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Friday, November 15, 2019

Italy (Day 9) Sexy Sassi - Matera's Stone Settlement


We have arrived at my heart's content. This is the destination I most looked forward to when planning our Italy adventure.   It provides a truly once in a lifetime experience.

We came here just to dwell in one of the cave suites of Sextantio le Grotte della Civita. It's absolutely breathtaking! Set in Matera's Sassi, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, our suite is one of 18 restored cave dwellings that date back to prehistoric times, 10,000 BC! If you are looking for us, we are in Cave 21.


I had prearranged for a driver with Amalfi Coast Destination (140 euros) to take us from Positano to Salerno where we would pick up a rental car.  Sassi di Matera is so remote that we needed a rental car. Another reason to pack carry-on only. The drive from Salerno to Matera is an easy 2 1/2 hours.  I'll mention that our driver took us right up front to Hertz Rental Car and kindly had us wait while he went to make sure our car was ready. 
The cars are tiny here for the narrow streets.  No issues whatsoever, we sorted ourselves and we were off!


Road trip vibes.  Rob looks so serious driving in Italy.  It was quite an easy and uneventful drive following our downloaded Google map.  It only got, ummm, interesting when we came into Matera proper.  Ahead of our arrival, the hotel sent detailed options for parking (inside and outside the restricted-traffic Sassi area).  We chose the hotel's car service which allowed us to enter the Sassi zone and drive all the way to the hotel.  For 25 euros per night, the hotel took care of pickup and delivery of the car.

First view walking up to our hotel!

Driving into the ancient Sassi was so cool!  We had directions, including arrow-marked photos from the hotel.  You just have to be very cautious because the narrow road is used as the walkway.  It's confusing that you wonder if you are even on a road.  Located in the heart of the ancient Sassi, the hotel has well placed signage and you will easily find the base of the stairway that leads up to the lobby.  We pulled to the side and a porter was already there waiting to bring our luggage. 
 
Lobby in a cave!

I gasped in delight at the sight of Sextantio Le Grotte della Civita!  We were kindly greeted and then led deeper into the cave to the reception area. 


In this ancient rock hewn church "Cripta della Civita", we were shown where breakfast would be served. My mouth watered in anticipation of the farm fresh local products.
    

My gosh, I nearly burst in excitement to see our cave dwelling.


First sight of our cave #21.






Cave #21 is a family suite with a king-size bed and two single beds. The interplay of its arches and vaults testifies that the crusaders once visited this town. The suite also features a relaxing area with a writing desk and a window. A bathtub is positioned in the middle of a wide and romantic cave, through which you access a recess housing the shower and the lavatories. It also features a standalone entrance and a balcony overlooking the Murgia valley.  To be able to lodge here, be still my heart!


Our private balcony overlooking Neolithic caves over the ravine.  Caitlin and Molly were convinced that they remain inhabited and kept their eyes focused across the valley for any movement in the abandoned caves.


Every cave looks amazing and I can't imagine a less than stellar experience staying in any one of them. We found #21 to be a perfect space for our family.  Better plan and book early as the hotel is fully booked well in advance!


In your cave, you will find complimentary fruit and a complimentary bottle of wine.  I left the fruit for the kids and immediately welcomed the wine in this most magical setting!

 


After settling in, we headed out to explore our surroundings and see about getting a bite to eat.
   






The San Domenico complex dates back to 1230 when Blessed Nicola da Giovinazzo, a disciple of the Saint, established the order of the Preachers.In the triumphal arch, in a niche the wooden statue and cloth of S. Domenico (XIX century) is exhibited; on the right side, placed in the wall you can admire a wonderful ceramic stoup from 1754. At the center, a large architraved portal, on which rests a telamon which, in turn, holds a beautiful rose window, depicting the wheel of fortune, dominated by the Archangel Michael.
   
Chiesa di San Domenico


Palazzo del Sedile was built 1540 by Archbishop Saraceno for municipal meetings, its current appearance is due to restoration in 1779. The faรงade has a huge arch and four niches with statues representing the four cardinal virtues, Justice, Fortitude, Prudence and Temperance. The two statues at the top are St. Eustachio (Eustace), left and Madonna della Bruna on the right, these are Matera’s patron saints. The two bell towers have a sundial and clock.
   
Palazzo del Sedile

The Church of San Francesco d’Assisi is built in Baroque style in the San Francesco Square. It is dedicated to Saint Francis of Assisi, after the saint visited Matera in 1218.
   
Chiesa di San Francesco d'Assisi



We were hungry, but it was still too early for most of the restaurants. We just wandered until we found an open place and ended up at Boccadoro96 and it was AWESOME. First of all, it is in the cutest little square right in front of an old corner church. Second, the service and overall vibe made us feel so happy to be in Matera. Finally, the food was fantastic - very refreshing!

Amazing Bruschetta

Chiesa di Sant Eligio next to Boccadoro96

Properly refueled, we continue to walk the narrow alleys and admire our surroundings.
   



With sun setting, we excitedly returned to our cave lodging. A pinch-me perfect setting in this magical land.

 



It's so incredible here. The interesting thing is that this area is referred to as Italy's shame. That's when they made all the inhabitants move out and the whole place was abandoned for decades. It's only recently been restored to these amazing cave hotels. So much history, so many stories from the locals. We are so amazed! 


We will leave candles lit to guide you to this remote corner where it feels like a step back in time. 

Buona Notte, Dormi Bene da Sassi di Matera!


Up Next: Sassi di Matera "The Story of Man"
  

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Italy (Day 8) Picturesque Positano

Positano By Day!
   
Oops, we did it again. Sun ☀️ Bums by Day, Full Moon ๐ŸŒ™ Antics by Night.
   
Positano By Night!
    
Here's the thing.  Positano is so amazing that we stayed another day! 
      

Nobody complained about more beach & pool time.


 
 

I had the same seafood dish AGAIN from the poolside bar. 
    

This evening we did not leave the kids in the hotel ๐Ÿ˜‚ for dinner and they did not disappoint with ๐Ÿ˜‚ shenanigans.


Instead of heading up, we took them to the lower side of the cliffside village strolling at beach level to our last supper in Positano.  As usual, the beach was completely empty by this time.
      
    
The vibe is pretty awesome with artists painting the landscape, live music, and beautiful market wares.



Our only not-so-good meal in Positano was at a beach level restaurant. Every single meal we had on the cliff was absolutely delicious. Not sure about the rest of the beachside restaurants, but we would recommend heading upside for the food, views, and village ambiance.


I got the sea urchin pasta and there was a great show of the reveal by our waiter. I had to contain my expression upon seeing the itty itty-bitty pieces of chopped urchin. It was a bit dry and flavor-less.
  

Rob was very excited to try the squid-ink pasta, but alas, he too was less than impressed.


Kids were less discerning and appeared happy with their selections.  Portions were unnecessarily ginormous!



Afterwards, we spent out last evening in Positano strolling the beachfront village.
   


The Marina Grande beach is the name of this beach at the base of the cliff side and it is the most recognized beach in the town. There are also many other beaches to explore, some of which can only be reached from the water.






The cats of Positano!

The church of Santa Maria Assunta features a dome made of majolica tiles as well as a thirteenth-century Byzantine icon of a Black Madonna. According to local legend, the icon had been stolen from Byzantium and was being transported by pirates across the Mediterranean. A storm had blown up in the waters opposite Positano and the frightened sailors heard a voice on board saying "Posa, posa!" ("Put down! Put down!"). The icon was unloaded and carried to the fishing village and the storm abated. 




This side of Positano is quite peaceful to stroll with very few passerby in the evening. The view as night blankets the village is beautiful.


Soon, it became too dark (and not as safe by the roadside) to continue walking.  Distracted by the views, we didn't realize how far we walked.  We had failed to consider the walk ALL the way back around.  There might have been some whining.  It might have been me.  Nonetheless, we eventually (after eternity) made it back.
   

So close, yet so far.  Those last stairs straight up...


Buona Notte, Dormi Bene da Positano! Tomorrow we say Goodbye. Wait until you see where we go next... 

Up Next: A Step Back in Time - Matera