Basilicata, the instep of the boot, is an off the tourist track region in southern Italy. A mountainous region with a jagged, rocky coastline on the Tyrrhenian coast and another on the Ionian Sea. Basilicata, like the neighboring Calabria and Puglia regions, has been home to many cultures; you'll see evidence of Greek colonization at Metaponto and Policoro, Roman towns, Norman castles, and cave dwellings that have been used since prehistoric times.
Exploring the Basilicata Region
The Parco Nazionale del Pollino, in the south, extends around Monte Pollino, 2248 meters high. 24 Basilicata towns and four nature reserves can be found in the park, part of which goes into Calabria.
Basilicata is best explored by car, however, the inland cities of Melfi, Potenza, and Matera and the coast towns of Maratea and Metaponto can be reached by train, although service is fairly limited. From these towns, there is bus service to smaller towns nearby.
The Basilicata region is divided into two provinces, Potenza to the west and Matera to the east, their capital cities marked on the map in capital letters.
Basilicata Cities to Visit
Matera and Its Province
A fascinating city in Basilicata, and probably the most developed for tourists, has to be Matera, with its Sassi district of cave houses and over 100 rock churches, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Matera has been the background for many films, including Pasolini's The Gospel According to St. Matthew and Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ (2004). If you're going in summer, don't miss its most famous festival, the Festa della Madonna Bruna on July 2nd.
Montescaglioso is a hill town that was the center of the Norman Kingdom of Sicily. The top sight is Montescaglioso's 11-15th century Abbey of San Michele Arcangelo. In August the Festa di San Rocco is a colorful local festival with religious parade and fireworks.
Bernalda, made famous by Francis Ford Coppola, is a lively town with a small historic center, castle, and long main street with restaurants, bars, and shops. It makes an excellent base for visiting Matera, Craco, Metaponto, and the coast.
Craco is one of Italy's top ghost towns. Once a thriving hill town, it was mostly abandoned following a mudslide. Go to the visitor center for a fascinating and eerie guided tour (available in English).
Metaponto is a famous Greek settlement on the Ionian coast formerly called Metapontum. Archaeology buffs should visit the Museo Archeologico Nazionale and the ruins outside town that include a Greek temple. Metaponto also has a fine, white sand beach.
Policoro offers the Lido di Policoro, a famous beach, and the ruins of the Greek settlement of Heraclea on the outskirts of town.
Stigliano is a good place to start your exploration of the Basilicata mountains.
Aliano was the town where Carlo Levi was exiled. You can visit his house and see the stunning landscape he wrote about in his book Christ stopped at Eboli.
Western Basilicata Towns to Visit, Potenza Province
Maratea, built on the slopes of Monte San Biagio, has a wonderful historic center, beaches, and port. Marina di Maratea is on the Tyrrenian coast, a wild and rocky coastline that makes a good alternative to the more touristy Amalfi Coast.
Melfi was a Roman, then a Longobard city which later became a Norman city. There is a Norman castle to visit and a baroque cathedral and Bishop's Palace, Palazzo del Vescovado. Inside the Castle is the Museo Nazionale Archeologico Melfese, a good archaeology museum with many important collections of materials from the surrounding area. Melfi is on the rail line.
Venosa was once a Roman town called Venusia. The poet Horace hails from Venosa. Venosa has a 15th-century Aragonese castle, a Baroque Church of the Purgatory, and the Palaeolithic period is represented by the Archaeological Area of Notarchirico, in which a Homo Erectus femur fragment was found.
Rionero in Vulture has been in existence since at least 290 bc and was seized by the Normans around 1041. The towns in the Vulture area sit in the shadow of Monte Vulture, an extinct volcano which provides the fertile soil in the area. Aglianico del Vulture is a famous DOC wine from the area.
Potenza is a modern city that suffered much destruction from bombings in World War II and earthquakes although some of the old town still remains. Only 1 tower of the castle still stands and the old cathedral was restored in the 18th century. A 17th-century mansion, Palazzo Loffredo, houses the archaeological museum and there are remains of a Roman villa.