Matera, an alluring city in the southern region of Italy, holds the distinction of being one of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited settlements. Its origins trace back 9,000 years, making it a testament to civilization’s enduring history.
Perched atop a rugged landscape characterized by honey-hued limestone cliffs, Matera’s unique urban layout has earned it UNESCO World Heritage Site status – captivating all who visit with its otherworldly stone structures.
What sets Matera apart is its iconic Sassi di Matera: a complex of ancient cave dwellings carved into the rock which create a labyrinth of winding streets, hidden courtyards and troglodyte homes. The dwellings, once impoverished, have undergone a renaissance and today house boutique hotels, artisan shops and cozy trattorias – harmoniously blending the past with the present.
Matera’s history is as diverse as its architecture. It has been home to various human civilizations, from the Neolithic era to the Roman Empire, and its evolution reflects the ebb and flow of time. The city’s cultural heritage shines through its ancient churches, frescoed cave chapels and vibrant festivals.
In recent years, Matera has emerged from the shadows of obscurity to become a cultural and artistic hub – attracting travelers and artists alike. With its timeless beauty and storied past, Matera beckons those seeking a journey through history, culture and the remarkable resilience of human ingenuity.
Why Visit Matera from Puglia?
Although Matera is located in the Basilicata region, it’s easy to access on a day trip from other nearby areas. Within a short drive, you can experience the city’s unique atmosphere and return to Puglia in the evening – making it a convenient yet enriching addition to your vacation in the heel of Italy’s boot.
A day trip to Matera from Puglia promises a day filled with history, culture, cuisine, artistic inspiration and photographic possibilities – all within easy reach from destinations like Bari, Monopoli, Alberobello or Polignano a Mare.
12 Best Things To Do in Matera
- Discover the Famous Sassi di Matera: Kick off the day’s adventure in Matera by wandering through the top attraction: the ancient cave dwellings known as Sassi. Marvel at the magnificent architecture carved into the soft tufa rock, which has been inhabited for thousands of years.
- Watch the Sunset at Belvedere di Murgia Timone: Head to this panoramic viewpoint during golden hour to witness Matera’s Sassi bathed in a warm, ethereal glow. It’s the perfect spot for photos.
- Visit the Church of Saint Peter ‘Barisano’: Step inside one of Matera’s historic cave churches, adorned with exquisite frescoes and ancient catacombs. San Pietro Barisano is a Catholic church that offers a serene atmosphere and a little glimpse into the city’s rich religious history.
- Book an Experience with Apulia Private Tours: The best way to see the ancient architecture, learn about the history, find the top photo-ops and try the authentic local cuisine is to book a tour of Matera with us here at Apulia Private Tours. I (Fabrizio) will reveal Matera’s hidden gems and help you savor some of the region’s most delicious typical dishes.
- Partake in the Casa Noha Multimedia Experience: Immerse yourself in the city’s history and culture through an engaging multimedia exhibit at Casa Noha. It provides an insightful context to Matera’s past and its transformation through a highly interactive multimedia project.
- Go Hiking at Alta Murgia National Park: Lace up your hiking boots and explore the rugged beauty of Alta Murgia National Park – just a short 30 minute drive from the city limits. Discover ancient rock churches, natural caves and breathtaking vistas along the way.
- Check Out the Artisan Workshops: Visiting the local artisan workshops allows you to witness the traditional craftsmanship that Matera is renowned for. You can watch potters, weavers and carvers at work – gaining insights into how they create unique pieces of art.
- Get Lost in the Alleyways of Matera: Spend a few hours getting lost in the labyrinthine alleyways of Matera. You will stumble upon hidden gems, intimate cafes and unexpected views around every corner.
- Stroll Through the Ancient City at Night: Sassi di Matera takes on a magical quality after dark. Plan your day trip from Puglia to stay well into the evening, so you can marvel at the dazzling illuminated streets.
- Explore Matera by Bike: Rent a bicycle and explore the city, and its surroundings, on two wheels. The rolling hilly terrain offers a rewarding challenge for cyclists, with endless stunning views as your reward.
- Time Your Visit for the Local Festivals: Check the local calendar for festivals and events that may be happening during your stay. The Festa della Bruna, celebrating the city’s patron saint on the 2nd of July every year, is a particularly lively and colorful spectacle not to be missed.
- Sip Coffee at a Cave Cafe: Enjoy a morning cappuccino or afternoon espresso at a cafe built into the rocky cliffs. These spots are the perfect way to soak up the ambience of the city and watch the world go by.
Tips for Visiting Matera
Visiting Matera is a once-in-a-lifetime experience due to its extraordinary ancient cave dwellings and historic charm. If you are planning a day trip from Puglia to Matera, here are some key tips to make the most of your visit:
- Plan Ahead: Matera is a popular destination, so it’s a good idea to plan your trip well in advance – especially if you are visiting during peak tourist seasons. Consider booking transport and tours ahead of time.
- Factor in the Travel Time: The journey from Puglia to Matera can vary depending on your starting point in Puglia. It typically takes around 1 to 2 hours by car. Check the most convenient route and estimated travel time before you depart, and factor this into your day trip itinerary.
- Know that Matera has Limited Parking: If you are driving to Matera, be prepared for limited parking options in the historic center. Consider parking in one of the designated parking areas outside the Sassi (the ancient cave dwellings) and then walk into the main city center.
- Bring Comfortable Shoes: Wear comfortable walking shoes as you will be exploring Matera’s narrow cobblestone streets and stairs. Some areas can be uneven, so proper footwear is essential. This is a crucial piece of advice for those booking a Matera tour with us at Puglia Private Tours.
- Try the Local Cuisine: Matera is known for its delicious bread called “Pane di Matera” – the ancient bread of Basilicata – and traditional dishes like orecchiette pasta with cime di rapa (broccoli/turnip rabe).
- Leave No Trace and Practice Responsible Tourism: Respect the city’s delicate environment and cultural heritage. Matera’s beauty lies in its authenticity, so be a responsible traveler and help preserve this gem for future generations. Refrain from touching the old buildings, and dress appropriately at the sacred sites of the city like churches and chapels.
Matera’s distinctive charm and boundless history make it a phenomenal destination where every corner holds an unforgettable experience waiting to be discovered. Enjoy your journey through this ancient city from Puglia!