My husband and I moved to Basilicata about five years ago, a sort of “reverse immigration” to the land my grandmother’s family left about 100 years ago. We love the rugged landscapes and incredible hospitality, along with a slow Old World lifestyle that is quickly fading (even in other parts of Italy). It’s the kind of place where neighbors help each other, give from their gardens and wine cellars, and hold tightly to their traditions while being “modern” too.
I’m a freelance writer and genealogy researcher, and together Bryan and I work to help others discover this beautiful place and its traditions. We especially focus on genealogy tours and heritage travel, but also provide food and wine themes or custom itinerary planning in southern Italy. I’m addicted to cappuccino, love walking the country roads and mountain trails, and exploring the little towns and festivals –and writing about it all, of course.
Top 3 Favorite Restaurants in Basilicata
Believe it or not, this one is the hardest question! There are so many great places tucked away. In general, you eat better in the small towns and countryside.
1) One of the places we frequent close to home is Al Becco della Civetta, where the chef is inspired and takes Lucanian cuisine to a new level (without upping the prices, though). It’s in a beautiful town, Castelmezzano.
2) I love the authentic farm experience and great food you get at Masseria Sett’Anni outside Maschito. They produce everything, including the mouthwatering cheeses and wine, as Maschito falls within the Aglianico del Vulture zone. It’s a true “farm to table” experience.
3) For seafood, my favorite restaurant is, oddly, not on the sea but a tiny osteria tucked away in Montescaglioso called Locanda dell’Abate, where the chef takes a fresh catch and creates an amazing menu that changes every time.
Top 3 favorite foods in Basilicata
Food is very important to this region – almost every conversation comes back to food, and there are some great products and dishes to try.
1) First is the peperoni cruschi, a local variety of sweet peppers that are dried in the sun and then fried quickly in olive oil. You eat them as an appetizer (they’re addictive) or crumble them on pasta dishes (like cavatelli with bread crumbs and cruschi, a real regional dish to try).
2) Caciocavallo podolico is a cheese that will make you swoon, from the rare podolico breed of cows.
3) The sausage and salami here are famous, even back in Roman times, lucanica (the ancient name of Basilicata was Lucania). I prefer the spicy version but there is sweet sausage too, and they’re cured into tender, tasty salami, as well.
Top 3 tips for new expats in Basilicata
1. Learn Italian. At least a basic capacity in the language is needed to function and fit in. There aren’t many English speakers and really, you’re here for a full Italian experience anyway. You’ll also need it for the bureaucracy paperwork. You don’t have to be fluent or speak perfectly to hold a conversation.
2. Keep an open mind, realize that life is different here (not better, not worse, just different), so learn about the culture and history and how things are done – and enjoy them.
3. Embrace it all! There are so many cool festivals that date back centuries (even millennia), great foods that you won’t find in other parts of Italy, and a lovely variety of landscapes. Explore the different areas and small towns, which are so interesting. There are hidden gems to seek out everywhere!
Top 3 tips for travellers in Basilicata
1. Do not rely too heavily on GPS. I cannot stress this enough! DO NOT rely on your GPS as your sole navigator, it will lead you astray very often down here! It doesn’t know the roads and we have been directed down rabbit holes. Get a map and don’t be afraid to ask for directions!
2. Taste everything – eat regional. There are foods and dishes that you won’t find elsewhere, so give them a try. Don’t worry if you don’t like it, there’s plenty (an antipasto plate might have 10 different samplings, for example). Go ahead and try the horse meat (a special delicacy down here, it’s delicious); the sausage; the cheese, the lampascioni bulbs…it’s part of the immersion experience.
3. Find a festival or sagra. Not every festival is food related; there are some very interesting arboreal rites, Carnevale celebrations, and folk festivals, too. But there are also plenty of food-related sagras throughout the year, so look for them to enhance your visit.
Top 3 favorite sights/activities in Basilicata
1. Volo dell’Angelo: Gather up your courage and strap yourself in for the zip line ride of your life! This high-flying thrill ride takes you between the towns of Castelmezzano and Pietrapertosa at 120 KM per hour! (Yes, I did it, and lived to tell…and loved it!)
2. Aliano: The town of Carlo Levi. If you’ve read or seen Christ Stopped at Eboli, this is the town where Carlo Levi was exiled, and the entire historic center is a “literary park”. The lunar-like landscape surrounding it is unreal and almost mystical. Really beautiful.
3. Sculpture park La Palomba: On the outskirts of Matera is a world of stone and steel that you should visit. We rarely see other people there, but it’s a gem set in an old tufa stone quarry. Of special note are some sculptures made with steel from Ground Zero, part of an international project to turn pieces from the tragedy into art.
Top 3 neighborhoods/villages/towns in Basilicata
1. Matera: There is no sight like your first glimpse of the Sassi. It truly makes you gasp. Walking those ancient lanes that cut the ravine and seeing the intricate urban plan is amazing, especially after dark. (Even more romantic when it’s a little misty or foggy!) Matera has a thriving city “above” the Sassi, and a mysterious world of stone and history in the Sassi. Gorgeous and unusual, I never tire of visiting Matera. Plus there are some great restaurants here.
2. Castelmezzano: An almost dream-like mountain town, it is tucked into the rocky spires of the Dolomiti Lucane. It was isolated until after WWII and retains an Old World charm. It is also very “outdoorsy” so there are great hikes, the zip line, off-road tours, and horseback riding.
3. Maratea: For those who love the Mediterranean Sea, this is a gorgeous place that has the beauty of the Amalfi Coast without the crowds or extreme prices. There are fabulous beaches, quiet coves and plenty of water sports, not to mention great seafood!
For more tips on Italy, visit the Italy blog: www.insidersabroad.com/italy/blogs .
Valerie is a freelance travel and food writer, translator, and genealogy researcher. Visit her site, http://www.mybellabasilicata.com .