Basilicata (Lucania)

BasilicataBordering Campania to the west, Puglia to the north and Calabria to the south, with a very short stretch of coast on the Tyrrhenian Sea between Campania and Calabria and a longer one around the Gulf of Taranto, Basilicata forms the instep on the Italian boot. This sparsely populated, mountainous region, once a thriving part of Magna Graecia, has suffered more than its share of problems since that time, including earthquakes, crime and poverty. However, in recent years the Italian government has invested a great deal of money in the southern regions and the benefits are beginning to show.

 

Basilicata was once known as Lucania and, although the name changed over eight hundred years ago, even today the locals tend to refer to themselves as lucani rather than basilicatesi. This is somewhat indicative of what you will find in this region - ways of life, landscape, architecture, just as they have been for centuries and more. The tourist industry is still in its infancy here and the infrastructure to support it remains underdeveloped. In other words, Basilicata is largely unspoilt by 'progress', which, if that's what you're looking for, is a joy.

 

What to see and do in Basilicata

Enjoy the mountains

In contrast to next-door Puglia, Basilicata is one of the most mountainous regions in Italy. Because it's so quiet, walking, biking or riding around Basilicata can feel quite intrepid and you can enjoy the amazing views without crowds of tourists getting in the way. In my opinion, a good solution to feeling adventurous while maintaining a safety net is to explore within the bounds of a national or regional park, where the trails are clearly marked and you can find help if you need it.

 

The Parco Nazionale del Pollino stretches south into Calabria and contains the highest peaks in Southern Italy. The smaller, regional park Gallipoli Cognato contains a wonderful forest as well as the rocky Lucanian Dolomite mountains.

 

 

 

Enjoy the sea

The few miles of coast that Basilicata has on the Tyrrhenian Sea is an outstandingly beautiful area - similar to the Amalfi coast but less developed and less expensive. The scenery is dramatic and there are countless small beaches (many, as around Amalfi, accessible only by steps down the cliffside), coves and grottoes to explore. This part of the country is very popular with Italian holidaymakers, which is encouraging in itself but does mean it gets crowded in the peak season.

 

For some reason, Basilicata's longer coast, twenty miles or so of sandy shore and clean, beautiful water of the Ionian Sea, is much less popular. This coast has a very different feel to it from the one on the Tyrrhenian side: instead of craggy, barren rocks there are woods and fertile plains where enormous amounts of fruit and vegetables are grown. The flatter landscape is perhaps less obviously attractive to look at but it's easier to navigate and certainly has its own beauty.

 

Visit the archaeological sites

If you're interested in history, Basilicata is a treasure-trove. The region has been inhabited since prehistoric times and, as soon as you venture away from an umbrella-covered beach, you'll feel the strong sense that this is a land that has changed remarkably little through thousands of years.

 

In terms of the Greek legacy, the archaeological park on the outskirts of Metaponto, on the Ionian coast, has a huge amount to look at. The market place, amphitheatre and temples of ancient Metapontion are all well preserved.

 

Venosa, in the north of the region, was a large and important Roman colony. Originally Venusia, named after the goddess Venus, this town also offers an archaeological park, where you can see an amphitheatre, public baths and a reconstruction of a Roman house, as well as Jewish and early Christian catacombs.

 

 

 

Explore Matera

Matera is an extraordinary place, with layers of history dating back to the Stone Age. The ancient part of town is known as the Sassi (stones), where streets, squares, homes, churches and other structures have been carved out of the rock. What is particularly amazing is that, as recently as the 1960s, people lived in these caves, with their animals, in abject poverty. All that has changed now and the Sassi area has been reframed as a tourist attraction. In 1993, the Sassi di Matera became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

 

Explore the other cities and towns

Statue of Christ, MarateaMaratea is the biggest town on the Tyrrhenian coast of Basilicata and the most visited place in the region. Maratea Porto is quite a fashionable resort, with yachts and some smart restaurants. Maratea Paese, the medieval part of the town, is set back inland, giving way to the ruins of Maratea Antica further up Monte San Biagio. On top of the mountain is a big statue of Jesus, reminiscent of the one in Rio de Janeiro.

 

Potenza, Basilicata's capital city, is the highest-altitude regional capital in Italy. Sadly, it suffered heavy bombing during the Second World War and has also been damaged by several serious earthquakes over the centuries, the most recent in 1980. However, it still has a few historical sights worth seeing, including the Cathedral, built in the twelfth and renovated in the eighteenth century, and the ruins of a Roman villa.

 

 

 

Eating and drinking in Basilicata

Historically a poor and isolated region, Basilicata has a rustic cuisine that makes the most of its resources. Much of the land is steep and arid and difficult to cultivate, so livestock is reared instead - mainly pigs and sheep. The pork is leaner than you'll find in lusher regions and virtually every part of the pig is eaten, in one form or another.

 

The fertile areas along the Ionian coast and around the extinct volcano Monte Vulture in the north of the region are particularly good for growing grapes, as well as citrus fruits, olives and a variety of vegetables.

 

Aromatic herbs are used abundantly, as is peperoncino, the Southern-Italian hot red chili pepper. Unlike in the north of Italy, food is spicy in Basilicata!

 

Don't be put off a ristorante or trattoria by a shabby facade. A scruffy-looking place with no printed menu may well dish you up some fabulous food.

 

Basilicata wines

The volcanic soil around Monte Vulture yields grapes that are made into some excellent wines, both red and white. One of the best is the delicious, rich red Aglianico.

 

Recommended reading about Basilicata

Carlo Levi

In 1935, Carlo Levi was banished to Lucania/Basilicata for his opposition to Fascism. His excellent book Cristo si รจ Fermato a Eboli (Christ Stopped at Eboli) is an account of his life there.

 

 

In brackets... the ancient city of Matera has been the scene of several films set in the long past, such as Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ.

 

If you're interested in cinema, you might also like to know that the famous film-director Francis Ford Coppola was born in Basilicata. Click here for a brief interview with him and to see some nice footage of the region.

 

For more information about Basilicata...

Buy a local map and a guide book for travelling around Basilicata. If you want to focus specifically on Basilicata, you can download just the chapters you want from the Lonely Planet Guide to Puglia and Basilicata.

 

Check out these websites:

APTBasilicata.it

Discover Basilicata

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