Episode #047: Basilicata – ancient southern region of tradition and history

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Basilicata is almost hidden among its better-known neighbors – Campania, Puglia, and Calabria. This is a small region of Italy finally getting its moment in the sun.  Best known for Matera, the cave city, the region’s diverse terrain means you can be sunning yourself on the beach one day and exploring hilltop towns the next. Our guest Karen Haid explored the region while researching her book Basilicata: Authentic Italy and joins us to share what she learned.

Show notes
Often described as the instep of Italy’s boot, Basilicata is a mountainous southern Italian region that straddles both the Tyrrhenian and Ionian coasts. Inhabited since prehistoric times, when you visit the region you can explore the legacy of many people who settled in this area over the centuries. From the Lucanians, Ancient Greeks and Romans and even Albanians, they all made their mark on Basilicata.

You’ll likely start your adventures in Basilicata in Matera. This unique city was recently recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site for being one of the oldest and continuous places of human settlement in the world. In Matera you’ll find the sassi cave dwellings that the city is best known for. Now hotels, galleries and churches, the sassi were once home to the people of the city and you can explore this unique way of life via local museums and tours.

Away from Matera there are castles and fortifications, hilltop and beach towns to explore. Basilicata has spectacular scenery thanks to the mountain ranges that are a feature of its topography. And its culture is no less rich with ancient ruins, archaeological sites and numerous unique local festivals. You’ll even find a Christ statue overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea.

Karen’s book about Basilicata is a welcome addition to the somewhat sparse writings on this lesser known region of Italy. She uncovers the history, people and stories of the region through stories and anecdotes describing her experience there. From ziplining between two hilltop villages to watching an ancient marriage of the trees festival, you’ll be intrigued by the region of Basilicata

What you’ll learn in this episode

  1. What is special about the Basilicata region and why you should go there
  2. An insight into the fascinating city of Matera known for its cave dwellings
  3. Which ancient ruins, castles and hilltop towns to visit
  4. How to zipline between two hilltop towns in the Lucanian Dolomites
  5. What to eat in Basilicata including the region’s iconic vegetable
  6. The best way to get around the region
  7. What its like to visit a medicinal spa in Italy

About our guest – Karen Haid

karen haid calabria

Knowing the meaning of al dente before it was in vogue, Karen Haid inherited her love of Italy and its traditions from her parents. She went on to study the Italian language and culture at schools in Rome, Florence, Lucca, Sorrento, Taormina and Reggio Calabria, and earned Dante Alighieri Society’s Advanced Certification of mother tongue equivalency, as well as credentials to teach the Italian language and culture from Reggio Calabria’s University for Foreigners. Her first book Calabria: The Other Italy grew out of a four-year immersion, living, teaching and traveling throughout the beautiful Calabria region. She continues her exploration of the bel paese with her My Italian Blog and latest book Basilicata: Authentic Italy.

Described as “charming and refreshingly honest” by Ambassador magazine, her Calabria book is “the perfect combination of personal experiences with Calabrians, and the history and culture of the region.” Karen brings this knowledge and enthusiasm to her tours of Southern Italy with her company Karen’s Travel LLC.

You can find Karen on these channels:

Karen’s books

Basilicata: Authentic Italy

Calabria: The Other Italy

Places mentioned in the show

  • Matera – Basilicata’s best known city where you’ll find cave dwellings and an ancient past
  • Metaponto – town with ancient Greek ruins near Matera
  • Maratea: town on the Tyrrhenian coast with an impressive statue of Christ overlooking the sea
  • Castelmezzano – hilltop town in the Lucanian Dolomites
  • Pietrapertosa – another hilltop town, a zipline connects this town with Castelmezzano
  • Potenza – capital of Basilicata with wonderful archaeological museum
  • Monte Vulture – extinct volcano with lakes close by, renowned for wine produced there
  • Melfi, Lagopesole, Venosa – castle towns
  • Accettura – town with ancient marriage of the trees festival
  • Rapolla – where Karen visited the medicinal spa

Food and produce of the Basilicata region mentioned in the show

  • Peperoni cruschi – dried crumbled sweet peppers grown around the town of Senise –  a topping for pizza and pasta
  • Lampascioni – Hyacinth bulbs used in stews and also pickled – a popular local vegetable
  • Podolica – ancient cattle breed found in Basilicata and featured in many dishes
  • Pane di Matera – bread from Matera made to a protected recipe with milled semolina flour
  • Strascinati – pulled pasta shapes made with semolina flour and water
  • Amaro Lucano – herbal liqueur taken as a digestive
  • Aglianico del Vulture – wine from the area near extinct volcano Monte Vulture

Resources from Untold Italy

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