Hotel Relais Ridola, Matera ****
Entirely renovated in 2005, this Matera hotel offers a modern accommodation option from where to explore one of southern Italy's oldest tourist attractions. Matera is home to the Sassi, an ancient settlement dug into the stone to form a series of atmospheric cave dwellings. View hotel
Double rooms from €59
Hotel del Campo, Matera ****
This hotel in Matera is fashioned from a lovely old villa, sensitively restored and enlarged to create a lovely four-star hotel. Matera is a cultured and rather elegant Basilicata town, most famous for the neolithic cave dwellings or 'sassi' that dot the mountain facing onto the town. View hotel
Double rooms from €48
Locanda Di San Martino Hotel, Matera ***
Undoubtedly one of Italy's most unusual accommodation options, this Matera hotel has been built around San Martino, a de-consecrated church in the renowned Sassi historical district. Rooms have been painstakingly fashioned out of the ancient cave-style dwellings that have been home to local people for several thousand years. View hotel
Double rooms from €87
The extraordinary Basilicata town of Matera, and its 'Sassi' cave dwellings have entered popular culture and consciousness in a number of ways - if you have seen Mel Gibson's gore-laden 'The Passion of the Christ', and it was also used by Pasolini in his 1964 movie 'The Gospel According to St Matthew'. Parts of 'The Omen' were also filmed here. Carlo Levi used the medieval living conditions of the Materans as evidence of the poverty of southern Italy in his story of internal exile under Mussolini, 'Christ Stopped at Eboli', which also became a film. Levi uses the old name of 'Lucania' for Basilicata.
The Matera caves are very ancient of course, the troglodyte settlement reckoned to be one of the oldest human settlements in Italy, with houses dug out of the soft tufa volcanic rock, and lining 'la Gravina', the ravine in which Matera sits. Fodor's Guide reckoned that Matera was 'the only place ... where people can boast to be living in the same houses of their ancestors of 9000 years ago'. Times change of course, and the cave dwellers of Matera were summarily evicted from the 1950s onwards, unwilling recipients of improved housing many of them. The caves are now protected as a UNESCO site.
But ... times change again. And from being considered an area of grim poverty, Matera has been lifted by tourist money: this is a complete one-off after all. Now we have thriving hotels, bars and restaurants, and of course it makes a great film set. There are some superb old churches too, including Chiesa Sant'Agostino, the marvellous Romanesque San Giovanni Battista and the Baroque San Pietro Caveoso. Most of all though, are the Sassi, a sine qua non for any visit to Matera, and a glimpse into the Italy of centuries ago.