Finding the Perfect 5 Star Cavernous Lodging in Matera
Everyone told us that Matera was not to be missed.
A city of caves and pre-historic dwellings in Southern Italy, often referred to as Sassi, which translates as “City of Stone”. Matera can trace its heritage back over 8,000 years to the Paleolithic era. Once considered a scourge on the national culture and sensibility, today it is a true gem of Italy.
Decimated after two World Wars, many local Italian residents flocked to these ancient caves as a means of survival. The 1940’s and 50’s found man and beast alike inhabiting the caverns of Matera. Carlo Levi, a writer exiled to a nearby city by dictator Benito Mussolini, wrote that he had never seen “such a picture of poverty”. Conditions became so dire that, in 1952 the Italian government forbade further occupation of the caves.
By the 1980’s the tide was shifting and Matera was heading in an entirely different direction. The rebirth of Matera took form of retrofitting some of the ancient caves and hillside dwellings into an amazing array of homes, restaurants, shops, and hotels, tucked in amongst a labyrinth of cobblestone streets and terraces.
It’s rebirth has not gone unnoticed, and Matera has received more than it’s fair share of publicity recently. Designated as an UNESCO World Heritage Site for 2019, featured on a CBS 60 Minutes broadcast, and an article in The New York Times, in which the mayor of Matera was incredibly quoted as saying that he “hopes that tourist don’t show up”. (Now that’s how to soft sell a place). Tourism, he explained, will deplete a city of its soul — and this city has a prehistoric soul.
Well…. Ann and I defied the mayor’s request, and showed up anyway.
Glad we did.
We booked a room at the Corte San Pietro in the heart of Matera. A hotel that is so unique, that it is a little difficult to describe without coming away feeling that no matter what you say, you have sold it short.
But I will try anyway.
The modern glass doors which welcome you through the entryway and into the main lobby offer a unique juxtaposition for what lies ahead. Inside are cavernous rock chambers, arched walls, and subterranean cistern’s, visible through glass plates in the floor. If not for the meticulous attention to all details throughout, one might forget themselves, and think they were taking part in an archeological dig.
The rooms were magnificent, understated, yet luxurious. Looking about, admiring the seemingly impossible feat of bringing a high-end modern bathroom into this cavernous structure, I kept asking myself “how did they do this”.
Spending time in an ancient hotel allowed me the opportunity to tap into my inner Neanderthal. After about 20 minutes of my non-stop Fred Flintstone references, Ann chose the wiser path, and parted company with my inane humor, to accept an invitation for a personal tour from the proprietor, Fernando Ponte.
Fernando explained that the Corte San Pietro has truly been a family project, enlisting the help of his wife and sister-in-law for the interior design work. They drew inspiration from world renowned Belgium designer, Axel Vevoordt, who has visited and stayed at the hotel.
Each time he had ventured to renovate a new section of the caves adjoining his hotel, he uncovered yet more undiscovered sections that require further exploration. Fernando’s latest discovery involves an enormous hidden vault, which he plans to convert into a future spa.
Venturing into the heart of the ancient city at night, we wound our way thru endless pathways, tunnels, and passages in search of the perfect dining spot. Perched on a terrace overlooking the city we landed upon Ristorante Francesca that offered a meal which rivaled the magnificent view.
Having been to Matera, and please don’t tell the mayor I said this, but it’s not to be missed.