A practical and comprehensive guide to discover this small region in Southern Italy, washed by the Tyrrhenian and Ionian seas. Here is what to see in Basilicata for a vacation among art, history, nature and good food!
Nestled in Southern Italy, Basilicata is a small yet enchanting region offering a blend of art, history, nature and special cuisine. Bounded by the Tyrrhenian and Ionian seas, this region presents a diverse array of landscapes on its western (Gulf of Policastro) and eastern (Metaponto coast) shores. From the beaches to the vibrant colors and distinct vegetation, each shore offers a unique beauty.
Once known as Lucania, named after the ancient pre-Roman inhabitants, Basilicata’s residents are still referred to as Lucanians today. Despite being relatively lesser-known, this region boasts an abundance of hidden gems waiting to be explored.
Venture into the heart of Basilicata to find captivating medieval villages nestled among woods and forests. Here, you have the opportunity to delve into history with visits to ancient castles and churches, or immerse yourself in nature with volcanic lakes, mountains, hills, and parks, such as the Pollino Park and the Faggeta Vetusta.
Basilicata is also home to significant archaeological sites and jewel-like cities, most notably Matera. Known for its Sassi – ancient dwellings carved into rock – Matera has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Whether your interests lie in history, nature, or gastronomy, Basilicata promises an unforgettable vacation that caters to all.
Basilicata’s alluring charm has not only attracted tourists but also captivated international directors, such as Mel Gibson and Francis Ford Coppola. This region has been the chosen set for renowned films including Mel Gibson’s “The Passion”, Rocco Papaleo’s “Basilicata Coast to Coast”, and Pier Paolo Pasolini’s “The Gospel According to Matthew”, to name a few.
Beyond its scenic landscapes and historical richness, Basilicata also boasts exquisite cuisine and fine wines, like Aglianico del Vulture. You can explore more about these culinary delights in our dedicated section.
In this guide, we present a comprehensive, user-friendly itinerary for exploring Basilicata. It includes all must-visit attractions and events for an immersive slow vacation experience, encompassing history, art, culture, outdoor activities and gastronomy.
What to visit in Basilicata
Our itinerary highlights the most picturesque locations in Basilicata, ideally explored by car for the most convenient and efficient travel.
For those traveling by plane or train, car rental services are available. It’s important to note that you can fly into Bari or Naples, and from there take a train to either Potenza or Matera.
Off we go on our trip to Basilicata! 👇
Matera and the Park of the Murgia Materana
What better destination to explore in Basilicata than the renowned city of Sassi? Matera, recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is globally celebrated for its unique cave dwellings. These ancient rock settlements hold the distinction of being among Europe’s oldest.
Additionally, don’t miss a visit to the Parco della Murgia Materana. This Regional Archaeological, Historical, and Natural Park of the Rock Churches, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is situated near the Sassi di Matera. It’s known for its prehistoric sites, rock churches, and a rich biodiversity of wildlife, making it a captivating destination for visitors.
Perched on a hill and surrounded by olive groves, vineyards, orchards and vegetable gardens, Miglionico is a quaint medieval village in the province of Matera. Dominating this picturesque village is the historic stone Malconsiglio Castle from the 13th century, the last stronghold of Norman rule in the area. The frescoed rooms within the castle are certainly worth exploring. Positioned between the Basento and Bradano rivers, Miglionico offers stunning views. In proximity to Miglionico, the San Giuliano Nature Reserve is another must-visit attraction.
A visit to Basilicata would be incomplete without exploring Montescaglioso in the province of Matera. This medieval village is nestled within the historical and archaeological expanse of the Parco delle Chiese Rupestri del Materano (Park of the Rock Churches of Matera). Perched on a hill, the village offers panoramic views of the Bradano Valley.
When in the area, don’t miss the Benedictine Abbey of San Michele Arcangelo, the Church of Santa Maria in Platea, and the Convent of the Poor Clares. The Benedictine Abbey of San Michele Arcangelo, established in the 8th century, stands as a monument of significant historical and artistic value. It’s one of the largest Benedictine monasteries in Southern Italy.
The Ionian Coast in Basilicata is a picturesque stretch of coastline extending approximately 40 km along the Ionian Sea. This region is renowned for its sandy beaches, cliffs, and rich history and culture.
One of the highlights on the Ionian Coast is Metapontum, an ancient city of Magna Graecia. It’s notable for the Tavole Palatine, remnants of a Doric temple from the 6th century B.C.E., and an archaeological museum that boasts a vast collection of Magna Graecia artifacts.
Don’t miss Bernalda, a town known for its medieval castle and narrow streets. Situated atop a hill, it provides a panoramic view of the Metaponto plain.
Nova Siri, a popular seaside resort, is valued for its extensive sandy beaches and crystalline sea. The surrounding region is dotted with vineyards and olive groves, producing exceptional wines and olive oil.
Lastly, Policoro stands as one of the most attractive tourist destinations on the Ionian Coast, celebrated for its beaches and the Archaeological Park. The park includes the remains of the ancient city of Heraclea, adding another layer of historical allure to the area.
Perched on a hill 400 meters above sea level in the province of Matera, lies a captivating ghost town boasting medieval architecture – Craco. The town was abandoned in the 1960s due to several natural disasters.
From its elevated position, Craco provides sweeping views of the surrounding countryside. Its deserted state has turned it into a popular destination for international photographers and filmmakers. In fact, this unique village has served as a film set for numerous motion pictures, including Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” and “Quantum of Solace” from the James Bond series.
In Craco, buildings to see include the Mother Church of St. Nicholas, which houses precious marble altars of Baroque art inside, the Church of St. Peter and the Norman Tower, one of the oldest buildings in Craco, built during the Norman period.
Nestled in the province of Matera, atop a hill overlooking the Sinni River valley, lies a small town in Basilicata renowned for its remarkable medieval neighborhood – the Rabatana. This area was once an ancient Jewish settlement and still houses a synagogue from the 16th century, one of the few remaining Jewish places of worship in Basilicata.
An additional religious site worth visiting in Tursi is the Church of Santa Maria d’Anglona. This 11th-century edifice is a prime example of Romanesque architecture and has been declared a national monument.
Located in the village known for its badlands, made famous by the book “Christ Stopped at Eboli”, the Carlo Levi Literary Park stands as one of the main attractions. Badlands are eroded clay formations that create a unique and striking landscape. These geological features are common in several parts of Basilicata, including Montalbano Jonico.
Aliano is renowned as the place where the author Carlo Levi was exiled by the fascist regime in the 1930s. Levi detailed his experiences in Aliano in his book “Christ Stopped at Eboli”, providing an in-depth account of the harsh rural life in the Italian Mezzogiorno during that era. To honor and remember Levi, the Carlo Levi Literary Park was established in Aliano. It encompasses the writer’s house-museum and tomb. Additionally, a literary festival dedicated to Levi is hosted in Aliano annually.
Lucanian Dolomites Park with Castelmezzano and Pietrapertosa
The Gallipoli Cognato Piccole Dolomiti Lucane Regional Park is a protected area spanning 27,027 hectares in the heart of Basilicata, showcasing an extraordinarily beautiful natural landscape.
This park derives its name from the Lucanian Dolomites, so-called due to their resemblance to the Alpine Dolomites. Nestled near the peaks of the Lucanian Dolomites are the towns of Castelmezzano and Pietrapertosa, perched at 870 and 1,090 meters above sea level respectively. These characteristic villages are truly worth a visit, especially for the breathtaking views they offer of the surrounding mountains. The area also boasts a range of activities including hiking, trekking, walking, and the thrilling “Flight of the Angel”, a zip-line ride that takes you amongst the peaks of the Lucanian Dolomites.
Venosa, a city steeped in Roman history, is also the birthplace of Quintus Horatius Flaccus (65-8 BC). Known as one of the most influential figures in classical Latin literature, Horace’s birthplace has become a popular tourist attraction.
Boasting a rich historical tapestry and numerous archaeological sites from the Roman era, Venosa offers visitors a journey through time. One of the most significant sites to visit is the Abbey of the Holy Trinity. Established in the 11th century by the Normans, this monastic complex includes an unfinished church, representing one of the most striking examples of Norman architecture in Italy. The abbey also houses the tomb of the renowned Latin poet, Horace.
Another point of interest is the Venosa Archaeological Area, where one can explore the remnants of a Roman city, complete with an amphitheater, baths, a basilica, and a necropolis.
Acerenza, a small medieval town in the province of Potenza, is perched on a spur of tuffaceous rock at an elevation of 833 meters. Located near Mount Vulture, it dates back to the 10th century.
The town is highly valued for its rich history that continues to leave fascinating marks. But there’s more to Acerenza than just history. This tourist destination is also sought-after for its attractions, such as the 11th-century cathedral dedicated to St. Mary of the Assumption and St. Canio Bishop, nestled in the historic center. Additionally, the Norman-Swabian castle stands as a historical fortress, bearing witness to the city’s Norman and Swabian periods.
Vulture Regional Nature Park
The park is renowned for its ecological biodiversity, stunning natural beauty, and rich historical and cultural heritage. Within its boundaries, visitors can explore the Monticchio Lakes, two crystal-clear volcanic lakes situated on the slopes of Mount Vulture. The 9th century Benedictine monastery, the Abbey of San Michele, is also a must-visit.
Additionally, the San Fele Waterfalls in the municipality of San Fele and the Paleolithic Sites of Atella, with archaeological finds dating back to the Upper Paleolithic, offer unique attractions.
Charming villages such as Barile, Melfi, Rapolla, and Rionero in Vulture, characterized by their stone houses and medieval castles, add to the park’s allure. Melfi is particularly recognized for its Norman-Swabian castle, considered one of the most significant in the region.
The centerpiece of the park is Mount Vulture, an ancient dormant volcano, where hiking trails abound. The Vulture area is also celebrated for its high-quality wine production, especially Aglianico del Vulture, esteemed as one of Italy’s finest red wines.
Viggianello, situated in the province of Potenza within the Pollino National Park, nestles in the verdant Noce Valley. It’s a go-to destination for those who relish outdoor activities such as hiking and trekking amidst natural surroundings.
This small village is celebrated for its historical architecture, including well-maintained medieval structures. The historic center, a labyrinth of narrow alleys lined with old stone houses, is a sight to behold. Notable attractions include the Mother Church of Santa Maria Maggiore, boasting a Baroque-style facade, and the Ducal Palace, a noble residence from the 17th century.
Pietragalla and its Palmenti Park
The village of Pietragalla, situated in the province of Potenza, is renowned for its Palmenti Park, located right in the town’s heart. Palmenti are ancient rock structures, small white stone houses once utilized for wine production. These structures have a captivating charm that can transport you back in time.
In the province of Matera lies this quaint little town, best known for its Arab-Norman architecture and for possessing one of the best-preserved medieval historic centers in Basilicata.
Attractions not to be missed in Tricarico include the Norman Tower, the Church and Convent of Santa Chiara, and the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta. In addition to its rich history and culture, Tricarico offers wonderful views of the Agri River.
A must-see in Basilicata, this small town is famous for its white houses, earning it the nickname “White City”, and for being the birthplace of Amaro Lucano, a highly appreciated Italian liqueur.
Attractions not to be missed include the Castle of San Basilio, a medieval fortress, the Mother Church dedicated to Saints Peter and Paul, the Abbey Sanctuary Santa Maria La Sanità del Casale, nestled in nature; “The Mushrooms,” natural rock formations that resemble mushrooms, from which they get their name; the Rione Terravecchia, one of the oldest districts of Pisticci, rich in history and charm; the Clock Tower, the city’s symbol; and Torre Bruni, another historical tower.
Pisticci also offers beautiful beaches nearby, with the opportunity to explore the calanchi, unique geological formations created by soil erosion.
Satriano di Lucania
This quaint town in the province of Potenza is renowned for its vibrant murals adorning its streets and buildings. However, there’s more to explore. Beyond the well-known colorful murals, there are further attractions to discover in Satriano di Lucania:
- The Satrianum Archaeological Area, located just outside the town, houses the remnants of the ancient city of Satrianum, from which the modern town derives its name.
- The Mother Church, dedicated to Our Lady of the Assumption.
- The historic center that exudes a medieval ambiance.
- The Museum of Costumes and Popular Traditions, offering an insight into local traditions.
- Not far from Satriano di Lucania is the Gallipoli Cognato Piccole Dolomiti Lucane Natural Park, providing opportunities for hiking amidst nature.
The Baroque city of Potenza, the capital of Basilicata, presents a wealth of historical and cultural attractions, including:
- The Cathedral of the Assumption
- The National Archaeological Museum
- The Musmeci Bridge, which serves both as a functional structure and a sculpture
- The Cathedral of San Gerardo
- Montereale Park
- The Church of San Michele, a historic church adorned with well-preserved frescoes
- The Guevara Tower, a medieval tower offering panoramic views of the city and surrounding mountains
- Via Pretoria, a pedestrian street brimming with shops, bars, and restaurants, perfect for an evening stroll.
Among the sights to see in Basilicata is Grumento Nova, perched on Mount Vulture. This town is renowned for its Roman ruins and the ancient city of Grumentum. It’s also recognized as a production area for the esteemed Terre dell’Alta Val d’Agri DOC wine.
Notable attractions in Grumento Nova encompass the Grumentum Archaeological Park, home to the ruins of the ancient Roman city of Grumentum. This includes a Roman theater, amphitheater, baths, and numerous other historic buildings.
Visitors should also make a stop at the 17th century Church of Santa Maria Assunta to appreciate its frescoes. For those with a passion for history and archaeology, a tour of the National Archaeological Museum of the Alta Val d’Agri might be appealing. The museum houses a collection of archaeological artifacts from the ruins of Grumentum and the surrounding region.
Maratea, situated in the province of Potenza, graces the Tyrrhenian coast and extends along 32 kilometers of rugged coastline, featuring over twenty beaches. This coastal expanse boasts a mix of fine sandy beaches, rocky coves, and scenic cliffs that overlook the sea. One particularly popular spot is Cala Jannita, also known as Black Beach.
Here are some attractions to explore in Maratea:
The Statue of Christ the Redeemer: Standing at a height of 21 meters, this statue is one of Maratea’s most iconic landmarks. It is perched atop Mount San Biagio and can be seen from much of the town and the surrounding coastline.
The Cave of Wonders: A natural cave renowned for its unique rock formations and crystal-clear waters.
Maratea’s historic center, also referred to as Maratea Superiore, is known for its cobblestone streets, picturesque squares, and an array of bars, restaurants, and shops. Noteworthy sites include the Basilica of San Biagio, the De Lieto Palace, and the Reloj Tower.
Pollino National Park
The Park, spanning the regions of Basilicata and Calabria, covers the provinces of Potenza, Matera, and Cosenza. It extends over an area exceeding 1925 km².
Within the park, visitors can partake in hiking and outdoor activities along various trails and routes. Some of these lead to the summit of Mount Pollino and through the Bosco di Sant’Agostino. The distinctive landscapes encompass mountains, gorges, rivers, and forests, housing a myriad of animal species and diverse flora.
Notable features include the Pollino Massif, Serra delle Ciavole, and the Mercure Valley. Historic villages such as Morano Calabro and Rotonda are nestled within the park, offering visitors a glimpse into local culture and traditions.
What to do in Basilicata?
Now that we’ve explored the wonderful places to visit in Basilicata, let’s delve into the numerous activities you can partake in. While exploring the historic city centers of locations like Matera and Potenza, seize the opportunity to savor local specialties or shop for unique local handicrafts.
Wandering through the region can also lead to the discovery of castles and fortresses associated with the famed Emperor Frederick II, such as those in Melfi, Barile, Ripacandida, and Lagopesole Castle.
Nature enthusiasts, hikers, and trekkers will find a wealth of opportunities in Basilicata, with parks offering hiking trails and beautiful lake landscapes ideal for a relaxing outing.
Basilicata is blessed with stunning beaches. Among the most beautiful on the Ionian coast is Metaponto, which also hosts the remnants of Magna Graecia.
Beach locations to visit on the Ionian and Tyrrhenian coasts include:
- Scanzano Jonico
- Policoro, home to the WWF Policoro Heracleia Oasis.
- Cala Jannita, one of the most beautiful and popular beaches in Tyrrhenian Basilicata, located near Maratea
- The Coves of Maratea in the Gulf of Policastro
- Calaficarra, a beautiful and wild beach composed of light gravel and dark pebbles.
- The sandy beach of Fiumicello, which is also suitable for children
- Macarro of Maratea
- The beach of Acquafredda
- Around Matera, the most beautiful beaches to visit are Metaponto, Nova Siri, Pantano Forest Beach, Third Cavone, Scanzano Jonico, Lido of Policoro, and Marina of Pisticci.
- In winter, Basilicata transforms into a destination for tourists who love snow and winter sports such as skiing. For a comprehensive experience, a vacation in Basilicata can also include a visit to the thermal resorts of Latronico and Rapolla.
Here are some suggestions for activities to do in Basilicata:
- Visit Matera, a must-see destination for its UNESCO heritage site, the Sassi.
- Engage in trekking and nature excursions in the parks in Basilicata.
- In winter, ski on the slopes of the Lucano Val d’Agri Lagonegrese Apennine National Park.
- In summer, visit the beaches of Maratea, Metaponto and the Policoro coastline.
- Try experiences like rafting, the Flight of the Angel in the canyons of Castelmezzano, adventure trails, and climbing in Pietrapertosa.
- Tour the Frederician Castles of Lagopesole, Melfi and Miglionico, and medieval villages such as Acerenza, Venosa, and Sant’Arcangelo.
- Taste typical Lucanian specialities such as Senise peppers, Sarconi beans, bacon, cured meats and cheeses, DOC wines of Vulture, Aglianico del Vulture, and Grottino di Roccanova.
- Spend a day relaxing in the Latronico and Rapolla spas.
Basilicata boasts several renowned local products:
- DOC wines such as Aglianico del Vulture, Grottino di Roccanova, and Terre dell’Alta Val d’Agri, which can be tasted in the charming Vulture wineries.
- Extra virgin olive oil such as Vulture DOP.
- PGI Matera bread, baked in a wood-fired oven.
- Lucanica PGI sausage.
- Lagana e Ceci (a traditional dish consisting of fresh pasta similar to noodles served with chickpeas).
- Baccalà alla Lucana
- Podolico Caciocavallo cheese
- Pezzente della Montagna Materana (black pork sausage, flavored with wild fennel).
- Senise PGI bell pepper
The most typical Lucanian pasta is cavatelli, handmade with semolina and water and served with tomato sauce and salted ricotta. Desserts include pupattoni made from leavened dough with honey or sugar.
These local delicacies can be tasted during festivals and food and wine events in Basilicata, such as the Sagra della Salsiccia Lucanica in Picerno or the Sagra del Peperone in Senise. Also, don’t miss the guided wine tastings in the renowned Vulture wineries.
A noteworthy experience is “hands in the dough”, which brings you face-to-face with local chefs who teach you the secrets of traditional Lucanian cuisine. For example, you can learn how to make homemade pasta, cavatelli, pezzente, baccalà alla lucana, and more.
Now that you know in Basilicata what to see, all we can do is wish you a happy trip to this beautiful region! Remember that, with Italia Delight, you can book food and wine experiences as well as foodie trips, even tailor-made ones. 😍
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