your interest in Basilicata and my Basilicata Cultural Tour piqued? More information on my BASILICATA  TOUR Page!

Read all about the fascinating Calabrian region in my book Calabria: The Other Italy, described by Publisher’s Weekly as “an intoxicating blend of humor, joy, and reverence for this area in Italy’s deep south,” and explore Calabria’s northern neighbor in my book Basilicata: Authentic Italy, “recommended to readers who appreciate all things Italian” by the Library Journal.

Italy books

Follow me on social media: Basilicata Facebook pageCalabria: The Other Italy’s Facebook pageKaren’s Instagram and Karen’s Twitter for beautiful pictures and information.
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CALABRIA: The Other Italy and BASILICATA: Authentic Italy make great gifts!

Comments 12

  1. Looks fabulous, especially the scrumptious food!
    I’m missing living in Italy and hope to return next year. Need to keep writing more articles to catch up on the 4 years I lived there…too much to do.
    Hope that all is well with you.

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      Thanks! Very hard to keep up with it all, so many places to visit and so much to say about these lesser-known spots. Always fascinating to see where you’ll pop up next!

  2. This trip to Basilicata with Karen Haid exceeded all my expectations! The learning experience for me was par none. The accommodations were excellent and the food was out of this world! The hikes were challenging so please wear sturdy shoes. Visiting Carlo Levi’s home was awesome. I would encourage anyone to attend this tour with Karen, who by the way, has a wonderful sense of humor!

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      Thank you so much, Maria, for your wonderful review and recommendation of my Basilicata tour. It was great having you and your husband in the group and I am delighted that you so enjoyed the entire experience!

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      Basilicata is truly beautiful with something unexpected around every corner. Consider joining a tour of this incredible little region!

  3. Sadly the only place in Basilicata I have been to is Matera. I hope to see more soon-although it won’t be this year. Glad to see you are getting people there! Ciao, Cristina

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      Matera is wonderful and you have time for the rest! My tour guests are amazed at everything this small region has to offer.

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      There are 131 towns in Basilicata. Most tour companies only go to Matera. My Basilicata Cultural Tour visits many towns throughout the entire region, but it is impossible to visit them all. You will be happy to hear that we have eaten lunch in Montescaglioso on this tour. And I mention Montescaglioso, by the way, in my book Calabria: The Other Italy.

  4. Hi Karen,
    Interested in your unusual tours of both Calabria and Basilicata. Love to hear more. Contact me when you can at my email attached to this reply post!! Best regards, Scott

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