Sextantio, Le Grotte della Civita – Matera, Italy

Italy is blessed with a host of great historic cities: Venice, Florence, Pisa, Siena, Rome and many more. However one destination that has slipped under CELLOPHANELAND’s radar is Matera. A stunning fortress town it sits just above the ‘arch’ of the Italian β€˜boot’ in Basilicata. It’s unique qualities have had it recognised not only is it a UNESCO world heritage site but also led to its selection as the European City of Culture for 2019.

Sextantia Le Grotte della Civita

To explore Matera is an invitation to, literally, get lost. The location of the city over a complex series of hilltops means that the layout is a maze of meandering passageways, zig-zag steps and dead end alleys interspersed with courtyards, hilltop churches and piazzas. It is picturesque enough to attract frequent film directors looking for special locations – in Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ for exampleMatera stepped in for ancient Judea.

Sextantia Le Grotte della Civita

Sextantia Le Grotte della Civita

The whole town is undercut by literally hundreds of caves or Sassi. Dating back as far as the Bronze Age, these were ancient dwellings, store-rooms and religious sites that, until relatively recently, had largely fallen in to either disuse or misuse. Now they are steadily being reclaimed and given a lease of life alongside a newly energetic city that is becoming a major tourist destination.

Sextantia Le Grotte della Civita

One of the leaders in restoration of the Sassi has been Sextantio, an organisation founded by a Swedish/Italian, Daniel Kihlgren. Starting with a similar project in Santo Stefano in Abruzzo (Sextantio Albergo Diffuso Santo Stefano) he moved to Matera in 2005 restoring a series of caves on the north eastern Civita side of town.

Sextantia Le Grotte della Civita

With sweeping views of a deep gorge, part of the spectacular Murgia park and its rock-hewn churches, the hotel – and I use the term loosely – comprises eighteen rooms and a thirteenth century church that is now the breakfast and dining room. The reception and a small shop (be sure to buy the candles and heavenly-scented room diffusers) sit in the next cave along. Outside, a large terrace and a series of steps link the rooms and public areas.

Sextantia Le Grotte della Civita

The restoration is a delight. Age, patina and defects are not hidden but celebrated. Ancient worm eaten doors are restored, rusting hooks and fittings are treated and oiled. Salvaged wood is used for tables, shelves and, the few, windows.

Sextantia Le Grotte della Civita

The diverse history of each cave is laid bare with tiny alcoves, carved nooks and vaulted ceilings. Lighting is discrete and includes slow burning candles that light up the honey coloured stone and which can be left burning overnight.

Sextantia Le Grotte della Civita

Meanwhile there is luxury where it is needed. There are fine mattresses and bedding are beautiful quality, the bath and basin are stylish Philippe Starck, whilst luxury soaps and toiletries are hand made.

Sextantia Le Grotte della Civita

Breakfast in the ancient church is an impressive buffet with plenty of choice including some lovely and varied home made bruschetta, breads and cakes.

Sextantia Le Grotte della Civita

We loved the late afternoon sundowners of local wines, perhaps a refreshing Aperol Spritz and a selection of delicious Stuzzechini appetisers. Evening meals based around local specialities and products were also available.

Sextantia Le Grotte della Civita

Le Grotte della Civita can be found in an number of ‘best of’ lists, from Tatler to Conde Nast, and with good reason. This is an absolutely unique place to stay – in a town that you are going to hear a lot more of. Get there as soon as you can.

CELLOPHANELAND* were guests of Sextantio Le Grotte delle Civita

Sextantia Le Grotte della Civita

For more information visit Sextantio Le Grotte delle Civita

See also Sextantio Albergo Diffuso Santo Stefano

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