Our time in the City of Stone got off to a rocky start. We had booked two weeks in a rental apartment. The residenza where we normally stay when we travel to Matera didn’t have a suite available for a two week sojourn. Neither did my second choice, but then I found a cute little apartment and corresponded with the owner, who gave me a little discount for a long stay and booked it immediately. The owner assured all was reserved, no deposit or prepayment needed, tutto bene.
I arrived with dizzying headache and hacking cough from the cold that besieged me. I was tired from the six-hour drive. I wanted nothing more than to make a cup of tea and go to bed. The signora cheerfully greeted us in the Piazza del Duomo and directed us to the place, pointing out where to park our car nearby.
It wasn’t until we passed through the gate into her courtyard that she revealed the news that she had taken a booking for the weekend and we would be sleeping in her comodissima taverna for a night. Tomorrow, she chirped, the apartment would be all ours.
Tomorrow dawned clear and warm. We would soon be able to move to the apartment for our two-week tenure. We rambled around in the Sassi and went to enjoy a cappuccino and cornetto while we waited for the cleaning to be completed. The place was cute, it would do fine. We unpacked and started to settle in.
That’s when La Signora decided to tell us that, oh by the way, she had also taken a reservation for the last four days of our stay and we wouldn’t mind returning to the taverna, right? Huh? What happened to two weeks? No problems? Less than happy about the prospect of spending four nights in the Italian equivalent of a basement (without shower), and upset that she took another booking while assuring us a two-week stay was no problem, we debated what to do.
The first morning we both awoke stiff. The second and third mornings we were moaning and creaking like geezers. The bed was absolutely the most back-wrenchingly uncomfortable we have ever encountered. Which may have been just an annoyance had it not been for the six o’clock awakenings we were enduring from above. Scraping chairs, clunking heels, banging around in the owner’s house above us. Every morning.
We had roamed town looked for other accommodations, but on last-minute notice for a long-ish stay it was difficult. We had already cut our stay shorter than anticipated to avoid the taverna nightmare and adjusted our booking in the mountains (no problem, the agriturismo owner told me, which gave me grave cause to worry!).
We toughed it out a week in the apartment before saying ‘basta!’ We ran to the residenza and begged for a room, any room. Mercifully, they had a suite available for the last few nights of our stay and we snapped up the cave dwelling with glee. We packed and fled as fast as the swallows that dart above the Sassi. Ahhh…utterly quiet. Comfortable bed. It felt very homey.
Our last few days in Matera were perfect; even the weather mostly cooperated. We continued shopping in the daily vegetable market, enjoying the barista in “our” coffee bar, and tramping all over the various sections of the Sassi, which just continue to unfurl in different directions. Whenever we think we’ve seen it all, we discover another fold in the terrain that reveals more walkways and ancient churches or cantinas hewn into the stone.
We arrived in high, rural, central Basilicata, an area known as the communita` montagna, to find that the owners here really did mean it when they said ‘no problem’. Our apartment really was ready and waiting (just for us!), and we’ve been plied with homemade ravioli, sweets, and freshly-made ricotta cheese from their farm. They are so very sweet, and we have come to adore them and their beautiful farm with stunning views. We met the mayor of their village who gifted us with two lovely books about the town, and we have been breaking up our time in my ancestral village by exploring other hamlets in the area. There are some real gems around here, and I’ll be sharing them with you in the future…when I can find a normal internet connection again.