Leaving Naples on Sunday, we headed for the Amalfi Coast, described by some as the most beautiful drive in the world. For three hours we climbed and twisted through this mountainous road that hugs a cliff overlooking the sea. It is indeed beautiful, at times a little scary especially when meeting larger vehicles. But nothing like the more dangerous drive in Costa Rica over the Cerro de la Muerte. I had been worried for nothing as Pierre drove with ease over this one. We were glad to be sight-seeing when there are few tourists as we have heard that it is impossible to drive in the summer months, the roads crowded with visitors and tour buses. The sea is turquoise , dotted with white caps and the odd sailboat. Unfortunately weather was cool, and although we saw men raking the sand at the resorts, there were no beach chairs out. People we did see were dressed with coats and long pants. The clouds were rolling in and by the time we got to Salerno, it was sprinkling.
This was the only night we had not planned accommodation, not being sure how long it would take to drive the coast. Looking for something unusual I made the mistake of asking our GPS to avoid highways as we headed towards Puglia. For one hour we drove in circles over tiny back roads, finally realizing what I had done. We corrected the mistake and came out onto a main road at the same place we had entered. Before continuing Pierre needed to stop for gas. There are few stations and the one we did find was self service. For some reason we had assumed we had a diesel car, and for about five minutes Pierre tried to figure out how to get the nozzle into the gas tank. Luckily another customer came along and together they figured out that the car does not take diesel, that the pumps and gas tanks are colour coded so you know which goes where, and that the automatic machines only take cash. All this in Italian and sign language.
Luck was on our side, with a little help from Frommers guide book. Looking for ideas for a good place to stay, and not seeing anything interesting as we continued onward, I found the name of Matera, in the province of Basilicata. It is known for its Sassi area, which is a mass of caves dating back to Paleolithic times, 9000 years ago. People have lived in these caves for centuries some in extreme poverty until 1952 when they were moved to more adequate housing. More recently it has been named a Unesco site. Movies have been filmed here because of the resemblance to a middle eastern town such as Jerusalem. Mel Gibson filmed the Passion of Christ here when he was forbidden from doing so in Israel. Since then the area has taken on a whole new life.
Sassi in Matera, Basilicata
The impression you get when you first see the Sassi is incredible……a hillside settlement, all grey, with homes and churches built over and inside caves. It has become a popular place to live, and a great place to visit. This is where we found a B&B, spending the night in a modified cave, that was very comfortable, and breathed the fascinating history of the area. The next morning we visited several churches that date back to the time of Saint Francis, one of which is actually built in a cave, with another church inside it. This would be a place to visit
again, especially to hike through the less developed rock formations nearby.