Italy for the Ordinary | Matera to Rome
Our world-wind of a vacation was coming to an end. We had our last breakfast at Masseria il Frantoio and loaded our VW Golf diesel and set out to Matera. We read so many reviews about Matera as a must see place to visit in southern Italy. It was a bit out of the way from the 3 cities we predominantly visited, but somewhat on the way to our airport in Rome.
So what actually is Matera. It is a well preserved ancient city called Sassi (Italian for the “stones”) It dates back to the Paleolithic Age or ‘stone age’, which is quite unimaginable. From what I read, Matera was a bit of an eye-sore, one article even stated it was known as “the shame of Italy”. These stone caves were mostly occupied by peasants and farmers. These habitants were forced out and relocated into government housing. In the early 1990’s a local resident of Matera started buying property and literally restored the caves into a more modern space while maintaining the integrity of the original structure.
I think the main reason I was drawn to Matera was it was where The Passion of the Christ was partially filmed. As I mentioned above, there were so many positive reviews about visiting this location. However, if you’re going to make the trip do some homework first. We didn’t really do that and I’m sure there was more to explore. We walked up and down the ancient stairs and took in the view. But weighing our mind was several hours on the road to Rome, so we decided not to invest a great deal of time in Matera.
Matera is a UNECO World Heritage site, so it truly is quite spectacular. However, I think to really appreciate what it is, you need to know what it is. We did a ‘drive-by’ which may not have been a fair representation of of this ancient town. I certainly am glad we paid a visit but based on the reviews perhaps we missed something. I feel awful, once again, not oozing words of affirmation about Matera. Again, you have to have an appreciation of what it is. If you don’t do theresearch, you may not fully appreciate what it is. It’s kind of like being an artists. Until you understand the work and vision behind the art, you may not fully understand its aesthetic value. So there you have it. My honest opinion on Matera. I think it’s like any other place. If you have endless time and a large budget, you could find a unique place to stay and have a completely different experience. For me, it was fascinating but it wasn’t the end all stop for me.
Images from Sassi, the stone city.
Some final observations and thoughts….
You can do this trip!
We spent 2 nights at Lake Como, 3 nights in Tuscany and 4 nights in Puglia. We lost one night on the plane heading to Italy and then spent one night outside the airport in Rome prior to our departure flight.
Unless you’re visiting the city where your airport is, I suggest that you get to your departure city the day or night before, especially if you have a morning flight, which is likely if you’re leaving Europe. There is so much stress and timing issues getting to the airport and if you have a rental car, it requires that much more coordination and planning.
Do consider flying into one city and out of another if you want to cover a larger geographical area.
Bring some form of a travel phone, I can’t stress that enough
Consider a paper map
Be patient and expect to make some mistakes along the way. There were a few U-turns and pull overs to figure out where we were going. The pictures only show the “good” and there’s always a little “ugly” when traveling.
Know your driving limitations. The roads can be narrow and curvy.
You can’t see it all. We really tried to see so much and I am glad we pushed ourselves. But, when you’re visiting all these ancient towns in Italy, you will find something amazing in each city. You will see amazing churches, intricate works of art and dramatic landscapes. So if you don’t see the David by Michelangelo, it’s okay.
It’s handy to have change/coins for parking meters or even a bathroom.
Notify your bank of your travels. Let them know what countries you’ll be visiting and as I mentioned before, make sure you have a credit card that has a pin number.
Drive a bit slower, signs aren’t always as clear as you might think.
Oh, I forgot to mention this earlier. Some of the cities we visited had very slippery surfaces. This was particularly apparent in Ostuni. Basically we walked on polished limestone. Whether the surface was dry or wet it really was almost like walking on ice. There even were parts that had a pretty serious incline or decline. So walking on a slippery surface plus heading downhill made for a very cautious stance. You need to wear shoes or sandals that have a rubber or non-slippery sole and ones that can stay securely on your feet. Approach to “safety” is different outside the U.S. You are responsible for yourself. There may even be steps or stairs without a railing to hold onto.
Well that about sums up our experience in Italy. We had a fabulous trip. We experienced so much and really I don’t have any regrets. You can’t approach a trip like this expecting perfection. Looking back, you tend to remember the wonderful places you visited and you end up forgetting the mishaps along the way.
Lake Como was like a fairytale.
Tuscany was all about architecture meets culture meets sunflowers and rolling hills.
Puglia was acres and acres of olive groves, white buildings, blue skies and a water like a kaleidoscope of shades of blues and greens.
I hope one day you can experience Italy. Maybe your experience will be similar to ours, maybe it won’t. Wherever you go in your travels, you are sure to fall in love with an amazing country filled with art, culture, and diverse scenery.
Thanks for coming onboard and reading this blog, Italy for the Ordinary. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed reminiscing about our trip and sharing what I learned along the way. Remember, making your deliberate escape is certain to bring you to a place of exploration and discovery.