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Most people aren’t really quite sure where Basilicata is… usually I say, the instep of Italy between Puglia and Calabria. They start exploring further afield only after the greatest hits of Rome, Venice & Florence, but I see no reason why not to head down south first. I can understand that, in the past, you might have been put off from journeying below the mezzogiorno when even home-grown authors, such as Carlo Levi, describe Basilicata city Matera,“like a schoolboy’s idea of Dante’s Inferno…these dark holes…I have never in all my life seen such a picture of poverty.”
That was in the 40’s and, I am happy to report, the years have been good to Matera. The Sassi, or Caves, as they are known, that make Matera special, are one of the great wonders of the world and are as unique to Italy as the Uffizi or St. Peter’s. The city has the proud honor to have been selected the European Capitals of Culture for 2019. Basilicata remains pretty tourist-free, but has all the Best Bits of any Italian region…just a little less well known.
MY BITE-SIZED BITS OF BASILICATA
Bed…Palazzo Margherita – I haven’t been to any other hotels in Basilicata, but now there is only one for me. Thank goodness, Francis Ford Coppola’s grandparents were locals before heading to the USA. FFC returned to his roots and bought the main palazzo in town. Five years in the making, with a little help from designer extraordinaire, Jacques Garcia, the hotel is one of the best in all of Italy. It might not look like anything from the outside, but do not be fooled – ABSOLUTELY DIVINE!! From the Santa Maria Novella amenities, to the food (more on that later), to the service, the rooms, gardens, pool, screening room – everything is done with perfection. It is the definition of A BIT OF PARADISE!
Bite…Even if you are usually not a fan of orecchiette pasta – the ear-shaped, usually gummy, poorly cooked, ubiquitous Southern Italian favorite, you have never tasted it quite like this. I could not eat enough of it – delicate and delicious, every meal another sauce. If you are staying in the Palazzo Margherita, the eat-in kitchen is heaven, a cooking class is even provided so you can try your hand at rolling your own casarecce, orecchiette, fregola and canestrini. In Matera, we lunched at Al Falco Grillaio – fabulous homemade pasta – this time we had it with peperoni cruschi, local crushed red peppers that look hotter than the temperature outside, but are actually sweet and flavorful. Finish with a gelato from I Vizi degli Angeli right across the strada….not your ordinary run-of-the-mill ice cream parlor, but impossible-to-choose-just-one collection of fabulous combinations of flavors concocted from local herbs and spices, like Grapefruit & Rosemary and Pineapple & Ginger.
Our lucky find of the trip was La Taverna del Duca (Antonella Scatigna) in Locorotondo, a Grecian whitewashed hill town in neighboring Puglia. We passed through a dark doorway into a bright, tiny tourist-filled trattoria. Needless to say, I wanted to run out the door, when we were given a laminated, ten page menu with pictures of what was being served for lunch. There was no other choice in town open, so we had to stay. I pointed at one dish and then another, crossed our fingers and hoped for the best. The best was what was placed in front of us – no wonder it was packed. Little did we know that the cook, Antonella Scatigna, is one of the most well-regarded in Southern Italy. Her recipe for Fava Purée with Chicory had even been published in Lonely Planet’s Italy from the Source.
A few examples of the dishes you will be sampling!
Brew… Although only residents of the hotel can dine in, anyone can mosey up to Palazzo Margherita’s bar, Cinecittà. My Best Sip was definitely the Ciccio – recipe below!
Binge…I already praised the Santa Maria Novella bath products in the hotel. In addition, there are a few other local finds I couldn’t resist. In Matera, I came back laden with culinary treats you only find in Basilicata from da Nonna Rosa – the best deli in town. Also in Matera, feelosophy has lovely hand-woven scarves and bags decorated with the buildings and motifs local to Basilicata – perfect for gifts; Next to La Taverna del Duca in Locorotondo, Cumme had adorable tourist items, such as magnets in the shape of the Pugliese Trulli, as well as local olive oil and jam. Chocoholics staying at the Palazzo Margherita – you only have to step outside and right next door is Mivà – the best chocolate in Southern Italy!
A must is a stop is the town of Grottaglie for ceramics. Sold all over the world, including the Conrans down the street, I couldn’t help but return for the second time to fill in my collection. Read more about it here: A Bit of Italy: Grottaglie’s Famous Fasano Family.
Breathe…This photograph above should prove why a journey down south is a must if you are looking for solitude and peace. The tourists are busy in Alberobello, so sip your spritz and relax.
Bolt…Fly directly to Bari from London, rent a car or have Palazzo Margherita pick you up and deliver you to their door.
1/2 Pressed Lemon
1 1/2 teaspoons brown sugar
80 cl Tonic Water
80 cl Cedrata (Italian lemon soda)
4 leaves of Basil
4 cl Vodka
Cut the lemon and add it to the brown sugar in a tall glass and mix together. Add Basil and muddle softly. Fill the glass with ice, Add Vodka and stir, add Tonic Water and Cedrata. Garnish with Rosemary and Basil.
Best Bits: Travel Cheat Sheet for Bernalda, Italy
- Bed: Palazzo Margherita, Corso Umberto I, 64, Bernalda, +39 0835 549060
- Bite: al Falco Grillaio, Via Domenico Ridola, 17, Matera; I Vizi degli Angeli, Via Domenico Ridola, 36; La Taverna del Duca, Via Papatodero, 3, Locorotondo +39 080 431 3007
- Brew: Cinecittà Bar, Bernalda
- Binge: da Nonna Rosa, 166, V. Lucana, Matera; feelosophy, Via delle Beccherie, 67, Matera; Cumme, Piazza Vittorio Emanuele 21 Locorotondo; Mivà, Corso Umberto I, 68