24 hours in Matera – i Sassi and some great food

Via Bruno Buozzi da Santa Maria de Idris

I am sure 24 in one place do not offer enough time to be a proper judge of the place’s culinary traditions and places to visit, yet I feel compelled to write about our quick fire visit to the stunning Sassi di Matera. We nearly didn’t make it. The day before myself and@bmcboy came off a scooter and badly bruised knee (me) and elbow (him), with nasty tarmac abrasions.
Yet nothing stops me from visiting something I had been wanting to visit for years so in we went, on a 3 hours picturesque drive through the Cilento National Park and the Appennino Lucano, until we reached the Ionian coast and then Matera. The heat was stifling, 2012 being one of the hottest summers on record. We drove through Montescaglioso where my granny was born in 1907, without finding the romanesque Abbey I wanted to visit, and made it to Matera just on time for lunch.

Reception

We found our boutique BB quite easily. Opened only for a coupke of months, Corte San Pietro is locsted right on Via Bruno Buozzi which is the only road in Sasso Caveoso where cars can circulate. This was the main reason we had chosen, actually but we were so pleased to find a beautifully restored, 5 rooms boutique hotel with welcoming hosts and spacious, clean rooms with a mix of antique and modern furniture and full of character and history. Each room used to be the home of an entire family until the mid 50s when the area was forcefully evacuated by the council. Under our rooms, a number of connecting chambers were used to collect rain water for those who lived in this ‘sasso’.

The Matera old town is divided in two areas, both called Sassi (‘stones’). And true enough, the houses here are made in stone, carved into the side of the hill where the town was built. Sasso Caveoso and Sasso Barisano occupy the two hillsides, Sasso Caveoso being historically the poorer of the two where the dwellings were completely carved into the rock. Sasso Barisano was more ‘upmarket’ and here houses are partly built in the rocks and partly build up. We enjoyed a later afternoon tour with a local guide which was very useful to understand the history of the city and its peculiarity. Had I not had a screwed up knee, I would have loved to walk around at night, because the place is incredibly fascinating, with the stone houses everywhere. A lot of these, since the area was nominated Unesco World Heritage Site, have been refurbished to house hotels, BBs, shops and restaurants. Only a small number which were originally privately owned are now again private dwellings with finally all mod cons and the basics such as running water.

@intotheFword had very kindly provided us with some foodie recs but given the state of my knee and the heat, we opted to follow our host’s recommendations for both lunch and dinner, given that they were abour 2 minute walk from the hotel.

Matera foodFor lunch we went to Panecotto. In a cave (of course), a modern deli restaurant which sells local produce such as cheese, cold cuts and loads of nice jars with soups and spreads. Despite @bmcboy saying the place had a bad smell (cheese!) I thought it was a lovely place, with friendly and expert service and plenty of choice, with very reasonable prices.
We ordered a few small plates such as bruschetta with spicy peppers, salad with the most amazing Moliterno pecorino I have ever had, local ham and ice cold white wine.
Panecotto is a local project which aims to use locally sourced ingredients, promote artisan crafts and food producers and employ disadvantaged people. Judging from our experience, they have hit the mark.

Sassi

In the evening we went next door to Da Francesca, our host having ensured we had an outdoor table. They don’t have many but all of them have a view to the Sassi. The evening was quiet, warm and with white stone surrounding everything.
Despite some negative reviews online, we had a great meal. The service was, like at Panecotto, very professional, friendly and efficient. The menu is extensive, and the portions absolutely huge, this being the only criticism of the night! My starter of Stracciata was fantastic, and an enormous amount. So fresh! Puglia is in fact a stone’s throw away. Freshly made pasta dishes were delicious, one with smoked cheese and fresh tomato sauce, the other being ravioli with local ricotta.
Our mains were all meat based.. and so much of it! Mixed grill, lamb chops with brandy sauce, fillet tagliata and grilled pork chops, with a side of freshly cut crisps that was amongst the best I have ever had in a restaurant. We ended the meal tasting a white ‘tartufo’ ice cream from nearby Pizzo Calabro. It was my first taste of this well known ice cream and I hope it wont be my last, it was fantastic. We enjoyed two bottles of wine including a very reasonably priced Preliminare.
The rest of our eating times in Matera were also great. Breakfast at Corte San Pietro had some local fresh produce such as pane and pomodoro (bread and tomato) and a never seen before yellow watermelon. After our walking tour, we had a tasting in one of the local shops, and while of course they offer this so that you end up buying things, it was great to taste some local spreads such as that of lampascioni (a kind of root vegetable) and the ‘cruschi‘, red peppers fried and enjoyed almost like a crisp.
I cannot wait to go back to Matera. It’s an amazing, very unique place, which definitely calls for more than 24 hours to appreciate fully and discover further. The local food we tasted was interesting and very good and there’s more to be tasted. I cannot recommend a visit enough.

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