So many wonderful places to visit, so little time. Need a few suggestions? The New York Times has one for every week of the year in their annual list “52 Places to Go.” Last year, the fascinating Southern Italian region of Calabria was distinguished. This year, the experts say, it’s time to visit Basilicata.
Have they read my mind? Visiting Basilicata is exactly what I have been doing, and now the “secret” is out.
VISIT BASILICATA – “Italy’s Secret Southern Region”
As I read the NY Times’ recommendation to visit Basilicata, I couldn’t help but notice the repeated use of the word “secret.” And it’s true, the region is not included on the itineraries of casual visitors to Italy, but what makes something secret?
Aficionados of Italian film, for instance, are very familiar with Basilicata as directors are captivated by the picturesque villages that cling to hillsides, the haunting splendor of ancient churches, the grandeur of its castles and the dramatic, unspoiled settings. The American movie director Francis Ford Coppola traces his family roots to Basilicata and describes the region in simple but touching terms: “When you look at Basilicata, you see fields, vineyards, beautiful scenery. You see the earth as it was supposed to be.”
Major motion pictures have been set throughout the region, but Matera has held a particular allure, specifically the cavelike dwellings and churches of the Sassi district. Have you seen Mel Gibson’s controversial The Passion of the Christ or the recent Ben Hur, perhaps? Or if you prefer something more in keeping with The Omen, did you catch the Jerusalem scenes in the remake? If so, the secret is out. Well, part of it, a very small part of it.
So even if Matera has been on the tourist map for a few years now, the region has so much more to offer. And as the NY Times’ article says, Basilicata has been largely overlooked, so an authentic experience unencumbered by large tour buses and English menus can refreshingly be found. Visit Basilicata and discover a secret, cherished by a select few.
Basilicata is a Southern Italian region that lies between Calabria in the toe of the boot and Puglia in the heel. It is the country’s high-arched instep with mountains covering almost half the terrain, and hills, most of the rest. Flat land accounts for less than a tenth of its territory, which packs an impressive naturalistic diversity into relatively small dimensions.
The region’s mountains soar to 2,248 meters (7,375 feet) and its shorelines range from dramatic cliffs on the west coast’s Tyrrhenian Sea to long, sandy beaches on its southern Ionian Sea. And visitors have a lot of elbow room as Basilicata has the second lowest population density of Italy’s twenty regions.
The two largest cities as well as provincial capitals are Potenza, also the regional capital, and Matera, the aforementioned capital of tourism. In fact, Matera, itself a UNESCO Heritage Site, has the honor of being Europe’s Capital of Culture in 2019.
WHY VISIT BASILICATA?
In this blogpost I can only begin to scratch the surface of what there is to see and do in this southern Italian region. One thing is for sure, however, wherever you go, you can’t visit Basilicata without tripping over its rich history. A surprising number of castles pop up in towns and cities, a good number of which can be visited while others tell their stories with lone towers or ruins.
As to be expected in Italy, churches are plentiful. Basilicata is particularly blessed (no pun intended) with early Christian chapels carved out of caves and adorned with vivid pictorial art. Matera alone has over 150. Many of the region’s larger churches and cathedrals were built over those founded by early Christians. And why not visit Basilicata for one of its many religious festivals and other events held throughout the year?
Would you like to dig back further in time? Today’s Metaponto is popular with visitors to the Ionian coast and is the site of the ancient Greek colony Metapontum, founded in the 7th-century BC. The remains of one of its temples, called the Tavole Palatine or the Palatine Tables, can be viewed in the archeological park not far from Matera. In addition to many historical sites and parks, Basilicata also has eight national archeological museums in towns and cities throughout the region, veritable treasure troves of the past.
VISIT BASILICATA FOR NATURE, SPORT AND FOOD
Perhaps your idea of a good time is lounging at the beach or taking a hike, many visit Basilicata for all that nature has to offer, and then some. The region has a couple of adrenalin-rush adventures for thrill seekers, such as the Volo dell’Angelo zip-line that is located in Castelmezzano, the fairytale town in the cover photo above. (For a description of my zip-line experience, go to my recent Blogiversary post). And together with Calabria, Basilicata even has Italy’s largest national park, called the Pollino.
In this brief introduction to what you may find if you visit Basilicata, I will take a final moment to mention one culinary element that is particular to the region: the peperoni cruschi. Peperoni doesn’t have anything to do with the salami that tops pizzas all over America, but is the Italian word for pepper. These sun-dried sweet Italian peppers are fried and cruschi describes the sound when eating them. They are crunchy and are used in dishes throughout the region.
So, do you plan to visit Basilicata this year? I’m ready to go back. Oh, they also have an excellent DOC wine, the Aglianico del Vulture, just in case you were wondering.
UPDATE: Visiting Basilicata inspired me to write a book about the region, and I’m pleased to announce that it is available! Read about it on my blogpost Announcing My New Book, Basilicata: Authentic Italy, and you may order it on this Basilicata book link.
Read an article about Matera I wrote for the National Italian American Foundation’s Ambassador Magazine: Transforming Matera. Also, check out other posts on my Italian blog, such as Visit Calabria about last year’s NY Times’ list, as well as Calabria: The Other Italy, my non-fiction book about daily life, history, culture, art, food and society in another lesser-known southern Italian region.
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