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Matera has long been a little off the tourist trail for most visitors to Italy—and certainly those coming for their first visit to the Mediterranean country. However, it’s recently been named a 2019 European City of Culture—and that, plus its UNESCO World Heritage designation for its sassi, the network of cave dwellings that have been turned into cultural centers, hotels, bars, and restaurants, has put it on many travelers’ radars.
If you come to stay in the town—one of the oldest cities in the world—you’ll undoubtedly want to check out—and check into—one of its iconic cave hotels, which have been built into the town’s limestone cliffs for a sleeping experience unlike most (or any) you’ve ever had. We’ve rounded up nine of the best cave hotels in Matera, from ones that deliver all-out luxury to ones that are perfect for a romantic getaway. Read through to see which ones made our list, below.
Best Overall: Sextantio Le Grotte della Civita
If you thought cave-dwelling and luxury were incompatible opposites, think again: This hotel is one of the best in Matera, and stays here are beautifully memorable. The caves are front and center here—cue candlelit recesses and wonderfully uneven floors—and homage is paid to ancient handicraft traditions through details like linens woven on traditional looms. Sextantio’s 18 rooms are gorgeously designed, with minimalist but rustic furnishings beautifully setting off the limestone walls and grottos. The hotel is located in the oldest part of the Sassi and looks out on a park and beautiful churches; in fact, the hotel incorporates an ancient church into its own design, though it’s now used as a common area. Breakfast is included and delicious: Look for local pastries, salumi, and marmalades from local artisan producers and organic farms. For those looking to really indulge, the hotel offers in-room massages, candlelit dinners upon request—and babysitting.
Best Budget: Caveoso Hotel
Cave hotels in Matera tend to be either quite polished (to the point that it doesn’t look like you’re in a cave) or left quite rustic, with the natural features of the cave left to speak for themselves aesthetically. This hotel has a bit of both: Each of the rooms in this charming hotel has cave elements, whether it’s smoothed limestone that arches into a neat vault in the standard rooms or the cave suites, which feature less polished, more natural walls and ceilings that let the beauty of the earth take centerstage (the mood lightening does a brilliant job of illuminating the cave’s nooks, too). Thanks to the thickness of the limestone walls, you’re going to get a great sleep in the naturally soundproofed rooms. The rest of the hotel retains this atmosphere too—the cave is left to just be itself in the lobby and dining room, too.
Best for Romance: Il Palazzotto Residence and Winery
Oenophiles will love this hotel, whose motto is “good company, good wine, good welcome”—and it delivers on all three fronts. Dating back to the 16th century, this former aristocratic residence was restored by a local architect whose renovations were guided by a desire to let the original architecture speak for itself. The result is rooms that glow with soft lighting, modern furnishings that complement the natural forms of the caverns, and antique details like ancient bowls turned into sinks. Breakfast is wonderful, with homemade pastries and local breads. There’s plenty to do on site, so don’t worry about having to tear yourself away: You can take cooking classes with your partner, take a tour in an Ape, and take part in wine tastings, either on site or offsite on a vineyard run by the owners (for extra drama, there’s a volcano nearby). If you want a bottle for a more involved tasting back at the hotel, there’s a wall of wine from the vineyard back in the hotel’s lounge. The hotel’s location is great, too, placed between the old area of Matera and the more modern, everyday part of town.
Best Atmosphere: Corte San Pietro
With just 12 individually decorated rooms, Corte San Pietro is a luxe small hotel that truly delivers the intimate feeling of a home-away-from-home for guests. Formerly a number of abandoned buildings dating back to the 16th century, the hotel has been restored and modernized to the highest standards with the help of an architect from Matera, whose approach was to strip back extra additions to get to the original walls and vaults, the better to reveal the years of history this hotel has seen. Extra touches — candles in the elegantly monochromatic rooms and courtyard — show off the hotel in quite literally its best light. Plus, as the hotel points out on their website, there are just 10 stairs to get up to the rooms. The spa is currently under construction, but even without it operational just yet, it’s well worth a trip to stay in this unique lodging.
Best View: Hotel Sassi
The original hotel in the Sassi of Matera, this hotel has been delighting guests since 1996. Its rooms are converted peasant and middle-class dwellings that date back to the 1500s, so there’s not only history where you sleep but also stretching out before you with a beautiful townscape from the hotel’s windows and balconies. Inside, cave walls curve around hallways to form almost circular passageways, and rooms are divided between those carved out of the rock and those that aren’t (request ones that are if possible—the niches in the cave walls are charming). Although it’s in the city center, it’s in a quiet area, so a great sleep at night 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 local bakeries for their breads and pastries—and even offers cooking classes for guests wanting to learn how to prepare traditional recipes.
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 wonderfully indulgent hotel offers a family room that’s big enough to sleep five. Keep in mind that, as with many cave hotels in Matera, there are quite a lot of stairs to go up and down (even with the assist of an elevator), but that might help the kids wind down after a day of sightseeing. Downstairs and for an extra fee, the spa pool is a beautiful place for a dip, and teens and grownups will love the rest of what’s on offer in the thermae: a sauna, Turkish bath, tepidarium, and chromotherapy, plus treatments like massages and a couples’ spa experience. Breakfast is included in the price of the stay, and it’s one everyone will love: a European-style breakfast buffet featuring local pastries, like brioche and walnut and apricot tarts, to try.
Best for Luxury: Aquatio Cave Luxury Hotel & Spa
This is one of the latest additions to the Matera hotel scene—it just opened in 2018—but you might walk right by it if you’re not paying attention. This five-star hotel has just 35 rooms, designed by Simone Micheli, an Italian architect-artist, with delightfully modern interiors in all white juxtaposed against the cave limestone walls shaped by the centuries for a completely serene atmosphere. The on-site spa, measuring almost 5,400 square feet, is a treat, too, with gorgeous ceilings curving over the enticingly lit indoor pool carved right into the rock. After a soak, couples can cozy up for a candlelit dinner featuring regional cuisine outside 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. Blessedly—Italian summers can get hot—air conditioning and heating are both offered in all the rooms.
Best Historic: Palazzo Gattini Luxury Hotel
Although most buildings of the Sassi are medieval, if not ancient, this palazzo gives the decades of Materan history a noble twist: It’s the former palace of the oldest noble family in the city, the Gattini counts, who date back through 600 years of local history. Renovated by Ettore Mocchetti, an Italian architect, the gorgeous hotel incorporates art and antiques, as well as crisp linens and quietly modern textiles, into its rooms—which are often crowned by curving, but elegantly smoothed, cave ceilings. With just 20 rooms, the experience of a stay here is incredibly serene—and all the rooms are suites, to add a dash of extra luxury (one even has a private swimming pool). The spa is influenced by the ancient designs of Materan bathrooms, with a tub for float therapy in a peaceful old cistern and “dry” and “wet” routes through the underground pools, massage rooms, and Jacuzzi (there are also excellent treatments available for guests).
Best B&B: La Dolce Vita B&B
Owners Vincenzo and Carla, a French and Italian couple, have lovingly restored their bed and breakfast to be one of the top places to stay in the Sassi. It’s well located centrally in the town, but know that there are only a few apartments in this B&B—so book early if you want to reserve a place. They’re both well sized, at 540 and 645 square feet, and each feels quite homey, with natural features shining through. Breakfast in the mornings is included, with great coffee and quite a spread of bread, cereal, and homemade jam. Vincenzo is known to drop guests off at the train and bus stations, as well a bring those with rented cars in from further-afield parking places, which is a lovely touch. He’s also a font of knowledge about the town, so if you need help deciding what to do, he’ll have plenty of ideas.