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Basilicata

Nowhere else can you see so clearly, first-hand, how people have adapted the landscape since time immemorial, to organise themselves into communities. The rock city of Matera, European Capital of Culture 2019 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1993, is one of the oldest conurbations of its type in the world.

Basilicata (or Lucania) is a part of Italy in which the European and Mediterranean cultural propensity goes hand-in-hand with the conservation of ancient rights and traditional rituals, particularly in the kitchen. But don’t be deceived: this region (a small part of it, at least) is also lapped by the sea, and has a very varied coastline, playing host to wonderful resorts such as Maratea on the Tyrrhenian Sea, and Policoro and Scanzano Jonico on the Ionian Sea.

Between the coast and the mountains, the region is studded with villages and natural attractions that become magical in spring but also in autumn, when nature surrounds them with the colours of the foliage. Those visiting this part of Italy cannot miss the opportunity to admire the evocative panoramas with the flight of the angel – a unique zip-wire adventure that is sure to take your breath away. This magical region has made ecology one of its watchwords, and it is here that couples get married surrounded by trees, as the simplest, most authentic flavours of the earth delight their taste buds.

We are in what is a natural film set, and the region is a go-to location for Italian and international film-makers. Recent blockbusters shot here have included The Passion of the Christ , directed by Mel Gibson and filmed against the eye-watering backdrop of the “sassi” of Matera. Before Gibson, there came the great Pierpaolo Pasolini, for whom Matera stood in for Calvary in The Gospel According to St Matthew. Of late, Lucania has served as the set for the celebrated comedy Basilicata Coast to Coast.

This is no surprise, in a part of Italy that has such an ancient history and such a resonant natural landscape. The first people to fall in love with it were the Greeks, who came here via the Ionian Sea. Then came Frederick II, the Holy Roman Emperor, who was fond of taking refuge here. Evidence of these presences can be found in the archaeological museums of Matera, Potenza and Metaponto, whereas the Norman kings’ love for this land is clear in the castles around Melfi.

Direct, authentic flavours are the basic ingredients in the culinary culture of Basilicata, which is appreciated by even the most exacting of gourmands, who cannot fail to bow down to the exquisite simplicity of the region’s cuisine.

Lucanian cooking is so healthy because it respects fully the dictates of the Mediterranean diet, having recourse exclusively to extra-virgin olive oil. Local delicacies include luganega (a type of sausage) and an impressive array of cheeses, including caciotta and provola, which are showcased at their best in the renowned Pecorino di Moliterno.

The traditional craftsmanship here is influenced by the rural, pastoral culture, and in the small towns and villages you will often see time-honoured artisans creating everyday utensils that are so useful that they make for excellent souvenirs. Woodworking is raised to an art by the carpenters of Matera as they produce highly refined wooden furnishings. In Maratea, alongside the boutiques of what is becoming an increasingly glamorous resort, your eye is sure to be caught by the typical local wicker and straw baskets for sale.

A small region that encompasses an infinite variety of landscapes: Sun-drenched countryside and rolling hills; lunar ravines opening up to afford stunning glimpses of lush forest. The sandstone so typical of the Lucanian Dolomites provides the backdrop for numerous villages that seem to be camouflaged against it. The stone – such as tufa, which is the basis for the rock city of Matera – is unique. In white cities like Pisticci, you can already pick up on the scent of the sea. And what a sea it is! The Ionian coast features fine sandy beaches, whereas the Tyrrhenian coast is higher and more jagged.

Basilicata is a paradise for those who love outdoor pursuits. Its luxuriant, harsh nature makes this small region ideal for those with a passion for cycling holidays and for those who like to go mountain biking – here, they can push themselves beyond their limits and have a thrilling time in the process. The lake of Mount Cotugno is a hotspot for canoeists. But if you think that Basilicata is a sporting paradise in summer alone, think again. On the Pollino massif and the Lucanian Apennines , well-equipped ski resorts such as Viggiano and Sellate have what it takes to excite even the most uncompromising of skiers.

Basilicata is a wonderfully glamorous region, with a high-quality hospitality sector. Here, wellness is very much at home, thanks to the exceptionally warm welcome given to visitors by the locals. It is a destination of choice for those who want some of that famous Italian charm in refined surroundings – way off the beaten track, and all the more naturally relaxing for it.

There is an array of options to choose from, with numerous farms and spas dotted throughout the region. Not to be missed are the spas at Latronico in the province of Potenza, where the mud and sulphur-rich water will make you feel totally revitalised.

Carnival in Basilicata is a sight to behold! Goliardic masks are on show at mash-k-r in Tricarico, whereas in Aliano the horned masks are rough and frightening, recalling the ancient Dionysian rituals that bind Man to Nature, as embodied by the figure of the Rumit in Satriano di Lucania. The abandoned villages come to life in the summer, serving as impressive backdrops for original plays, such as La Città dell’Utopia (City of Utopia) performed at Campomaggiore Vecchio. Families will love the choice of adventure parks, whereas Maratea is the place for those looking for exciting nightlife.

The region’s patron saint is the Black Virgin of Viggiano, an ancient cult figure. The little brown simulacrum is worshipped to this day because, legend has it, it survived the Saracen sacking of the ancient city of Grumentum. There are evocative traces of monasticism at the silent convent of Santa Maria d’Orsoleo, located in the hills above Sant’Arcangelo, in the enchanted Val d’Agri. The Byzantine fathers arrived here in the 10th century, and their footprints can still be seen in the picturesque rock churches of Matera. Basilicata is still on the route for dozens of pilgrimages, which carry sacred statues from one area to another, occasionally passing through ancient villages and hushed woodlands.

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