“Pure joy! Everything was done well. Nothing was too much trouble for Alex and Temi. The whole experience was really enjoyable and left me feeling so happy. I can’t wait to go on my next singing holiday!”
“Yes, it is true that King David was a flop, but I’d do it all over again because it gave me the opportunity to discover a remarkable city, Matera, which I would never have otherwise got to know.”
That other great wordsmith; the painter, writer and anti-fascist Carlo Levi also wrote, “Anyone who sees Matera cannot help but be awe-struck, so expressive and touching is its sorrowful beauty”. Yes, OK, he’s slightly more profound than Mr Gere, but the sentiment from both is absolutely spot-on.
Awesome? Absolutely! Remarkable? Definitely! Beautiful? Undoubtedly! However, only seventy years ago Matera was a place of hardship and brutal poverty. The extent of the squalid conditions in the city only came to international attention when Levi was exiled by Mussolini’s fascist regime to a town close by in the 1930s. In his book, Christ Stopped at Eboli, published in 1945, Levi described the horrors he witnessed – the squalid homes, children either naked or in rags, bodies ravaged by disease – and concluded: “I have never seen in all my life such a picture of poverty.”
It took a visit in 1952 from the Italian prime minister Alcide De Gasperi, who lambasted the slums as “a national disgrace”, to propel the government to take drastic steps that set in motion a chain of events which was to have a swift and substantial impact on the city and the lives of the people who lived there.
In 1993 Unesco declared the Sassi di Matera (stones of Matera) a world heritage site and – following a long list of other achievements since – the city has now been selected as a 2019 European Capital of Culture.
Sassi di Matera is one of the oldest continuously inhabited places in the world and, with its stacked houses and cave dwellings, it truly is a remarkable and beautiful cultural oddity. We’ll be staying literally within the Sassi themselves, in exceptional accommodation that consists of a series of dwellings cut into the tufa rock that rises above the Murgia plateau. Uneven floors and rough-hewn walls are par for the course in our cave, but high ceilings lend these quiet, nest-like rooms a stately grandeur. When you add Philippe Starck bathtubs, powerful drenching showers, huge comfy beds, heavy wooden furniture and a constellation of flickering candles, your primal and decadent sides collide. These are perhaps the most sensuous rooms you’ll ever stay in anywhere.