Our Magical time in Matera, Italy & Cave Hotels

Matera, located in the Basilicata region of southern Italy, is a UNESCO World Heritage site known for its ancient cave dwellings, beautiful hotels and stunning churches. We found ourselves in Matera last summer during our trip to the heel of Italy’s boot, Puglia.

Matera, is one of the oldest cities in the world and a place that holds evidence of the Palaeolithic human settlements. With history spanning thousands of years, here are some of the best things to do in Matera:

Best things to do in Matera

  1. Explore the Sassi di Matera: The Sassi district is the heart of Matera and features a unique network of cave dwellings and rock-cut churches. Take a stroll through the narrow streets and get lost in the fascinating history and architecture of the area.
  2. Visit the Rupestrian Churches: Matera is home to numerous rupestrian churches, which are ancient churches carved into the rock. The most famous ones include the Church of San Pietro Barisano and the Church of Santa Lucia alle Malve.
  3. Explore the Cave Dwellings: Experience what life was like in the Sassi by visiting Casa Grotta di Vico Solitario, a preserved cave dwelling that showcases the living conditions of the past. It provides a unique glimpse into the traditional cave dwelling lifestyle.
  4. Wander through the Civita: Cross the 13th-century bridge to reach the Civita district, which offers stunning panoramic views of the Sassi. Explore its narrow streets, visit the Cathedral of Matera, and enjoy the picturesque atmosphere.
  5. Visit the MUSMA Museum: Matera is home to the Museum of Contemporary Sculpture in Matera (MUSMA), housed in a 17th-century Palazzo. The museum showcases an impressive collection of contemporary sculptures within its ancient halls.
  6. Explore the Crypt of the Original Sin: Located outside Matera, the Crypt of the Original Sin is a hidden gem. This rock-hewn church contains frescoes from the 9th century and is a fascinating archaeological site.
  7. Enjoy the Local Cuisine: Indulge in the traditional cuisine of Matera, which features dishes like orecchiette pasta, bread made from ancient grains, and hearty meat dishes. Don’t forget to try the local wine and sample the delicious pastries.
  8. Take a Sunset Stroll: Witness the enchanting beauty of Matera during sunset. Take a leisurely stroll through the Sassi and enjoy the warm glow as the sun sets over the ancient city.
  9. Attend a Cultural Event: Check if there are any cultural events or festivals taking place during your visit. Matera often hosts music concerts, film festivals, and other cultural celebrations that showcase the region’s artistic heritage.
  10. Explore the Surrounding Countryside: Venture outside Matera to discover the beautiful countryside of Basilicata. Visit the nearby town of Altamura, known for its unique bread, or explore the natural beauty of the Parco della Murgia Materana.

Best View points in Matera to see the Sassi

Make sure to get to a panoramic terrace overlooking Matera from where you can enjoy the view of Sassi. We were at terrace near the church of Santa Maria de Idris and saw the little town transform into a nativity scene at dusk.

Piazzetta Pascoli of Matera, a romantic balcony offers evocative panoramic views of the Sassi. You can find it on the left of Palazzo Lanfranchi palace, it is named after the poet Giovanni Pascoli, who began his career as a Latin and Greek teacher in this city.

While it involves a little bit of a hike, Belvedere di Murgia Timone is another spot from where you can enjoy a view of the Sassi. This Belvedere is part of the Archaeological Park of the Rock Churches of Materano and you can get an iconic photo of Matera with a cave framing the Sassi.

The view of the Sassi of Matera is magical when the lights turn on in the evenings. The panoramic view from the cathedral, the Civita district, i.e. the oldest inhabited group of buildings made of white limestone rocks looks like a huge nativity scene

Sassi di Matera

The Sassi is symbol of the city, which are caves dug into the mountain where the local people lived until they were forced to settle in modern accommodation in the 1950s. The area also saw key immigrations of Byzantine and Benedictine monks, who transformed the caves of the huge Gravina valley into Rock Churches.

Terracotta pottery has been found in Matera that dates back to around 7500 years BC which makes the city older than Rome.

Now Sassi of Matera is listed in the World Heritage List but back in 1952, a national law called for the evacuation of the Sassi, considered the “shame of Italy” due to overcrowding and unsanitary conditions. They called for the construction of new residential districts and to develop a new city area. 

A must see when visiting the Sassi of Matera is Casa Grotto. Located near the Church of San Pietro Caveoso it is a typical cave dwelling with furniture and tools of the time gives visitors an exact idea of how families lived in the “Sassi”.

Piazza San Francesco d'assisi Matera, Italy
Piazza San Francesco d’assisi Matera, Italy

Church of Saint Mary of Idris

Matera is filled with historic churches, but none is as magical as the Church of Saint Mary of Idris. The church of Santa Maria de Idris dates back to the fifteenth century and is part of a rock complex that also includes the oldest crypt, dedicated to San Giovanni in Monterrone. This crypt has some frescoes from the 12th to the 17th centuries. 

Pay the entry fee to gaze upon what remains of its frescoes, it is worth it! The views outside are special as well, walk around the church’s exterior for a fantastic view of the town, then look back at the church to see how it’s built directly into a cliff.

Some do a Matera day trip from Bari, which is only one hour away. Bari to matera day trip is easier to do if you have a car.

We didn’t have a whole lot of time in Matera, just 2 days and 2 nights but that was perfect to enjoy some wonderful meals and wander around the Sassi di Matera while waiting for the twinkling lights to come on at dusk. Sunset hour in Matera is magical!

Sassi di Matera, Italy at dusk when the lights come on.  So magical!

We chose to spend a couple of nights to get to know this ancient city a bit more. You can visit Matera in a day but here is our 2 day Matera Itinerary:

Our 2 day Matera, Italy Itinerary

Day 1 [Things you MUST see in Matera]

  1. Morning: Start your day by exploring the Sassi di Matera, the historic cave dwellings that Matera is famous for. Visit Casa Grotta. Take a guided tour or simply wander through the narrow streets and alleys to soak in the unique atmosphere of this UNESCO World Heritage site.
  2. Visit Church of Saint Mary of Idris
  3. Afternoon: Visit the Casa Noha, an interactive museum that provides a multimedia experience about the history and transformation of Matera. It’s a great way to gain a deeper understanding of the city’s past.
  4. Evening: Enjoy a leisurely stroll along Via Ridola, a bustling street lined with shops, cafes, and restaurants. Ridola Street is about 650 feet long, connecting Lanfranchi Palace with Francesco Square. Stop for a traditional Italian dinner at one of the local trattorias, where you can savor regional dishes and local wine. We loved our meal at La Gattabuia.

Interior of a traditional cave house at Casa Grotto, where peasant families lived up to the early 1950s. Carved out of tufa, it was mostly made of one room where both men and animals lived.

Day 2:

  1. Morning: Head to the MUSMA (Museum of Contemporary Sculpture Matera) to explore a unique collection of contemporary artworks set within a restored cave complex. The museum showcases a variety of sculptures and installations, blending modern art with Matera’s ancient setting.
  2. Afternoon: Take a short drive to the nearby Parco della Murgia Materana, a regional park with stunning natural landscapes and panoramic views. Explore the park’s hiking trails and make your way to the Belvedere di Murgia Timone viewpoint, which offers a breathtaking vista of the Sassi and the surrounding countryside.
  3. Evening: As the sun begins to set, head back to Matera and wander through the illuminated streets of the Sassi. This is a magical time to capture the city’s beauty and enjoy its enchanting ambiance. Stop at a rooftop bar or restaurant for a drink or dinner with a panoramic view.

Remember to wear comfortable shoes as Matera involves walking on uneven surfaces and hilly terrain.

Cave Hotels in Matera

Sant’Angelo Luxury Resort

Experience unabashed elegance at Located in the heart of a historic square in town, Sant’Angelo Luxury Resort is elegant and perfectly located for adventures around Matera. The best part is you get to sleep in a modern cave room, and you’ll wake up to gorgeous vistas of the old town from your picture window. 

Aquatio Cave Luxury Hotel & Spa in Matera

Aquatio Cave Luxury Hotel & Spa is another five-star accommodation designed so that visitors feel like they stepped back in time, all the way to Matera’s beginnings thousands of years ago. Your room within tuff (or stone) walls come with all the modern amenities you need for a great stay. There are 35 rooms and suites with plush furnishings, and you will have access to a massive wellness spa and a swimming pool carved directly into the rock. 

Things to do and see in Matera, Italy | OutsideSuburbia.com

Palazzo Gattini

Another luxury option is Palazzo Gattini, a 20-room property that mixes old and new, including contemporary furnishings and treasured antiques. Head to the rooftop for a drink with a spectacular view, or book a massage at the underground spa. 

Just like Cappadocia in Turkey there are several other cave hotels in Sassi di Matera, Casa Del Sole and Antico Convicino are two that we came across when walking around the Sassi of Matera.

Where we Stayed in Matera

We wanted to stay at the historical part of the city of Matera, from where we can see the view of Sassi, and Hotel Palazzo Viceconte delivered! The views from our room and the terrace was spectacular!!

Housed in an ancient noble palace of the 16th-18th century, the Hotel preserves period details and high ceilings. The owners have restored it beautifully while staying authentic to the original structure. It still retains that charm and exclusivity of an ancient place. Palazzo Viceconte is an ideal setting for an unforgettable stay and for adventures in the area.

From the gorgeous eighteenth-century courtyard, a staircase rises up that leads to the elegant halls of the noble floor furnished with antique furniture and a beautiful collection of paintings from the 17th to the 20th century is housed here. It was like the hotel had it’s own art museum. Don’t miss it!

Best Time to visit Matera

Thanks to its location in Southern Italy, Matera tends to have mild winters, making it a year-round destination. But summers can get very warm. If you can’t stand heat, visit in the fall or spring — late April to early June, and late September to early November, when temperatures are around the 60s and 70s. 

One reason to travel to Matera in the midst of summer is to take part in the Madonna Della Bruna festival (Festa della Madonna della Bruna), an event honoring the city’s patron saint. It’s held every year on July 2, and it includes parades, parties, and plenty of fireworks. The city was getting ready for the festival when we visited end of June.

Matera, Basilica, and Maria della Bruna who is taken on the procession during the festival, Festa della Madonna della Bruna

Where To Eat In Matera

Some of our favorite meals in Matera were at Ristorante La Gattabuia and Le Bubbole. The view at the terrace of Le Bubbole was incredible and dinner at the Michelin star restaurant was an amazing experience! But La Gattabuia was a surprise. We walked in not knowing what to expect and loved the extremely high quality local food with a global twist. Their take on tiramisu was innovative and excellent. Highly recommend both places for people who are looking to try unique and special dishes.

Here are a few other restaurants in Matera that were on our list:

  • Trattoria del Caveoso – Nestled in the rock, this trattoria is the perfect place to sample regional specialties like crapiata or cavatelli con peperoni cruschi.
  • Dimora Ulmo – Best bet for a gourmet tasting menu in Matera.  Add the wine pairing to sample the region’s best vino and while you sip, enjoy the spectacular view. 
  • La Nicchia nel Sasso – Perfect restaurant for a romantic evening.  Gorgeous view of Matera and the food is well-presented and represents the region well. 
  • 5 Lire Matera – Try to snag a spot on the balcony in the back.  Enjoy pizza, focaccia, or salad.

A delightful take on Tiramisu and Bread salad made with traditional Matera bread at Ristorante La Gattabuia

  • Vitantonio Lombardo (one Michelin star) – Run by a young chef who has returned to his roots.  Creative cuisine in a cave in Sasso Barisano.
  • Il Forno di Gennaro – Stop here for a fresh taste of Matera’s signature pane (bread).
  • I Vizi degli Angeli – Best gelato in town, in a quirky, colorful setting.  Classic and creative flavors.  Worth a stop, especially after a hot summer day in Matera!
Matera, Italy

The “Sassi di Matera” have been described by Fodor’s as “one of the most unique landscapes in Europe,” I hope you enjoy your time exploring this fascinating and historic city in Italy!


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