Most intact troglodyte settlement in the Mediterranean
Finally the time we’ve managed to come to this region, although for a very short time and a larger than average program to visit as much as we could. So while our point of arrival was Brindisi that city together with Lecce would be scheduled for the following day while today instead, driving towards two UNESCO World Heritage Sites: The Sassi and the Park of the Rupestrian Churches of Matera, and the Trulli di Alberobello; ending up in the small city of Fasano towards the evening for a nice dinner before returning to the base for the night, Brindisi. Incredible we managed to do this all in a day, considering it was literally right after landing from the very early flight from London, hence tired and sleepy without much rest from the short night before. Quite unfortunate there were no other more suitable flights!
Glad we found these flights anyway, during the low season avoiding the hordes or tourists and high prices for everything, especially accommodation, and good to know how nice all this region in the southeast of Italy is. Definitely worth for returning in the near future, possibly with a flight to Bari instead and continue to enjoy up north from there. Our less visited part of Italy in the other hand.
So as you’ve guessed, the UNESCO sites collectors that we are, this was our plan and main aim for the trip. Matera, home to the most outstanding, intact example of a troglodyte settlement in the Mediterranean region, fully dotted with caves and rock churches with invaluable painting works or art covering the walls and ceilings; and on the other hand something unique legacy from prehistoric techniques still in use today, the trulli constructions found in the southern region of Puglia, being the most remarkable the ones at Alberobello. These are limestone dwellings built drywall (mortarless) in the general form or cones. Really fascinating and impressive to see, and honestly nothing I could compare it to.
The three cities visited are quite small, especially Alberobello and Fasano. Matera in the other hand although still small, contains a very large monumental complex of caves within a very labyrinthine urbanism with hills up and down and very narrow streets. Consider this facts when planning your visit and allow more time for Matera. After all, the trulli is a reduced part at the south and east of the city of Alberobello, and Fasano the main street and central square; reason why we did these three cities in that order. Straightforward and super easy to navigate and see.
Now planning on where to have some food, that’s always easy anywhere in Italy. Hardly any exception to break this rule anyway. So while you will find plenty of great trattorias and pizzerias, the rule of thumb applies like anywhere in the world. Comparing few of them won’t harm you, but will discard the tourists traps or the unnecessarily expensive places. And if dinner is what you’re up for, then nothing can beat the “happy hour” places where you buy a drink and get a food buffet included! They call it apericena. OK, do not expect having a huge choice of food, but it is great enough. For around 8 Euros for a cocktail as an example, then you can eat until you wish, although the general will be around 10 to 12 Euros. A fantastic alternative to a proper restaurant, and in truth, a much better way to chill out with friends or rest after a long sightseeing day.
For more information about these places check their respective Wikipedia sites as is this for Matera, and this for Alberobello. Italy’s currency is the Euro (EUR). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Matera
- Sassi – The Ancient Town Dating back to prehistoric times, it is believed to be among the first ever human settlements in what is now Italy. A network of caves and caverns lying one above the other representing the best preserved and most complete troglodyte settlement in the Mediterranean, listed by the UNESCO a World Heritage Site.
- Rupestrian Monasteries and Churches Also part of the UNESCO listed Heritage Site. Carved from the soft volcanic rock are all spread around the city and surroundings. Many of these preserve outstanding paintings in their ceilings and walls. Two of the most important are San Pietro Caveoso and San Pietro Barisano.
- Cathedral Built in the 13th century in Apulian Romanesque style, although its interiors are 18th century Baroque restoration.
- Tramontano Castle Built in the 16th century however never completed, has 3 impressive large towers.
What to see and do in Alberobello
- Rione Monti Towards the south of the city, it is home to the largest amount of trulli with 1030 trulli. It is also the most heavily visited by tourist who often bypass any other places in the city.
- Rione Aia Piccola Home to 590 trulli, it is located towards the east, and while half of the size from the main spot, this is the less visited yet perhaps the nicest for great pictures.
Reaching any of these places is easy and halfway when deciding either Brindisi or Bari international airports. The links between the airports and the cities is good enough, and better even if you are renting a car to speed up things. From our experience in this occasion we flew to Brindisi where we took a car. In any case, there are buses to the city centre costing 3 Euros per way, and to Lecce for 6 Euros; and from the city centre trains to Lecce (6 Euros) or to Fasano (7 Euros), and buses to anywhere (Alberobello, Matera, Lecce, Fasano).
Coming overland from elsewhere in Italy is a good option too. Either you can take a bus (possibly direct to Brindisi depending on where you are boarding), and trains (might involve a change). But although overall there are good infrastructures in Italy, the journey can be lengthy and if time is your limitation, I would encourage to get a domestic flight.
Within each of these 3 cities, there is no need for any public transport at all. Distances are so short that it’s a matter of minutes from one side to another. These are great news when comparing to a larger city, because of the time it will save you moving around.
This region of Italy is still lacking from big properties (thanks goodness), as otherwise this will turn into another “amusement park” for the hordes of tourists. Saying this, do not expect to have a great choice when searching for a place to stay. A good and reasonable point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers.
Our base was Brindisi, where we stayed at the Hotel Nettuno, located at Prolungamento Viale Arno, outside of the city centre. Since we had a rental car, we did not mind where to stay hence this hotel came as a great value for money considering for the same price we could not get anything in the centre but a rather poor 2* property. We made the right choice with this 4* instead. Nice friendly staff across all departments, and although a bit dated decor, it was well maintained and very clean. The room spacious and quiet, yet very comfortable too. As for the breakfast, quite nice with a good choice and quality altogether. Definitely highly recommend to anyone but remember, it will work out good having your own transport as otherwise you depend on a taxi ride or a walk along some industrial areas not very welcoming.
City of Matera
Trulli di Alberobello