“Basilicata is a region with vast horizons and deep silences, where the green pastures contrast with the yellow expanses of wheat. Where the landscape has its own nostalgic and harsh beauty, with places still unchanged that seem to have been forgotten by time.” (Andrea Cerretelli)
It is the first quarantine Friday night. The phone rings. It is Luca, a longtime friend and brother-in-law of my dear friend Sara. If there is something good about this isolation, it is that people you may not have heard for a while are calling you, even just to ask if you are well. And to tell you that on TV they are giving a film – “Un paese quasi perfetto” – set in a small town in Basilicata that we visited during a wonderful holiday together, a few summer ago. The film begins, and it also takes a sense of melancholy for all that beauty out there… And everything comes back to me, it comes back to me… us: the most heterogeneous and close-knit holiday group in history. Luca and Lore: adult couple with two children, the brothers (Sara and Matteo), the couple (Matteo and me).
Pollino National Park
Our headquarters for the first week of vacation in Basilicata is a vintage house in Fardella, a village of around 600 inhabitants located in the northern part of the Pollino National Park. With more than 190,000 hectares of unspoiled nature, this park, which expands between Basilicata and Calabria and boasts peaks that exceed 2000 meters, is the largest protected area of Italy. It offers the possibility of splendid excursions, different in degree of difficulty and therefore suitable for all legs. It is an area still isolated due to the mountains that surround it and host a surprising variety of flora and fauna, and some very rare species.
The symbol of Pollino is the Pino Loricato, a conifer that can exceed ten centuries of life by surviving in harsh climates and to the powerful wishes of the wind, clinging tenaciously to the rocky ridges and the most exposed ridges. The twisted shape it often takes appears to our eyes as a moving tribute to the ability to be resilient to life’s adversities.
Its very resistant wood is slightly perfumed, and in the past it was used to build the trunks of hundreds of emigrants leaving for America… and perhaps also those of a Lucan emigrant who became famous for the honors of history for being the grandfather of that Francis Ford Coppola…
“Many Lucans travel around the world, but nobody sees them, they are not exhibitionists. The Lucanian, more than any other people, lives well in the shade. (…) When he walks he prefers to take off his shoes, go barefoot. When he works he doesn’t speak, he doesn’t sing. It is not clear where ever he drew so much patience, so much endurance.” (Leonardo Sinisgalli)
Small Lucanian window overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea, Maratea is a pearl set in the Golfo of Policastro. It is known as the city of 44 churches and stands on a spur of rock: it is a small village with great architectural and cultural value and its heart is represented by its lively central square.
The Lucanian Dolomites
Defined as one of the most disconcerting landscapes of the South, the “Dolomiti Lucane” are a barren landscape at the foot of which lies the Basento Valley, one of the most beautiful areas of Basilicata. If you are adrenaline lovers and you are not afraid of being suspended in a vacuum harnessed by a steel hook, then you have to try the “Angel Flight” (especially in the high season it is better to book here in advance) that will make you fly from Castelmezzano to Pietrapertosa.
If instead, like the women in our group, you suffer from vertigos and prefer to avoid this experience, don’t miss the visit to these two beautiful villages (where the movie “Un paese quasi perfetto” was filmed) .
Our (involuntary) strategy during the holiday was to arrive often at the destination to visit during what is known as the “contro ora”, i.e. those hours between noon and the early afternoon in which the locals (and also tourists, plants and even lizards) take refuge in the house to resist the torrid sun… This does not mean that, if there was a time machine linked to travel experiences, I would like to go back to the contro ora of the day in front of our eyes opened the first sight on a completely deserted Matera…
Flagship of Basilicata (and Unesco world heritage site), Matera stands on the edge of a ravine in the Murge plateau. Unmissable destinations are the urban circuit of the rock churches, and the Romanesque and Baroque churches, but it is the scenery of the Sassi that makes Matera unique in the world: a millenary nativity scene dug out of the tuff where beauty vibrates in the air in its most authentic form.
From “infernal crater”…
Carlo Levi in the book “Christ stopped at Eboli” managed to describe better than anyone else how the life in the Sassi was: a tangle of dirty and overcrowded houses. If it is true that the Sassi were defined as “infernal crater” and “shame of Italy”, Levi also managed to grasp in that stunted and promiscuous existence all the authenticity of the peasant world.
“In these dark holes with walls cut out of the earth I saw a few pieces of miserable furniture, beds, and some ragged clothes hanging up to dry. On the floor lays dogs, sheep, goats, and pigs. Most families have just one cave to live in and there they sleep all together; men, women, children, and animals. This is how twenty thousand people live” (Carlo Levi – Christ stopped at Eboli)
…to city symbol of rebirth
His denunciation brought to the attention of the Italian political class of the 1950s the situation in which its inhabitants were forced to live giving way to a policy of displacement of the Sassi and relocation of more than two thirds of its inhabitants to new wards of public housing. It was only thanks to a law issued in 1986 that the inhabitants were allowed to return to live in the Sassi, this time with the aim of restoring their life and dignity and avoiding the risk of transforming this magical place into a ghost town.
Lands burned by the sun
The inland landscapes of the Ionian coast are images that I carry in my heart. Craco vecchia is one of the most spectacular ghost towns in all of Italy, abandoned among the calanchi (clay cliffs) of the Basento Valley after a landslide in 1963 provoked the depopulation of this medieval village.
Aliano: place where Carlo Levi, a doctor and painter from Turin, was confined for his anti-fascist ideas. From his humanly profound experience the book “Christ stopped at Eboli” was born, in which the intellectual denounces the socio-economic conditions of the South, exalting however the extraordinary beauty of the peasant landscape.
After the clay gullies and the barren valleys, we spend our last days of vacation in Scanzano Ionico, in the Golfo of Policoro, when, during the crowded August weeks, the closest umbrella is located a hundred meters away from ours.
It is on the occasion of the celebrations for the San Rocco Festival, during an evening trip to Montescaglioso – a town not far from Matera that stands on top of a hill – that I live my epiphanic moment. The square is celebrating, all the streets of the city are illuminated. The women of the village, lined up on straw chairs in front of their homes, enjoy the atmosphere comfortably seated. We are eight around a four-person table. We eat, drink, laugh and suddenly I understand why a foreign tourist can lose his head for Italy. At the same time I perceive a sense of authenticity and simple and warm welcome. I understand why I lost my mind for Basilicata.
- Basilicata “to eat”? Cavatelli, gnummareddi, lampascione (wild onion), Senise’s pepper (which is eaten dried or passed in boiling oil), and then cheeses and cold cuts…
- Basilicata “to drink”? The water of Monte Vulture (and Lauria), the liquor “Amaro Lucano” … It seems that there is a special circle in hell for those who do not taste the Aglianico del Vulture wine: in the past each farmer dug his cellar, facilitated by tuffaceous soil, and used it for the conservation of wine and food.
- From the sea to the mountains: Basilicata is a paradise for lovers of outdoor activities
- The movie that inspired our pilgrimage to Basilicata? “Basilicata coast to coast”, of course!
- After seeing the Tyrrhenian Sea and the Ionian Sea, do you want to cross over into Puglia to the Adriatic? Then don’t miss this post by Gloria Sonda on the wonders of Salento