Matera, Italy

29 March to 1 April 2014

fifth time in Italy. food and wine just tastes so much better there. the weather is great. the landscapes varied. but i don’t think i’d ever want to live there.

Saturday. left home at 9:30, a quick breakfast on the train, a leisurely lunch at Gatwick. Flight at 13:45. Exited Bari airport around 6pm, had a coffee break at the airport while waiting for the 19:15 puglia air bus to Matera. We were picked up at Matera’s Piazza Matteoti (bus stop) at 20:40 and were ushered to this lovely home in the sassi. It was a slow but long day.

We stayed at La Casa di Alice and got a huge cave. The ceilings and walls were carved out of limestone and a mix of other materials. The place has a lounge area and a bathroom that looked like it belonged in a spa. It’s connected to to the owners’ main home.  And they speak english well enough, and introduced us to the house dog Alice or Ali? We were accompanied to the local restaurant and made sure we are well taken care of. The locals in Matera don’t speak much english, but everybody had been accomodating. If i have to find fault, i found it disconcerting to find a connecting door to the main house in the bathroom. lying in the tub, as you hear the family eating dinner just beyond the door. It gets a bit chilly too, even with the heating turned all the way up, but i am sure the huge oven/fireplace can compensate during winter, it wasn’t much of an issue when we were there.

food and wine in Italy never fails to excite me. this is one of those places where i always pick something i’ve never tried – fried ricotta for antipasti, anchovies and chickpeas with conchiegli for mains. Al found the basilicata wine too sweet. but everything else left me in awe. i am amazed how well they balance the tastes.

Sunday. got up late. espresso and croissants at a local cafe off Via Ridola. almost every cafe and restaurants here are family trades. charming. sun was out and the view of the sassi from the busy vantage point at Piazza Pascoli was stunning. this town is a labyrinth of stairs and caves carved out of the hills. many caves are not in use and in ruin, which i thought added to the appeal of the place.

went into a museum of sorts, casa grotta del casanuovo, that displays what life was living in these caves. the town had a shameful past of abject poverty. these caves were virtually slums just a few decades ago.

we explored the streets and tried to find our bearing. getting lost is always the best way to explore. and i am getting quite good at getting lost.

the only trouble in such a sleepy town is finding lunch. we were either too early or too late or maybe just because it’s a sunday. we hunted down a few recommended restaurants and all were closed. there were no signs that say what time they open – i think they open when they want to.

pizza for lunch at piazza sedile wasn’t too impressive. everywhere in europe, they would love these chunks of crusty bread and pane del matera was very much sought after – i find this hard to appreciate as i feel my gums recede a bit with each bite.

back at the house for a leisurely siesta and we were out hunting for food again. dinner was a hearty soup, a mash of local vegetables that i would find revolting if this wasn’t italy. yes, they even made vegetable soup taste so good.

we had a stroll across town at night, finding good spots to take night photos of this haunting place.

Monday. we’ve pretty much been everywhere and we had nothing left to do but sit in cafes and hunt down the restaurants we failed to find the previous day. we were back at plaza sedile for lunch again after finding all other restaurants closed. and though i wouldn’t normally choose this cafe for food, they did serve up a very simple but still so tasty orecchiette with tomato sauce and strong cheese. Al had bread chunks with brocolli that we’d want to replicate. that and 1 litre of house wine.

Ristorante Francesca.Via Bruno Buozzi. Closed on Sundays. Dinner is at 7:30pm. We were there at 3pm for lunch, they were closed.

Baccanti. Via Sant Angelo. no sign of life here on Sunday nor on Monday.

Il Cantuccio. Via del Beccherie. We had dinner here when they opened at 8pm. Small place, and I read that you’d normally need to book in advance. Nearby restaurants hardly have any customers this night, but all tables but one was occupied by 9. Owner/chef did everything, so it was hard to be too demanding here. But food was so good, i am almost moved to tears (over reaction, but it was really good). ordered sausages with potatoes for antipasti, but swapped with Al’s aubergines caponata because it was a bit too spicy. my mains was skewered tender beef with tomato sauce, which reminded me of a really good morcon (a ratatouille moment as this is a childhood comfort food).

whilst killing time, we passed by this family having a small row. conversation went like this – young child: ‘I am 80% sure that’s where i left it….’ mother: ‘oh, brother!’. and that pretty much was how we spoke for the night, adding percentages to every sentence, and ‘oh brother’ was our expression for exasperation.

Tuesday. time to make the long trek back to reality. Piazza Matteoti, where the bus to Bari airport stops, is a good 10 minutes walk from Piazza Veneto.

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