Le Grotte della Civita

Matera, Puglia & Basilicata, Italy Book from Book from £280 per night

A romantic cave hotel in the troglodyte town of Matera, where past meets present in a spectacular setting
Le Grotte della Civita is a truly unique hotel, set in Unesco-listed Matera. Overlooking the deep Gravina gorge, the town's old quarters (sassi) are built into and over limestone caves, and interwoven by narrow cobbled streets. Inhabited since prehistoric times but abandoned in the 1950s, these remarkable underground spaces are now being reinvented as restaurants, boutiques and even art galleries.

The hotel itself consists of 18 such cave rooms, all renovated over 10 years with obsessive attention to detail and utter respect for the past. We arrived on a misty night and opened our gnarled wooden door to find a 6m-high vault flickering with candles, like our own private cathedral - a truly sensational first impression. Simple wooden furniture, carved crosses and cosy nooks are the only visible decoration; but closer examination reveals concealed spotlights in the walls, underfloor heating beneath the time-worn stones and, in many rooms, an oversize egg-shaped Starck bathtub in the depths.

With fantastic breakfasts, friendly English-speaking service from Michele and his team, and wonderful trattorie and ancient rock-hewn churches on your doorstep, it's an unforgettable break from your day-to-day travails.

Highs

  • Incredibly romantic, with glowing candles at every turn – and there’s a true cultural element to it, too
  • The caves themselves are an architectural triumph. All are different – some have soaring ceilings and roaring fires, others spectacular views of the gorge
  • Matera is a beautiful town with a fascinating history. Its narrow streets and prehistoric landscape offer a taste of rural Italy that you won’t find elsewhere
  • But it’s not just caves and old churches: there are cool boutiques, fountained squares and buzzing eateries to explore
  • Hotel breakfasts are delicious: home-baked cakes, handmade jams, herb-dusted cheeses

Lows

  • It’s pretty hard to find, and you’ll have to park on the edge of town (though you can drop off luggage first). Be sure to bring the detailed directions provided when you book
  • The caves are scattered across a slope, with public pathways in between, and it’s a steep climb to some of them from reception
  • Standard Rooms can be cramped – upgrade to a Superior or higher if you can
  • Expect uneven floors and limited mod cons (no TVs, minibars or the like), though amazingly there's WiFi throughout
  • It's quite expensive, especially in busy periods (April, May and August), when rates double

Best time to go

This part of southern Italy is popular from spring through to autumn and has hot, dry summers.

Our top tips

If you want to get in touch with the caves’ human history, take a copy of Carlo Levi's book Christ Stopped at Eboli, which charts the poverty and poor living conditions which led to their abandonment in the 20th century.

Great for...

Eco
Family
Great Outdoors
Honeymoon
  • Boutique Hotel
  • 18
  • Breakfast (+ other meals on request)
  • Open all year
  • Pool
  • Spa Treatments
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
Room: Executive Suite

Rooms

All 18 rooms sit in caves, and they are all a little different - that's what makes the hotel so magical. The designers employed extreme care to create spaces that combine contemporary comfort with historical detail, so you’ll find antique wooden blanket boxes, beds laden with handmade linen, and handcrafted natural soaps in apothecary-style glass bottles. Walls are unadorned and the furniture is plain, but clusters of pillar candles are lit as dusk falls, and underfloor heating ensures you'll be snug. Bathrooms are minimal, with white egg-shaped tubs (some by the beds), glass-fronted showers and ceramic basins which don’t clash with the ancient beauty of the caves.

Classic Rooms are smaller than Superior Rooms, and some don’t have tubs. We stayed one of the former on our latest revisit – it was bijou with an entirely open-plan bathroom, but the upshot was a sweeping view of the gorge from the bed. The Suites and Executive Suites are vast and many have vaulted ceilings; one is part of a deconsecrated church with angel-shaped indents in the walls, a roaring fire, and a balcony overlooking the dramatic valley beyond.

Features include:

  • Air conditioning
  • Central heating
  • Extra beds
  • Hairdryer
  • Phone
  • Terrace
  • WiFi

Eating

Breakfast, taken in a former church or on a terrace overlooking the gorge, is delicious: an expansive banquet of freshly squeezed orange juice, local bread, honey, jam, ham, fruit, cakes and savoury tarts; eggs are cooked to order. The butter comes presented in true peasant style, hidden inside a coating of scamerza cheese, which kept it cool in the days before fridges.

No other meals are available, but there are numerous restaurants within strolling distance. Staff will happily make recommendations and book tables - we walked a little way up the hill to La Gatta Buia, which serves up elegant twists on traditional Basilicatan dishes in a stylish vaulted space. Before you head out for dinner, it’s well worth catching the hotel’s apertivi (5.30-8pm), when local wines and aperol spritzes are accompanied by a spread of tasty nibbles – perhaps spicy salamis, juicy olives, tomato crostini or focaccia with a broad bean and chicory puree. Drinks are also available via room service at any time.

If you really want to splash out, the hotel can book a private dinner with a visiting chef, who’ll treat you to a gourmet tasting menu in a cave filled with flickering candles – an unforgettable if expensive evening.

Features include:

  • Breakfast
  • Dinner by arrangement
  • Lunch by arrangement
  • Restaurant
  • Restaurants nearby
  • Room service
  • Vegetarian menu
Eating:
Activity:

Activities

  • Explore the Unesco world heritage site of Matera. It's alleys and cave churches have been used as a setting for Jerusalem in several films
  • Learn about the town’s enthralling history through the multimedia exhibits at Casa Noha, then visit reconstructed cave dwelling Casa Grotta di Vico Solitario to see how peasants used to live
  • Visit MUSMA, the contemporary sculpture museum, or see the antiquities and paintings of author Carlo Levi at the Museo Nazionale Ridola and Museo di Arte Medievale e Moderna Explore some of Matera’s 150 Byzantine rock churches. The fantastic frescoes of La Cripta del Peccato are a highlight
  • Watch birds soar above the Murgia Natural Park across the gorge. Kestrels, eagles, red kites and Egyptian vultures have been seen in summer
  • Go for a passeggiata (evening stroll) in Piazza Vittorio Veneto - in true Italian style, the whole town seems to turn out for an amble at dusk
  • Go hiking, riding or mountain biking in the surrounding countryside; the hotel can arrange guides and bike hire
  • Explore the nearby ghost town of Craco, and Aliano, where Carlo Levi was imprisoned during the Fascist era
  • Take Italian lessons, try your hand at Italian cooking or learn how to paint; the hotel can recommend excellent teachers. Massages with a visiting therapist can be arranged, too

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Art classes
  • Birdwatching
  • Cooking classes
  • Hiking
  • Historical sites
  • Horse riding
  • Language courses
  • Mountain biking
  • Museums / galleries
  • Tennis
  • Traditional cultures
  • Well being
  • Wine tasting

Kids

Children of all ages are welcome, and kids will love the experience of staying in a cave. That said, it’s not well-suited to toddlers and pushchairs, given the uneven floors and many stairs.

Best for:

Teens (over 12)

Family friendly accommodation:

Some Superior Rooms, Suites and Executive Suites have additional single beds for children, and one Executive Suite has space for 2 rollaway beds. Note that no extra beds are possible in the Classic Rooms.

Kid Friendly:

Our guests' ratings...

Based on 2 independent reviews from i-escape guests

10/10
Room
9/10
Food
10/10
Service
9/10
Value
10/10
Overall

Incredible. A Must Stay. So ingenious and unique but comfortable and accomodating.

10/10,

Amazing rooms and what a setting

10/10,

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Rates for Le Grotte della Civita