We walk a peaceful countryside road sensing the contrast between dark green fields and bright yellow sun. The morning air, fresh and crisp, caresses your face. The only sound is your group walking and then suddenly you hear the bleating of sheep in the distance and look to find a shepherd waving with a smile, next to his herd.
Beautiful Bari, with it ageless old world charm, is where we begin our journey to Matera. Matera, a magical place, like no other in the world, is a little Jerusalem with an all-Italian soul. Some describe it as a permanent year-around nativity scene.
Between these two marvelous cities is our journey. One day olive groves, almond trees and wild flowers line our route on an easy, relaxing path – perfect for thinking. The following day we venture through bushes, fields and ravines finding ourselves more enlivened and envigorated as the journey becomes more energetic and adventurous.
We walk through Apulian villages where we are welcomed like guests of honor, overlooking deep ravines; the old town centers are like stone mazes where you get lost just to find yourself again.
At the end of the day we arrive at a place, but really, it is the people who are there: a lively, welcoming "family" that makes us feel more and more at home.
The Via Materana is a walking meditation, an itinerary that connects us with the ancestral and simple pleasures of life. What could be a better simple pleasure than a cool beer and a cialedda (a typical bread salad: soft, soaked bread with fresh vegetables, salt, pepper and extra virgin olive oil) in the shade of Matera’s Cathedral?
We begin in Bari, a coastal city with an ancient soul. The beating heart of this city is its Città Vecchia, the old city.
We explore the city with a guided tour. On the list of places to visit are: the St.Nicolas Cathedral, where in the church crypt the Orthodox community ferventy prays in front of the relics of St.Nicholas; the Norman-Swebian castle, once home to the enlighted emperor Frederick II; and the sea promonade, where, as we walk along the sea, we admire the parade of beautiful Liberty palaces and the fishermen attending to freshly caught fish, which is mostly likely to be the main course of our first dinner as a group.
Ready to walk? We set off for our first day of hiking and after only a few kilometers outside of Bari we find peace. We walk through olive groves and vineyards, then find walnut, peach, hazelnut and almond trees all around. We pass the remains of abandoned farms, Trulli (traditional Apulian houses) and disused agricultural tools, legacies of local peasants who moved on to more modern means.
Our destination is Cassano delle Murge: a village out of time, with a narrow-streeted city center, Medieval tower-houses, arches and tiny windows, steep stairways and open piazzas where the locals meet.
Today’s home is a beautiful agriturismo where we enjoy a dinner based on locally grown products: here the meat is cooked on open-air stoves and the pasta cooked with chicory and strong ricotta cheese.
This morning we venture into the Mesola forest where we pass various oak trees and Aleppo pines, amidst the sounds of cicadas and muffled bird songs.
Our journey is full of changes: dirt roads, dry stone walls, small pine forests with shadey reprieves and fields filled with sheep.
Today we reach Santeramo in Colle: here you can sit in the piazza and enjoy a granita, while the main street comes alive in front of your eyes. You have the opportunity to watch the village cultural circles meet in small groups. The town is famous for its butcheries – just choose the meat cut that you’d like and they will cook it for you on an open-air oven.
Our playing field today is the Alta Murgia National Park: here in the spring, the fields are colored with wildflowers, while in Summer it resembles a lunar landscape with warm shades of burnt grass. On our way, we pass white farm buildings and “jazzi” (corrals for animals), archaeological remains and caves that contain ancient frescoes.
Today we arrive in Altamur. Altamura is a slice of Apulian life – the main street coming alive every morning with families strolling, elders chatting on the piazza benches, and ovens baking the local durum flour DOP bread with never-ending passion, day after day.
A visit you can’t miss is to the Archaeological Museum: it’s dedicated to the Altamura man, a well-preserved skeleton of a Neanderthal man found in a cave just outside of town. The man will rest in the cave forever because taking him out of the cave would certainly destroy the delicate bones, however, the museum houses a life-size reproduction.
Today we walk in the open countryside of sunflower and grain fields, herbal gardens and open pastures.
The name Gravina, the village that we reach today, means canyon: the city is literally built at the edge of a large canyon, an incredible view to enjoy after a visit to the beautiful Cathedral.
To understand the history of Gravina one must "go underground". Underneath the modern city lies a hidden city, dug through the centuries in the soft tufa rock. Cellars that stored wine, rock churches, stables…an underground world to explore with young local volunteers who, if you decide to take part in their guided tour, will passionately lead you to the discovery of this underground world.
Leaving Gravina we cross a stone bridge which spans an immense ravine that gives the city its name. You catch your breath when you realize you are walking on Via Appia, the ancient road that connected Rome to the important Brindisi port.
As we continue our path leads us to the Archaeological area of Botromagno where we meet Giuseppe and follow him to his house, our home for tonight. An enchanting place, a farm where the chemical-free production follows the natural rhythm of seasons – one among the first farms in Basilicata to choose a natural way of farming.
Here you can relax on the covered porch, watching the daily farm activies as well as the animals who live here wandering in the fields. We will relish our dinner based on products grown just a few meters from our table.
The last stage of our walk, the last steps towards Matera.
We say "good-bye" to Giovanni’s family and set off. We follow forests and soft hills in an ondulating landscape of cultivated fields taking us to Matera. If you’ve never been here, you will find that the mystery of Matera lingers until the very moment we reach our first glimpse and see the Sassi neighborhoods. Cave-like houses carved in the rock, built one on top of another. A heritage of a past that was first defined “the shame of Italy” only later to become an Unesco World Heritage Site and the setting to several movies.
Matera is a real open air museum, a maze of bed and breakfasts, artisanal workshops and little restaurants, overlooking a deep ravine.
Matera is the European Capital of Culture of 2019, and this will be a year of celebration; the city will be lively and festive, alight in its every corner. Join the celebration; you got to the end of your adventure and this party is also for you!
Even thought this is our last day, another adventure awaits. We follow our guide through the Sassi, discovering the history of this unique, both beautiful and controversial, place. We visit a cave-house and a rock church and experience the local culture firsthand with a “musical” surprise to end our tour in a most special way.
You can decide to go home or book another night in Matera. The choice is yours – but know that, just like that unexpected new view over the Sassi, there is a surprise around every corner.
The Hotel Adria is located in the center of Baru, 200m from the railway station. The hotel offers a SPA, restaurant, bar, solarium terrace.
The rooms offer heating, wi-fi connects, ensuite services.
The buffet breakfast is really varied and the staff kind and helpful.
B&B I Peccati is a very characteristic builiding, reminiscent of XIX architecture and design. It is located in the town centre and offers rooms with bathroom, tv, air conditioning, heating, free wifi, laundry service.
A unique hotel, in a setting like no other. The hotel was created in the famous "Sassi" (stones) of Matera. This hotel has the rooms scattered around the main building.
The group will be split between different B&Bs, all close one to the other.
A family-owned agriturismo in the middle of the countryside, a real natural experience. It offers a massage centre, swimmingpool, horse stables and a restaurant with authentic local products.
The b&b is located inside a typical rock house of the city centre. Simple but clean rooms, with wooden furniture and ensuite services.
Masseria la Fiorita is a family-run organic farm. It is located over an hill overlooking the valley of Fossa Bradanica. The farm produces vegetables, fruits, cereals and different dairy products produced with the milk of their cows. The guest house is an integral part of this enchanting ambiance.