Franco is our B&B host in Matera, Basilicata. He offered to take us around his city on Sunday afternoon.
In the morning we had wandered around the Sasso Caveoso, the southern part of the city and the Sasso Barisano, the northern part of the city. After our first tour of this incredible city we found a grocery store. We like grocery stores better than souvenir stores: our best souvenirs are local foods. For example in Italy we will look for local fresh pasta like orecchiette, wine from the Puglia and Basilicata regions, cheese and salami. One of the most common grape in Puglia is the negroamaro, a very robust wine. This name means literally ‘black and bitter’ but I found it rather ‘velvety’. The other grape we tried in Puglia is called primitivo, also rustic and strong, with a high level of alcohol, known as Zinfandel in California. In Basilicata, the grape we found the most is the aglianico. It came from Greece and its name derives from ellenico (Hellenic). It is a tannic wine with dark berry flavors. Since Franco had planned to take us around we bought him a good bottle of primitivo and a white wine to replace his bottle.
We had lunch in Le Botteghe, a restaurant with vaulted ceiling, large authentic pavements on the floor. As a starter we tried the specialty of the region: bread soaked in olive oil with cherry tomatoes, basil and onions – a bit like a bruschetta in taste but completely different. Then we shared the lamb and the peasant sausage with fava beans from the region. Simple food, no sauces, yet full of flavors.
We were then ready to explore some more. Franco took us outside the city, on the North East of the city where the national park Parco della Murgia Materana starts. First he showed us a church carved in the rock with a built-in façade. It had three naves. Archeologists have registered 155 rupestrian churches around Matera. Then we saw a huge quarry, still in use to repair the sassi with similar stones as the original ones. Nearby there was the Sun cave named after a smiling sun carved in its ceiling. There were also remnants of a wall built as a beehive. Time has taken its toll on the structure but much of it should be restored in the perspective of 2019 when Matera becomes the European capital of culture.
We understand much more Italian than we can speak and Franco had numerous stories and history to tell so we listened a lot. Whenever he was driving, yet wanted to continue speaking, he would stop the car to be able to use his hands! It is not a cliché, Italians speak with their hands. We stopped to visit some grottos. On the way Franco showed us wild thyme, oregano and even arugula. In one of the grottos we could clearly see the sediment left by the ocean in prehistoric time. Now the ocean is 44 km (about 28 miles) away from Matera. Suddenly we realized that we were on the other side of the canyon, facing Matera and its imposing cathedral. Walking back to the car, Franco had to stop several times, because even if he was not driving, in order to understand the full picture we had to see the hand gestures, and you can’t do this if you are walking side by side!
When we came back we gave him the wine to thank him, he didn’t want to accept. We insisted. He accepted only if we accepted his invitation to his beautiful house – a never ending-story! The living room had a high vaulted ceiling – it was perhaps an ancient monastery. We met his wife and his eldest son. It was hard to part with such good company.
We really want to come back. Special times in Matera are for Christmas, at Easter when there is a show with the 12 apostles in 12 grottos across the canyon, and July 2nd when Matera celebrates its Saint Patron la Madonna della Bruna.