18 Jun
Days adrift.  Click here to see our best and worst experiences so far.
Number of flights.  Click here to go to the itinerary page.
Bus, train and taxi rides.  Click here to see all posts relating to transport. (56 posts)
Miles walked.  Click here to see all posts relating to walking and trekking. (43 posts)
Countries visited.  Click here to see what we think of them. (14 posts)
Number of species spotted.  Click here to go to our wildlife page.
Photos taken.  Click here to go to the photo gallery. (94 posts)
Rainy days.  Click here to find posts relating to the weather. (49 posts)
Number of times scammed.  Click here to read all about it!  (2 posts)
Otters spotted.  Click here to go to our website about otters: amblonyx.com
...two travellers in search of the world's wildlife

21 May 2018

Matera is awesome

1 May 2018

We’re in a different world. The price of everything has doubled. Food and drink options have become plentiful and sensible. Cars and pedestrians vaguely follow some kind of rules. We’re in Italy! Actually, I’m ashamed to admit I seem to have become infected by Albanian driving norms, and I’ve been driving our little Fiat Panda in a way that has occasionally startled these terribly sensible Italian drivers. ; )

Castel Del Monte, unplanned UNESCO

Castel Del Monte, unplanned UNESCO

We were headed for the town of Matera, but first stop along the way was Castel del Monte. This place sounds like a Victorian baronet’s folly: a castle in the woods with eight sides, and at each of the eight corners a tower with eight sides. No sign of any bailey, curtain wall, outbuildings or adjoining town. Just a citadel on top of a prominent hill surrounded by trees. But no, Castel del Monte is actually 13th century, built by Emperor Frederick II in the 1240’s. I love the description of him given in the castle: he was basically a Renaissance Man hundreds of years before the Renaissance actually started. And he built this bonkers castle. It’s not actually very fascinating to explore inside, it’s just a startling discovery and UNESCO listed for its oddness.

We rolled on through a rolling landscape absolutely carpetted with drifts of bright red poppies, acres of yellow clouds of fennel in full bloom, and myriad other flowers covering the verges and fields. Very magical, and no wonder we were sneezing and crying by the time we reached Matera.



There is no more photogenic town on the planet than Matera. I swear, it must make movie location scouts weep when they arrive here (and a lot of movies have been filmed in Matera). The sand coloured buildings jumble and jostle together on a hillside above a sheer gorge of grey scree and greenery, with a thin river trickling far below. Occasional church towers punctuate the skyline. Narrow cobbled lanes and alleyways of steep steps are glimpsed between the houses. There’s a perfectly sensible Italian town on the other side of the hill, but it’s entirely hidden and once the evening arrives and the day trippers depart you can see nothing in the scene before you to betray the illusion that you are back in the fifteenth century.


Exploring Matera is simply joy. Lose yourself in the maze of alleys and steps, and then follow a narrow way under an arch, round a corner, and find yourself gazing out on an entirely new neighbourhood of ancient golden houses and twisting lanes. Or find yourself walking along below the hillside until the inhabited dwellings disappear and there are the empty shells of abandoned cave houses to investigate, torch in hand. Yeah, in the lowest parts of the town the houses are actually carved right out of the hillside, some of them going deep, deep, deep back into it.

Did I mention, our B&B is actually a cave house? Yeah, we’re staying in a cave, in the middle of Matera. It’s a very comfy cave too, with a coffee machine and oodles of space. It’s superb.

Dinner at a modern place around the corner called Panecotta was good. The main was a slab of bread made gooey by roasting in stock, topped with heaps of pungent flowering turnip stalks, topped with a heavy scattering of crispy fried crushed peppers with the warm flavour of paprika.

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