Basilicata: an undiscovered Italian region that deserves much more attention from tourists and travelers. It’s the yellow land of its wheat fields, it’s the green land of its Dolomites, and it’s the white land of its Sassi. It’s not fortuitous that its landscape has been used for many movies and famous director: Mel Gibson for Christ’s Passion, 007 Quantum of Solace, Salvatores’ I’m not Scared…and 34 more…It’s no chance if Francis Ford Coppola spend most of his time in the town of Bernalda and decided to start there a luxurious hotel chain.
Our trip to Basilicata starts from Rome by car. Driving is probably the best solution to reach this region, since railway transportation is limited to certain areas and there’s no airport there. The nearest airports are in Puglia (Brindisi or Bari) and from there you necessarily need to rent a car. By the way the conditions of streets and highways are pretty good and the tows we visited are well connected one to each other.
Starting from Rome in the early morning we reach after 3 hours the town of Melfi, famous for the castle of Federico II, the German Emperor that ruled over the Kingdom of Sicily and that was called by his contemporaries stupor mundi, they were indeed astonished – and sometimes repelled – by the pronounced unorthodoxy of the Hohenstaufen emperor and his temperamental stubbornness. If you are interested in the history of this emperor, in Lagopesole, there is a museum in the castle dedicated to his interesting life.
Take the through ticket (4€) so that you can visit the Archeological Museums of both Melfi and Venosa Castles and the archeological Site of Venosa. Both museums recollect many grave goods that were found in the areas nearby and date back to the VII-III centuries B.C.
The castle dominates the town of Melfi, built on the top of a hill as most of the town of Basilicata. Take your time to walk through the narrow streets, look at the balconies and find out the famous red pepper (called “Cruschi”) that after drying out in the sun, are fried and became the famous chips of Basilicata.
Have a stop at the cathedral, find the Porta Venosina, the only rest of its medieval origins.Be ready to take the car again to go to Venosa, the town of Orazio Flacco, the Latin poet. The ride from Melfi to Venosa is suggestive… you drive all around the Vulture mountain, an inactive volcano of the region, famous for its natural sparkling water. While driving, in Rapolla (famous for its baths) you will find fountains where you can fill your bottles with really good water. This water comes from the top of the Vulture where there are the Monticchio’s lakes, if you have extra time (at least one day) I suggest you’d spend a day visiting this natural park on the top of the volcano.
Arrived in Venosa stop for a visit of the Archeological Site (be careful it’s open Wed-Mon: 9am-till 2pm) where you discover the roman origins of the town of Venusia, with its baths, domus and amphitheatre. What really strikes most are the rest of the Incomplete Church, whose works started in the XI century but never ended. The staff of this site is so kind, helpful and willing to give you any information about it and the town.
For lunch I highly recommend you go to an agriturismo near the site, called La Maddalena, you can’t leave Venosa before trying the antipasto della casa of this restaurant. It’s also a good choice in case you want to spend an extra day in the area and taste the Aglianico wine they produce. We ate really well and spent no more than 20€ each, wine included. Afterwards we visited the museum of Venosa castle, strolled around the nice centre of the town, had a nice aperitivo in the main square.
We lefte Venosa and took the road to the south, taking the direction to Rionero in Vulture. From there we took the main high speed road of Basilicata, called Basentana that cuts the region in two parts from the north to the south
Next stop: Pietrapertosa. We spent in Pietrapertosa JUST 2 days, we didn’t expect, while organizing this trip, that this area was so rich of sites, activities, excursions to do… I learnt the lesson and I tell you: spend here at least 4 days, it’s the best area of Basilicata (after Matera) we visited in our trip.
Pietrapertosa is a pearl set in the shaped rocks of these mountains, called the Little Dolomites of Lucania. 1088 high, its old origins are clearly Arabic, hidden behind the mountain you can’t see the town before you turn around. It’s a very small town with 1100 inhabitants, but each of them is so kind, so open that you feel you are at home. We stayed at the Albergo Diffuso Le Costellazioni, a nice hotel, whose rooms are allocated all around the little town, it’s a nice way to “live” the town with the residents . One night with breakfast included cost 70€ but we had a small apartment and could use a little kitchen.
Breakfast was served in a bar where the owner Antonio welcomed us every morning and was really helpful with all his advices. We also knew the owner of another B&B: La Casa di Cirene and Penelope which is less expensive.
Pietrapertosa is especially famous for the Angel Flight: Tied in total safety with a harness, attached to the steel cable, suspended between the tops of two small towns (one is Pietrapertosa, the other is Castelmezzano) you will live the thrill of flying some minutes in a fantastic adventure, one of the best in Italy and in the world for the beauty of the landscape and the maximum height of flight. The ticket (Saturdays, Sundays:40€: weekly:35€) includes a round-trip flight on two different lines whose slopes are respectively 118 and 130 meters.
The first, known as “San Martino” line, starts from Pietrapertosa (altitude 1020 mt) and arrives in Castelmezzano (arrival altitude 859 m) after covering 1415 meters with the top speed of 110 km / h. The other, the “Peschiera” line starts from Castelmezzano (altitude 1019 meters) and arrives in Pietrapertosa (arrival altitude 888 mt), covering 1452 meters with the top speed of 120 km / h.
It’s a unique emotion, you feel like a bird flying over the wonderful valley. It’s absolutely safe and the worst moment is surely the wait…I wasn’t sure to do that, but leaving apart all my fear I bought the tickets and went..It’s something you can’t miss while staying there.
The town offers a variety of excursions, apart from visiting the town with its church and beautiful monastery, there’s a a 4km long path that starts from PietraPertosa and arrives in Castelmezzano (another town which deserves a visit).
It lasts around 2 hours and it’s a suggestive path with seven stops, at each stop there’s a “talking” stone which tell the story of a man who’s bewitched by a beautiful woman. Actually, all the area around, which is completely covered by wood (visit Accettura famous for its trees), is full of legends about witches and elfs…the inhabitants will be happy and proud to tell you some..
Another town you can’t miss is Brindisi di Montagna (20min from Pietrapertosa) and its Parco della Grancia.The ticket of the park costs 24€ and includes the entrance in the park during the day, when a lot of activities are organized from 10.30 am till 7pm, and it’s a great opportunity to discover the traditions of the area and enjoy a day in the nature. At 9pm starts a unique show called “La storia bandita” (unfortunately just in Italian for the moment), theater and cinema join together to represent the history of Crocco, an Italian bandit that started a rebellion after the unification of Italy: 150 actors in a natural landscape will certainly leave you unforgettable emotions.
If you like this kind of shows where performance meets cultural heritage, you can’t miss the “Cittá dell’Utopia”. A show set in the abandoned town of Old Campomaggiore that brings back to life the Utopian myth of this town