Discover Basilicata in Southern Italy
Nestled between popular Italian holiday spots Campania and Apulia, Basilicata with its population of just 500,000 is often overlooked. While it may not enjoy the fame of its close neighbours, this region has an authentic dolce vita charm. The area is overflowing with beaches, culture, history, cuisine… so if you’re up for a holiday that has it all, you’re on the right path! In this article, we will outline the highlights of Basilicata, as well as letting you in on some top-secret hidden gems that are sure to tickle your fancy. Get ready to explore a lesser-known region that really packs a punch.
With just one flatland, Metaponto, Basilicata’s landscape is dominated by impressive mountains. The Pollino and Sirino ranges soar high in the sky, while the mountains Alpi, Raparo and Volturino are some of the highest points in the Lucania Apennine. Six torrential rivers – Bradano, Basento, Agri, Sinni, Covone and Noce – flow through the area. This huge natural diversity is crowned by the volcanic lakes in Monticcio.
For keen swimmers, the Adriatic Sea brushes the east cost of Basilicata, while the Tyrrhenian Sea washes around the west coast. This influences the climate’s mainly continental character. You will only find a Mediterranean climate in the coastal areas of Basilicata. As you may expect, summers are pleasantly warm. The climate, however, creates a large disparity, meaning winters are particularly chilly. In the coastal regions, winters are milder, and summers are hot. But don’t worry – the heat is never unbearable.
Getting to Basilicata
Basilicata doesn’t have its own airport. Depending on where you’re planning to go, there are three different destinations for your flight: Bari Palese in Apulia, Napoli Capodichino in Campania, and Lamezia Terme in Calabria. Bari is your best choice for the Ionian coastal area and the Province of Matera. The airport of Naples is convenient if you want to visit the coast of Maratea and the Province of Potenza. And if you want to explore Pollino National Park, we recommend the Lamezia Terme Airport in Calabria.
By Train or Bus
Trenitalia and FAL maintain the daily connection from Potenza and Matera to Bari, Foggia, Naples, and Salerno. Unfortunately, the public transport system in Southern Italy is not amazing. Therefore, our advice: opt for private transportation companies or – even easier – rent a car. You can do that right at the airport for a small fee – this can set you back as little as 20 Euros a day. However, pay attention to the special rules in place concerning car rentals for under-25-year-olds.
If you prefer to travel in your own car, simply take the motorway A14 Bologna-Taranto and follow the Adriatic coast. Starting from the Tyrrhenian side, you’ll need to take the A3 from Salero to Reggio Calabria in order to get to Basilicata.
What to Do in Basilicata
Capital of the Matera province, the city of the same name is home to 60,000 inhabitants. The largest city in the region, it is also the first place in Southern Italy to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Matera is famous for its “sassi” (lit.: stones), making this city one of the oldest inhabited areas. In 2019, it was named the European Capital of Culture together with Plovdiv in Bulgaria — and for good reason. Let’s have a look at what makes Matera so special!
I Sassi di Matera
Matera is often called by its nickname “città dei sassi” (city of stones). The pecualrity and beauty of this old town is hard to put into words. The Sassi di Matera was built on top of a rocky gorge, Gravina di Matera, splitting the area in two parts. Past this gorge, two small valleys extend eastwards: the Sasso Caveoso and the Sasso Barisano, separated by the Civita’s rocky ridges.
The old town has been populated since the Palaeolithic Era. Consequently, all kids of different civilisations have contributed to the city you see now. In Sassi, you can find renaissance and baroque buildings from the renaissance and baroque, cisterns, churches, monasteries and much more. Take a stroll through Matera and be enchanted by its versatility!
A tiny commune of around 4,000 residents, Maratea is the only town overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea over the Gulf of Policastro. Maratea is home to varied landscapes, smells like the ocean and flowers, and is marked by stones reflecting the sunlight in scintillating ways. The crystal-clear waters, green flare and rugged cliffs make for a beautiful contrast. The coast stretches for more than 32 kilometres, interrupted only by tall and steep rock faces and marvellous beaches.
The fantastic landscape is crowned by an old-fashioned village. This old town is filled with porticos, alleyways, arches, little caves, towers, and a comfy square. There are also 44 churches in Maratea!
San Biagio Mountain holds the epic Statua del Redentore — or Cristo di Maratea —surpassed in size only by the famous Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro. The ruins of the old fort lie below the statue, and on the other side you can visit the Basilica San Biagio which reaches back to the VI-VII century.
The port offers numerous services for boats and acts as a hotspot for meeting people, especially in summer — you can find all sorts of concerts, conventions, cultural activities here.
Parks and Nature
As we mentioned before, Basilicata’s diverse landscape is definitely a plus for this charming region. Aside from its numerous reserves, giant pairs and dams, Basilicata even has two national parks to offer: Pollino National Park and Appennini Lucano – Val d’Agri – Lagonegrese National Park. Additionally, you could also visit the three Regional Parks.
Pollino National Park
Pollino is the biggest National Park in Italy. It occupies 192,000 hectares of land, spanning both Basilicata and Calabria. The park derives its name from the Achaeans who thought the Pallino massif’s peak was high enough to touch the sky. Hence the name Mons Apollineum (Apollo’s Mountain)!
Following its winding paths, you will reach thick forests of beech and sessile oak, as well as fir and chestnut trees. After crossing grassy plateaus, you’ll get to winding, majestic and centuries-old laurel trees; they are the park’s symbol. There is plenty of flora and fauna: Apennine wolves, wild boars, deer, chipmunks, porcupines, otters, and eagle owls all live in this national park.
Nature, sports, and culture blend together in this beautiful green piece of land. The park is not only rich in beautiful nature but also accommodates museums, where history and tradition of farmer civilisation meet Arbëreshë communities.
Shhh… Top Secret
The iconic Pollino Music Festival has been taking place in Pollino National Park in Basilicata since 1996. What makes this special is that the festival doesn’t take place in just one spot, but it ‘moves’: it last four days in two different locations — San Severino Lucano and Parco Adventure in Bosco Magnano. You can set up camp in Mezzana Salice, which is a part of San Severino town. Can you imagine? A night under the stars in the quiet nature, while in the background some of the best musician of Italy and wider Europe serenade audiences from the stage.
Appennini Lucano – Val d’Agri – Lagonegrese National Park
Jeez… what a long name, huh? This is the ‘youngest’ natural reserve in the region of Basilicata since it only gained its national park status as recently as in 2007. The fascinating landscape leads along a large part of the Lucanian Apennines, and you can spot Mount Volturino and Pierafaone’s peaks, as well as the massif of Sirino and Val d’Agri valley.
There are numerous old towns to explore, which are simply brimming with culture, nature, and saintly valuables. Grumentum is the region’s most important Roman archaeological site. The archaeological museum of Alta Val d’Agri, the villages Viggiano and Sant’Arcanenglo and the Santa Maria Dell’Orsoleo monastery are just a few of the many splendid places within this park. Of course, we also have to mention Pertusillo Lake: an artificial lake damming the river Agri, where you will be enchanted by the natural forest environment.
Foodies also get their money’s worth in this area. You simply have to try the Canestrato Moliterno IGP cheese and the beans from Sarconi IGP. Both go wonderfully with a glass of Grottini di Roccanova DOC or Terre dell’Alta Val d’Agri DOC wine.
Laghi di Monticchia — Two Volcanic Lakes
Next to an inactive volcanic crater, the Laghi di Monticchia form a picture-perfect scene. Looking out on to the lake, you will see the shimmering reflection of the marvellous Benedictine Abbey, San Michele. There is also a natural history museum. Hikers, horse riders and even bikers can explore the area in different ways.
This natural paradise is rich in forests, giant plateaus, and fabulous paths.
Oasis of Bosco Pantano
The Bosco Pantano di Policoro conservation reserve makes up what is left of the Italian lowland-forest today. Policoro is a slice of Eden by the sea; covered in ash trees, poplars, alder trees, and reed, and home to otters, marsh harriers, cormorants, kingfishers, herons, and sea turtles.
Here, you can visit the C.R.A.S. (Centro Recupero Animali Selvatici, “Wildlife Sanctuary”) and take part in an array of activities. The Centro di Educazione Ambientale (“Centre for Environmental Education”) organises fantastic outings such as forest walks, beachy horse rides, archery, canoeing, sailing, and much more.
From just these selected highlights, you can see that Basilicata is a small but mighty holiday destination.
The region is home to picturesque cities like Matera, Maratea, Potenza and Venosa, as well as two national parks — Pollino National Park and Appennino Lucano Val d’Agri Lagonegrese National Park. You will also find crystal clear oceans, enchanting, rugged cliffs, volcanic lakes, and nature preserves. There’s simply nothing missing in this region. All that’s left now is for you to pack your backpack and get going!