Puglia: Matera & Lecce
Updated: Apr 27
Although not officially in Puglia, we’re including the town of Matera despite its location in adjacent Basilicata. A fascinating place, Matera has been part of the poorest region of Italy for centuries, it experienced a rebirth in 1935 when painter/writer Carlo Levi was exiled there for opposing Mussolini’s fascist regime. To put in in his exact words “Anyone who sees Matera cannot help but be awe-struck, so expressive and touching is its sorrowful beauty”.
The city of Sassi (stones) is an ancient maze made up of caves of which about half have been restored, and are now once again homes. The town is so unique that we recommend visiting for at least a half-day so your guests can capture the unique treasures of this wonderful place.
Begin with the 30-minute multimedia exhibit that provides the history of Matera, an insight into the Sassi and its’ people. Climb stone staircases for awesome vistas, discover picturesque piazzas, and disappear through spectacular archways to encounter another world from another time. Sassi Barisano has recently benefited from development, with about half of the old caves beautifully refurbished to create stunning art spaces, boutique hotels, and traditional restaurants including Michelin star Vitantonio Lombardo and L'Abbondanza Lucana.
Breathtaking views can be enjoyed from the highest point of Civitas Hill, where guests will find the wonderfully restored 13th-century cathedral. And we’ll be sure not to miss the Madonna de Idris - a small church chiseled into the rock.
There is also a rare opportunity to view paintings thought to be 1,200 years old, found in a cluster of caves containing colorful frescos dating back to 850 A.D. when Benedictine monks settled in Matera.
Lecce is everything quintessential of a southern Italian town with more than its fair share of piazzas, palazzi, and historical buildings notably the church of St Niccolo’ and Cataldo (1180), and the Basilica Santa Croce (1695). Lecce is a true walking city with an abundance of mostly Baroque architecture and history to admire on foot, and is one of the reasons the town is referred to as the “Florence of the South”.
While exploring Lecce you will likely enjoy some people-watching from a terrace on the Via Vittorio Emanuele – a boulevard lined with boutiques and cafes that runs from Piazza del Duomo and Piazza Sant’Oronzo. Shopping and street entertainers are what we like the most about Lecce, and why we suggest visiting. For those curious to learn more about the city’s love of everything paper mâché can see some impressive figurines on display at a museum dedicated to these handicrafts in the Castello di Lecce, and additional decorations on the ceiling of the Church of Santa Chiara.
There are several epicurean hands-on culinary experiences possible, as well as first-class hotels to enjoy making Lecce a great dual destination (combo) option paired up with another part of Puglia (Borgo Egnazia for example) or can be woven into a nice itinerary as part of a full-day excursion.
Since they’re so close (30-minutes), it’s worth mentioning a visit to Otranto with its’ impressive 15th-century castle and colorful fishing boats, and Gallipoli, a town divided into two - the main part of the town that lies on the coast, and the small island accessible from a single road protruding into the sea.
Italia Connection has been providing destination services for specialized group experiences in Italy for more than 20 years. The team of discreet and experienced, Rome-based program managers have been helping discerning planners achieve excellence in the design and delivery of customized itineraries throughout all regions of Italy.
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