Basilicata Road Trip
Although Basilicata, the instep of Italy’s boot, is one of the country’s remotest regions, it makes for a stunningly beautiful road trip that’s easier than one might expect. I had a stupendous time exploring this little-known section of Italy, where character-rich hideaways now allow travelers to visit troglodyte Matera, ancient Greek ruins, superb wineries and sandy, uncrowded beaches in comfort and style.
This suggested itinerary closely follows my recent journey to Basilicata. Those with more time should consider adding a few days to allow for more-relaxed enjoyment of each destination.
Read full coverage of Basilicata in Andrew Harper’s February 2018 Hideaway Report.
Day 1 : Bari
It’s possible to reach Bari, the closest gateway to Basilicata, with just one change of planes from several major cities in the United States.
Ambitious sorts might rent a car and head straight to Matera, a little over an hour from the airport. Those who don’t relish driving immediately after an international flight should check into the 75-room art nouveau Hotel Oriente Bari. Although the property does not reach the heights of luxury, it is a perfectly comfortable base for a night.
Have dinner at the traditional Ristorante Biancofiore or the stylish and refined La Bul.
Day 2 - 4 : Matera
Drive to Matera, and check into the 20-room Palazzo Gattini, the best choice for anyone who prefers traditional luxury over anything more adventurous or rustic. Alternatively, consider the 18-room Le Grotte della Civita, a dramatic cave hotel where pillar candles provide most of the lighting (it also has modern comforts such as air-conditioning and Wi-Fi). Both properties have fine restaurants. In either case, be sure to get clear driving directions in advance from the hotel.
Dramatic cave hotel owned by Swedish-Italian architect Daniele Kihlgren in the spectacular town of Matera.
Luxurious hotel in an 18th-century palace overlooking the Duomo.
In the afternoon, take a walking tour with a local guide, which will make a visit to Matera much more rewarding. Note that a visit to Matera requires a lot of walking, and many of its steep lanes have long flights of steps.
I recommend taking at least one more half-day with a guide, who can potentially access cave dwellings not ordinarily open to the public, as well as memorable sites such as huge underground cisterns and churches that are not always obvious to the visitor.
Also explore on your own, touring sites like the Museum of Contemporary Sculpture Matera, and take some time to relax a bit. After all the walking, a treatment at Palazzo Gattini’s spa, in a vaulted 14th-century stone cellar, will be in order.
Matera is also the best base from which to visit Basilicata’s wine country, about 90 minutes to the northwest of the city. Read about my three favorite wineries in the area, along with my favorite restaurants in Matera.
Day 5 - 6 : Bernalda
Drive about an hour through pleasant farm country to the small town of Bernalda, home to Francis Ford Coppola’s new hotel, the nine-room Palazzo Margherita. It’s expensive, to be sure, but it is a place of such beauty that it seems sometimes more like a film set than a space intended for paying guests.
In the afternoon, take some of the hotel’s complimentary bicycles and have a pedal around Bernalda, followed by a refreshing dip in the hotel’s pool. Or take advantage of the hotel’s free shuttle to the beach, 15 minutes away.
Strikingly beautiful country hotel in a 19th-century mansion in the amiable small town of Bernalda, 40 minutes south of Matera.
Palazzo Margherita’s restaurant is overpriced and underwhelming. I recommend dining out. Homey La Locandiera was one of my favorite spots in town.
If spending upward of $1,000 a night for a hotel in remote southern Italy sounds like a bit much, opt instead for the thoroughly charming 13-room Hotel Torre Fiore, a 16th-century fortified farmstead just outside Pisticci, about 15 minutes from Bernalda. The hotel has a lovely infinity pool, and its Patio della Torre restaurant is one of the best in the region.
Make excursions to the ancient Greek ruins at Metaponto and/or Policoro and the haunting town of Craco, which was finally abandoned after a major earthquake in 1980. (Book hotel-organized day trips in advance to avoid disappointment.)
Day 7 - 8 : Pollino National Park
Check out of your hotel and head to Basilicata’s small strip of Mediterranean coast today, stopping for lunch en route at the superlative La Luna Rossa, deep in Basilicata’s Pollino National Park.
Continue on to the 40-room Santavenere, set in a lush, well-groomed park overlooking green hills sloping down to the sea. The hotel does not reach the levels of luxury provided by Italy’s top seaside resorts, but it is well-run, friendly and offers excellent value for the money.
If instead you prefer to finish at a true luxury hotel, drive three and a half hours to the Amalfi Coast.
Spend today relaxing at Santavenere. We indulged in some reading in the shade of the pine trees by the pool and taking occasional dips in the sea. The hotel has no fewer than four restaurants (and three bars), plus an excellent spa, tennis courts and a fitness center.
Day 9 - 10 : Naples
Drive two and a half hours to the Naples airport. If the flight schedule permits, depart this afternoon. It’s more likely that an overnight in Naples will be necessary, but this will be no great hardship.
Take a taxi to the Grand Hotel Vesuvio (suites offer impressive bay views), and have a memorable dinner on the ninth floor at Ristorante Caruso Roof Garden.
Elegant waterfront hotel of Old World charm dating from 1882, overlooking Mount Vesuvius a short walk from the Castel dell’Ovo.
Head for the Naples airport and depart.
Basilicata Road Trip
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