Welcome to Basilicata, Italy – a charming region south of Naples with two separate coastlines (touching the Tyrrhenian and Ionian Seas), two cities/provinces (Potenza and Matera), two souls (mythical forests and Mediterranean shores) and even two names, (it’s also known globally as Lucania).
Forget the Renaissance of Florence, the Baroque of Rome, the magic of Venice and the buzz and fashion of Milan. Forget nightclubs and catwalks. Here, you’ll find the possibility of a countryside holiday in a European environment where almost everything seems to be stuck in time.
Visiting Basilicata, especially the Province of Potenza, will reconcile you with your senses, nature, traditions, good food and myths. Yes, myths. In Basilicata, some people believe in fairies, witches, evil spirits, destiny and ‘Rumit’ (tree-like men who live in the forests). This area is known to be enchanted throughout Italian literature and has been represented in several films.
The area is also dependent on the seasons – in summer you’ll find lush green landscapes; in autumn, the magic of foliage; in winter, snowy mountains and in spring, blossoming valleys.
Of course, gay life is not absent in southern Italy. You’ll find plenty of it in Naples or in Bari, not far from Basilicata. But my suggestion is simple and basic. Behave like you are not in London, in Sitges, in Madrid or in Berlin. Simply, you are in a part of Italy where the food tastes wonderful, the air is clean and the pace of life slow, relaxed and chilled.
The Valle del Melandro is one of the secret gems of Basilicata. Waterfalls, woods, small villages and mountains, and encounters with deer, wild boar, eagles and wolves. Here is the National Park of the Lucanian Apennines – Agri Valley – near the town of Lagonegro. The best towns – I’m talking Sasso di Castalda [above], Satriano di Lucania, Brienza, Sant’Angelo le Fratte and Savoia di Lucania – boast beautifully painted houses, enchanting squares, Medieval fountains and, sometimes, towers and castles. The capital city of this region, Potenza, is nested on top of a mountain with some great attractions on offer which deserve consideration.
Being a city of services and institutions, Potenza hosts the best museums in Basilicata, like The National Archeaological Museum of Basilicata, where you’ll find the treasures of a land which was colonized first by the ancient Greeks and then by the Romans.
But Potenza is also a city of Medieval churches, like the one dedicated to San Francesco d’Assisi and another, even more beautiful, dedicated to San Michele Arcangelo.
A quick word on what Italy’s most famous for: food. Basilicata is known for its red peppers called peperoni cruschi, which are dried and then deep fried, as well as its Caciocavallo podolico cheese which is as big as a football, and the delicious meat and salami. Obviously there is the pasta. Like the cavatelli, the strascinati or the orecchiette. Nature, traditions, food. This is a small region, but sometimes the best jewels are in the smallest of boxes.
I also spent three days hiking, jumping small rivers and rocks, looking for wildlife and very old trees, breathing the freshest and cleanest air to be found in this part of the world. The sentiero Frassati di Sasso di Castalda, part of the network of footpaths organized by the Italian Alpine Club, is absolutely unmissable.
The small town of Sasso di Castalda lies down in the valley, while on top of the mountain you will find a huge beech tree forest which is very beautiful in early autumn and late spring. Thanks to a professional hiking guide I discovered the secrets of the woods, like the danger which might come from the mushrooms, the magic of an encounter with a solitary wolf or the uniqueness of the water which spills from a mountain spring.
Meanwhile Brienza has just 5,000 inhabitants, but is one of the biggest towns in the valley. It has a Medieval castle, some entertainment and beautiful artworks, like the frescos in the Medieval cloister of the town hall. Unfortunately the castle is not easily accessible at the moment, due to the works which still are in progress after a big earthquake which happened years ago.
Other towns which are worth mentioning are Satriano and Sant’Angelo, famous for the tradition of enriching the houses with vivid colors and mural paintings.
I also hiked for 45 minutes to see one of the hidden gems of this valley, the Tuorno waterfalls in the Luceto forest. They are barely indicated in the local maps, so try to ask for a local guide in the town of Savoia di Lucania. The municipality will be happy to help you with your requests.
WHERE TO STAY
In the area there is a lovely bed and breakfast, the Rifugio della Luna, a charming villa with a huge patio and a big garden. Its owners are very kind, the furniture is full of taste and you will also be able to organize dinners and parties. It’s not far from the town of Satriano.
Another nice option is the Fattoriabio, a rural hotel with restaurant. They’ll be able to show you how to cook peppers and local chickpeas. By staying here you will be able to see the best starry nights of your life.
Not far from here, there is also the seaside resort of Maratea, which offers top quality accommodations, like the Hotel Santavenere or the Hotel Villa del Mare.
Photos: Daniele Guido Gessa