How to prepare for your trip to Matera
To see Matera and have no regrets

How to prepare for your trip to Matera

A unique cave settlement where people built houses, churches and stores right in the rock. The setting city for Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, Pasolini’s The Gospel According to Matthew, Wonder Woman, Mary Magdalene and 10 more films since 1952.The hero city of the book Christ Stopped at Eboli. European Capital of Culture 2019.

Probably, the question «whether to go to Matera» is no longer in front of you, and you know what to see in the cave ghost town. In this article we will talk about the technical aspects of the trip: when and how far to go, where to stay, how to dress and what to expect.

How long does it take to get to Matera?

Space in Matera is compressed, and this is not a metaphor: because of the hilly terrain and the «multi-story development» of the caves, points of interest can be at different elevations. Most streets lead to someone’s private yard or bump into a wall, and google maps don’t work because of narrow roads and tall buildings. As a result, the search for the right place sometimes takes a long time: you can walk in circles around the right church and still not find its entrance.

  • It will take at least 4—5 hours to see the key sites in Sassi and go inside some of the caves. The historic center will take another couple of hours. Add in time for lunch and getting to and from the train station, and it’s worth spending a full day in Matera.
  • It makes sense to stay overnight in the city if you arrive in Matera in the early morning. You can also see the evening street lights in the historic center.
  • If you want to explore the caves of the Murgia Materano Park, add another day of light. Together with the sassi sightseeing, you will definitely not have enough time in one day.

Matera is the kind of town where you should turn off the snobbery of a former tourist, not try to go off the tourist routes and follow the «itinerario turistico» arrows. There are many of them, and they are here just to save your energy and time.

To avoid getting lost on these streets, use the signs
To avoid getting lost on these streets, use the signs

Where to stay in Matera?

Lodging in Matera is relatively inexpensive, and tourists are also not charged tourist tax (as of 2019). You can find a good room for two people for 60—70 €.

Matera is divided, conventionally, into 3 parts:

  • Sassi is the cave houses that everyone comes here for;
  • The historic center is the Civita neighborhood and the historic development immediately adjacent to the sassi neighborhoods;
  • Modern Matera — from the bus station to the train station to the historic center.

Now it is possible to live even in sassi: in them by some miracle they had water supply and sewerage, and electricity appeared in the caves back in the 30s of the twentieth century.

Almost all of the active cave houses are either hotels or restaurants
Almost all of the active cave houses are either hotels or restaurants

In Sassi, room rates start from 100 € per night. There are comfortable hotels with modernized rooms and just a hint of cavemanness; there are more atmospheric cave rooms, and quite authentic apartments. Some of them are heated in winter, and in summer you don’t need air conditioning — natural stone walls keep you cool even in 33-degree heat.

In the historic center, the choice of options is wider. Here you can stay in an authentic palazzo for 600 € or in a simple palazzo for 200 €, or in a B&B for 55 €. From here it is a couple of minutes to the nearest sassi, and at the same time all the tourist infrastructure is here: restaurants, souvenir stores. This is the most convenient place to stay overnight.

Civita district, city center
Civita district, city center

Living in the modern neighborhood of Matera is worth it if sassi is not your main goal or if you come by car. From the hotel to the nearest attraction will be a couple of kilometers. But it’s more convenient to get to the bus or train station, and parking is easier.

How to get to Matera

Matera is easy to get to, with buses and trains running several times a day from Bari, Potenza and Taranto. Although Matera is part of the Basilicata, of which Potenza is the capital, the easiest way to get here is from Bari. There is even a direct bus between Matera and Bari airport.

Important: the train station is much closer to the tourist sites than the bus station, where all the buses come. From the bus station to the nearest sassi is more than 2 km and about half an hour on foot.

When to go to Matera?

The best time to go to Matera is April-June and early fall.

In winter it is windy, humid and rainy, snow falls, and the average temperature does not rise above 9C. In July and August, the heat stays around 25 — 35C. Come whenever you want, but not in July and August. If you are «lucky» to get into a heat wave of more than 30C, it will be unbearable.

Climate of Matera by month
Climate of Matera by month

How to dress?

  1. There is a myth spreading through forums and blogs that shorts, bare knees and shoulders are not allowed in Matera churches. It’s a myth. They even let you into active churches.
  2. The main thing is the shoes. The steps of ancient street stairs and old paving stones have been polished to a shine like ice over the centuries. Many streets, especially the smaller «non-tourist» ones, are sloped. Slipping or twisting your foot is nothing to worry about, so you have to look under your feet rather than around. The ideal footwear for Matera is sneakers with non-slip soles.
  3. If you go in summer, a hat is highly desirable. You can hide from the sun and hot rocks only in museums, restaurants and temples, and the cave churches are only allowed for 10 minutes and for a fee.

Tourists have been going to Matera for decades, since the publication of Carlo Levi’s Christ Stopped at Eboli, so the tourist infrastructure in the town is quite developed. But this is the Italian south, and no amount of tourism is going to keep southerners working non-stop. Therefore, from 14:00 to 18:00 all restaurants in the city are closed. If you don’t have time for lunch, look for a pasticheria, bar or gelateria: there you can find beer and sandwiches.