Unlike in No Time to Die, my first visit to Matera did not involve machine guns, Aston Martins or jumping off bridges. But, despite this, I jolly well enjoyed it. I believe that Mr Bond would have too, perhaps on one of his quieter days when he’s romancing a lady friend and not being chased by baddies. I don’t feel that words can do Matera full justice. It is truly one of the most unique and special places that I have visited and something you need to experience in your own way in order to appreciate the quiet beauty of this place. Here’s how you can get the most from visiting Matera.
What is the history of Matera?
Matera is one of the the three oldest inhabitations in the world, alongside Aleppo and Jericho. Of the three, Matera is clearly the most accessible currently.
The short version of Matera’s history is this:
- Roughly 9000 years ago, the first inhabitants of Matera moved into Cave Dwellings which are carved into vast rocks. Over time, the caves and Matera itself was inhabited by the usual suspects, Greeks, Romans etc etc);
- In the latter part of 1800, Matera had developed into an area with poor sanitation, widespread poverty and disease;
- Matera was becoming a source of shame for Italy, and in 1952 anyone living in the caves were relocated (there are various interpretations of this ranging from residents to being kindly evacuated or forcibly moved) into more modern housing a few miles away from Matera.
- Fast forward to 1993 and UNESCO recognised Matera as a World Heritage Site, and in 2019 it became the European Capital of Culture.
Quite a tale of two halves!
Is Matera where James Bond was filmed?
Matera was fully catapulted into popular lexicon in 2021 when No Time to Die eventually hit the screens. Seeing James Bond hurtling through the historic streets was sure to make everyone Google “where in Italy is this” (I know I did!) If you’ve not seen the movie, then watch one of the clips on YouTube, the car chase is sure to get your blood pumping.
But a note of caution, don’t expect to see the bridge that Bond jumped off when you visit Matera. This was actually filmed elsewhere in Italy, Gravina in Puglia. By some clever production trickery it looks like one town, but it’s not. Gravina is not far from Matera though, so you could visit this too if you want the full experience!
But it’s not just Bond, if you’re a film buff you may recognise Matera from other movies. It’s been used as a location for more films than you can count on two hands. See how many you remember as you explore!
What to see and do when visiting Matera
Like all Italian towns, Matera is all about the mooching. You can spend hours getting lost in the Sassi (ancient town), just taking in your surroundings and imagining all who came before you.
I’d recommend a long lunch during the hottest part of the day, followed by some exploring and then some drinks and bites. In the Sassi area, Via Cassalnuovo has a glut of bars and restaurants. Try Area 8 for drinks and Dottoni 3.0 for Pizza. If you’re in the new town and looking for drinks, I’d recommend Materia Primo Bistro, which occupies a prime spot in the shade of the church square for maximum people watching. If you’re lucky, you might spot a wedding taking place in the gorgeous church.
For sightseeing, it’s all about the caves of course! You can visit an original dwelling. Just follow signs for Casa Grotta and pick up a ticket to enter. It’s 4 Euros to enter and you can see a fully furnished cave.
The largest religious building (Matera Cathedral) requires a ticket and booking to enter. You can enter San Pietro Caveoso church, which sits atop a hill with breath-taking views of Matera. For me, my favourite aspect of Matera is the ‘Rock Church’ San Pietro Barisano, this was built around the 12th Century and is literally nestled neatly into a rock. Quite spectacular!
Where to stay in Matera and when visit
If you’re looking to spend a little less, quaint B&B Antica Mateloa comes in under 100 Euros per night and is highly recommended.
How to get to Matera
Matera is in Southern Italy, specifically the Basillicata region which lies just North and West of Puglia. The nearest Airport is located in Bari. From the Airport, there’s a fairly regular bus service that takes 1 hour 15 minutes and costs 3 Euros each way with Puglia Air Bus. Tickets can be booked in advance, and I’d recommend doing this when you’re visiting Matera.
You could also drive to Matera if you have a hire car, there is ample parking available particularly in the newer area of town.
If you’re looking to combine a visit to Matera with other areas of Italy, why not try exploring Puglia, where you an visit Lecce, Bari and the coastal delights of Monopoli and Poligano a Mare. If you want to see another UNESCO site, then Alberobello isn’t far too. There’s also a bus to Taranto with Flix Bus from Matera, if you fancy heading to explore the South West Coast of Puglia.