Pulling our bags behind us (thank goodness for those roll-a-bags!), we followed the directions to our hotel. It wasn’t far, we knew, but we began to scratch our heads when the sidewalk started getting very rubbly, then gave out altogether. We were now hoisting our bags over an uneven dirt path littered with chunks of cement.
Gino rolled his eyes. What was I getting him into this time? He stood by the bags while I ran ahead a ways to see if I could spot the hotel. Just a few feet along, I came to an opening in the stone wall we had been following. I peered over and gasped.
Speechless, I stared out onto a surreal scene, appearing before me like an image from Biblical days. It was so unbelievable, I felt tingly. Racing back towards Gino, I called out to him, “Just wait until you see THIS!” Still skeptical and most likely grumbling under his breath, he trudged on. I was gleeful, anticipating his reaction.
Then the scene appeared for him, and I laughed as I watched his face. We had now had our first glimpse of Matera’s Sassi. But before I show you more of this incredible place, I will take you a few steps farther to our hotel: l’hotel in pietra. We stepped into the lobby, a cool cavernous room. Indeed, it was actually a cave!
Touted as a boutique hotel, this jewel was converted a few years ago from a 12th century cave church to the six rooms and two suites it now offers to modern guests. And we were two of those lucky guests.
You can still recognize the original church structure, but now transformed into a welcome desk, an airy reading room with comfy couches and subdued lighting, and a breakfast area.
One part of the floor was covered with a clear square of tempered glass, allowing one to peer down into a subterranean cave below the lobby floor.
Our room, too, was carved into natural rock. As we entered, we stepped into a smallish space but with a ceiling that reached up to the second floor. A wooden armadio stood against one of the uneven stone walls. Along the opposite side a small mini-fridge roosted on a rocky ledge. This was not your typical hotel!
A bathroom was off to the right. The sink was a smooth stone trough of sorts with a contemporary faucet. The shower sported a rain showerhead that I would later have to force myself out from under.
Against the back wall a narrow, twisty staircase spiraled upwards to the sleeping loft. There, a comfy double bed took most of the space, with just enough room leftover for a couple of small stands on which to place our effects. However, there was no way you could, or would even want to, drag your suitcase up there.
A TV hung from the wall, and a window looked out onto the Sassi. With that view, who would even think of turning on a television? Except when we left the room to go exploring, we kept the shutters flung wide open.
We set out a few things, just to feel settled in. I hung up my jacket in the armadio, pushing it to the back to get it out of the way. “Don’t forget it,” I said to myself, since there was no way I would ever need it here.
We asked the desk clerk if she could recommend a guide. We had read that to fully understand the history of this town and navigate its odd geography, it is best to get oriented with a guide for a couple of hours.
The clerk was more than happy to call and arrange for someone to come a bit later in the afternoon. This was perfect, since we needed lunch before tackling anything else.
With a restaurant recommendation in hand, we stepped back out into the southern Italian sun and headed down into the Sassi.