Sextantio le Grotte della Civita Matera is a remarkable ‘hotel’ that consists of a series of caves carved in to the rocks under the city of Matera. 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 the home of Sextantio le Grotte della Civita, Matera. A stunning fortress town, it sits just above the ‘arch’ of the Italian ‘boot’ in Basilicata. Its unique qualities have ensured recognition not only as a UNESCO world heritage site, but also led to its selection as the European City of Culture for 2019.
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, zigzag 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 example, Matera doubled for ancient Judea. It will also feature in the next James Bond film: No Time to Die.
The whole town is undercut by literally hundreds of caves or Sassi some of which are of course now used for Sextantio le Grotte della Civita Matera. Dating back as far as the Bronze Age, these were ancient dwellings, storerooms 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.
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, which became Sextantio le Grotte della Civita Matera.
With sweeping views of a deep gorge, part of the spectacular Murgia park and its rock-hewn churches, the hotel – and we use the term loosely – comprises eighteen rooms and a thirteenth century church that is now the breakfast and dining room. The reception of Sextantio le Grotte della Civita Matera 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.
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.
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, which can be left burning overnight.
Meanwhile there is luxury at Sextantio le Grotte della Civita Matera where it is needed. The mattresses and bedding are beautiful quality, the bath and basin are stylish Philippe Starck, whilst soaps and toiletries are handmade.
Breakfast in the ancient church is an impressive buffet with plenty of choice, including some lovely and varied homemade bruschetta, breads and cakes.
We loved the late afternoon sundowners of local wines or perhaps a refreshing Aperol Spritz, and a selection of delicious Stuzzechini appetisers. Evening meals based around local specialities and products were also available.
Sextantio le Grotte della Civita Matera 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.
CELLOPHANELAND* were guests of Sextantio le Grotte della Civita Matera
For more information visit Sextantio le Grotte della Civita Matera
Nearby we visited:
At Bernalda: Palazzo Margherita – A Family Coppia Hideaway
At Fasano: Torre Della Maizza
For our curated recommendations for Travel, Art, Culture, Design and Architecture books visit the CELLOPHANELAND* bookstore