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The ancient Italian city of Matera has long been a slightly off-the-beaten-path destination for most visitors to the country. However, this year, it landed firmly on the map when it was named the European Capital of Culture. It's also a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its Sassi, cave dwellings that were inhabited from Paleolithic period until the 1950s. Today, the Sassi have been renovated and turned into bars, restaurants, and—yes— one-of-a-kind hotels.
Best Overall: Sextantio Le Grotte della Civita
If you thought caves and luxury were opposites, think again. This hotel is one of the best in Matera; stays here are beautiful and memorable. The caves are, of course, front and center—cue candlelit recesses and wonderfully uneven floors—and the hotel pays homage to ancient handicraft traditions through details like linens woven on traditional looms.
Sextantio’s 18 rooms are gorgeously designed, with minimalist but rustic furnishings that accent the limestone walls and grottos. Each has a king-size bed, an ergonomic mattress, and a standalone bathtub. For those looking to indulge, the hotel offers in-room massages, candlelit dinners upon request, and even babysitting.
The property is located in the oldest part of the Sassi and looks out on a park and beautiful churches; the property even incorporates an ancient church into its own design, though it’s now used as a common area. Breakfast is included, featuring offerings like pastries, salumi, and marmalades from local producers and organic farms.
Best Budget: Caveoso Hotel
Cave hotels in Matera tend to be either very polished or quite rustic. This wallet-friendly hotel is a bit of both: each room has cave elements, whether in the standard rooms, where smoothed limestone arches into curved ceilings, or the suites, which feature more natural walls that let the beauty of the earth take center stage. All rooms have free Wi-Fi, air conditioning, daily housekeeping, free bottled water, and a bidet. Also, because the walls are so thick, the rooms are naturally soundproofed, ensuring a quiet night's sleep. In terms of common spaces, the hotel has a café, a bar and lounge, a restaurant, and a rooftop terrace. A complimentary breakfast is served daily.
Best for Romance: Il Palazzotto Residence and Winery
Located in a restored 16th-century aristocratic residence, this intimate hotel is ideal for couples looking for a romantic escape. Its 10 rooms have soft lighting, modern furnishings that complement the natural forms of the caverns, and antique details (like antique bowls used as sinks). Each has a shower, air conditioning, a TV, minibar, air conditioning, and free Wi-Fi. Breakfast features offerings like almond pastries from the nearby city of Altamura and flatbreads baked fresh daily. There are also plenty of activities that are perfect for couples, including on-site cooking classes or an organic wine tasting in the property's own vineyards, located a 60-minute drive from the hotel and facing a volcano.
Best Atmosphere: Corte San Pietro
Corte San Pietro feels like a home away from home. The property is located in several 16th-century buildings that have been restored with the help of Matera-based architect Daniela Amoroso. The furniture in the rooms and common areas is made from antique recovered objects—for example, sections of old tree trunks are used as seats or bedside tables. Each room has free Wi-Fi, an LED TV, air conditioning, and a safe to store your valuables; some rooms have jacuzzis. Extra touches like candles in the central courtyard show off the hotel in, quite literally, its best light. The hotel's spa is currently under construction but will be located in eight ancient cisterns below the property—but even without it operational just yet, it’s well worth a trip.
Best View: Hotel Sassi
This hotel, which has been delighting guests since 1996, is known for its terraces with panoramic views of the Matera Cathedral and the Sasso Barisano district. Of its 35 rooms and suites, some are carved out of the rock some aren’t; request the former for their rustic charm. Each room is equipped with heating and air conditioning, free Wi-Fi connection, a minibar, a hair dryer, and a flat-screen TV. Also, even though the hotel is located in the city center, it’s in a quiet area, so a great night's sleep is all but guaranteed.
The hotel is also a proud supporter of local and regional cuisine; they use milk from a nearby cattle farm and source their breads and pastries from bakeries in the area. Cooking classes are also offered on-site. Lastly, from April to September, guests can spot the lesser kestrel, a small falcon that nests on the roof.
Best for Families: Locanda di San Martino - Hotel e Thermae
Cave hotels can be tight on space—after all, one’s working around the earth’s natural geography—but this hotel offers a suite that’s big enough to sleep five. Beyond that, each of the property's 40 accommodations has a private bathroom, air conditioning, satellite TV, and free high-speed Wi-Fi; each suite and junior suite has a jacuzzi bathtub. Downstairs (for an extra fee), the spa's pool is a beautiful place for a dip, and teens and grownups alike will love the rest of what's on offer: a sauna, Turkish bath, tepidarium, and chromotherapy, plus treatments like massages and a couples’ spa experience. A European-style breakfast is included in the price of the stay, featuring local pastries, like brioche and walnut and apricot tarts. Do keep in mind that, as with many cave hotels in Matera, you'll have to climb several stairs to get to your room, but that might help the kids wind down after a day of sightseeing.
Best for Luxury: Aquatio Cave Luxury Hotel & Spa
Opened in 2018, this five-star property is one of the latest additions to the Matera hotel scene. Its 35 rooms are designed by Italian architect Simone Micheli and feature modern, all-white interiors juxtaposed with the cave walls. Air conditioning and heating are both offered in all rooms, plus a flat-screen TV, a safe, a mini-bar, a coffee machine, and a kettle. The on-site spa, measuring almost 5,400 square feet, is a treat, too, with a beautifully lit indoor pool carved right into the rock. After a soak, couples can cozy up for a candlelit dinner under the stars in the hotel’s outdoor courtyard. If you need to plan the next day of adventures, free Wi-Fi is available across the property.
Best Historic: Palazzo Gattini Luxury Hotel
Although most buildings of the Sassi are medieval, if not ancient, this palazzo has a particularly fascinating history: It’s the former palace of the oldest noble family in the city, the Gattini counts. Renovated by Ettore Mocchetti, an Italian architect, the hotel incorporates art and antiques, as well as crisp linens and quietly modern textiles, into its 20 rooms. All the rooms are suite-style and include a soft bathrobe and slippers (made in Italy), free Wi-Fi, an LCD color TV, and air conditioning. For ultimate luxury, opt for the suite with a private pool built into a terrace overlooking the countryside. The property's spa is influenced by the ancient designs of Materan bathrooms, with a tub for float therapy in a peaceful old cistern, as well as massage rooms, a jacuzzi, and more.
Best B&B: La Dolce Vita B&B
Owned by a French-Italian couple, this bed and breakfast is lovingly restored and centrally located. It only has two rooms—be sure to book early—but they’re well-sized, at 540 and 645 square feet, respectively. Both have a living room and private bathroom, as well as a TV and free Wi-Fi. Breakfast in the mornings is included, with coffee and an ample spread of bread, cereal, and homemade jam. The owners are also known to drop off guests at the train and bus stations, which is a lovely touch. They're also very knowledgable about the town, so if you need help deciding what to do, they'll have plenty of ideas.