Basilicata has an otherworldly landscape of tremendous mountain ranges, dark forested valleys and villages so melded with the rockface that they seem to have grown there. Its isolated yet strategic location on routes linking ancient Rome to the eastern Byzantine empire has seen it successively invaded, pillaged, plundered, abandoned and neglected.
In the north the landscape is a fertile zone of gentle hills and deep valleys – once covered in thick forests, now cleared and cultivated with wheat, olives and grapes. The purple-hued mountains of the interior are impossibly grand and a wonderful destination for hikers and naturalists, particularly the soaring peaks of the Lucanian Apennines and the Parco Nazionale del Pollino.
On the coast, Maratea is one of Italy's most chic seaside resorts. However, Matera is Basilicata's star attraction, the famous sassi (former cave dwellings) of the cave city presiding over a rugged landscape of ravines and caves. Its ancient cave dwellings tell a tale of poverty, hardship and struggle; its history is best immortalised in writer Carlo Levi's superb book Christ Stopped at Eboli – a title suggesting Basilicata was beyond the hand of God, a place where pagan magic still existed and thrived.
Today, Basilicata is attracting a slow but steadily increasing trickle of tourists. For those wanting to experience a raw and unspoilt region of Italy, Basilicata's remote atmosphere and wild landscape will appeal.
Italy's secret caves: the sassi of Matera
In the remote southern Italian region of Basilicata is the unique and ancient cave-city of Matera, famous for its sassi (stone houses carved out of the caves and cliffs)...
Need to know
Approach Matera from virtually any direction and your first glimpse of its famous sassi is sure to stay in your memory forever. Haunting and beautiful, the sassi sprawl below the rim of a yawning ravine like a giant nativity scene. The old town is simply unique and warrants at least a day of exploration and aimless wandering.