Le Grotte della Civita

Matera, Puglia & Basilicata, Italy Book from Eur150

A romantic cave hotel in rural Italy where past meets present in a spectacular and unforgettable setting
Le Grotte della Civita is a truly unique hotel, set in the troglodytic, Unesco-listed town of Matera. Its old quarters (sassi) are built into and over limestone caves, and interwoven by narrow cobbled streets. Inhabited since prehistoric times, these remarkable underground spaces include rock-hewn churches and many half-carved, half-built dwellings looking out onto the arresting Gravina gorge.

The hotel itself consists of 18 such cave rooms and a restaurant, 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 6-metre high vault flickering with 100 candles, like our own private cathedral - a truly sensational first impression. Recycled 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 cobblestones, and an oversize egg-shaped Starck bathtub in the depths!

With fantastic breakfasts, friendly English-speaking service from Michele and Roberta, wonderful trattorie and gelaterie on your doorstep, and ancient rock churches to explore in the gorge, it's a fantastic and restorative break from your day-to-day travails.

Highs

  • The caves themselves are an architectural triumph, and the sense of silence is almost spiritual
  • The extreme attention to detail makes this much more than a hotel in a cave – there’s a true cultural element to it, too
  • Wandering the narrow streets and walking around the prehistoric landscape offers a taste of rural Italy you won’t find elsewhere
  • But Matera is not just caves and old churches: there's a new town with cool boutiques, fountained squares and buzzing eateries
  • Hotel breakfasts are delicious: home-baked cakes, handmade jams, herb-dusted cheeses

Lows

  • It’s pretty hard to find and some visitors have spent hours looking for it. Be sure to bring the detailed directions
  • Not great if you’re tall (over 6ft) as some caves have low roofs, and uneven floors may be a problem if you’re unsteady on your feet
  • No twin rooms
  • Limited mod cons: no TVs or minibars or the like, though amazingly there's WiFi throughout
  • It's quite expensive, especially in busy periods (April, May & 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 cave's human history, take a copy of Carlo Levi's book Christ Stopped at Eboli, which is all about the pre-war poverty and living conditions of the peasants who inhabited the caves.

Great for...

Eco
Family
Foodie
Great Outdoors
Honeymoon
  • = Makes the grade
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Boutique Hotel
  • 18
  • Restaurant + bar
  • 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:

Rooms

There are 18 rooms, divided into 3 standard rooms, 9 superior rooms and 6 suites. As they are all caves, dimensions aren't uniform and they are all a little different, some with 160sq.m of floorspace, others with ceilings over 6m high. Standard rooms are slightly smaller than superior rooms and all have double beds and a shower or bath.

Suites are vast with vaulted ceilings, windows looking out on to the valley and its prehistoric landscape, plus kingsize beds, baths and showers. We hear that Suite 13 is a particular gem, part of a deconsecrated church with angel-shaped indents in the walls, flooded with natural light from a balcony overlooking the dramatic valley beyond.

Taking your heavy key in hand, you’ll be led down to your cave where a large bowl of cherries, bottle of chilled water and roaring fire await. The designers employed extreme attention to detail to create rooms that combine contemporary comfort with historical detail, so you’ll find antique wooden blanket boxes and wardrobes, beds laden with handmade linen, much of it from dowries, and handcrafted natural soaps and scented essential oils stand in beautiful apocathery-styled glass bottles. The walls are bare and unadorned and the furniture is plain, allowing the space to speak for itself - but central heating ensures you'll be snug in your cave. Clusters of cream-coloured pillar candles are lit as dusk falls and fires roar in their ancient grates.

Bathrooms are a nod to the new however; the previous inhabitants didn’t have any. They are minimal, using simple, formal elegance to create something that doesn’t clash with the ancient beauty of the caves; so white egg-shaped baths rest in the corner of the bedroom alongside large ceramic basins.

Features include:

  • Terrace
  • Wifi internet
  • Phone
  • Wifi internet
  • Air conditioning
  • Central heating
  • Fireplace
  • Extra beds
  • Toiletries
  • Hairdryer

Eating

The hotel's Tasting Room restaurant is sure to be a particular highlight of your trip, as is exploring the winding streets of Matera in search of trattoria. There are great echoes of the traditional peasant house here - a place where you’d always find a friendly hearth at the heart of the home. In the intimate restaurant created in a rock-hewn church, small tables cluster by the fire and intimate nooks carved out of the cave make romantic dining spots and the flavour is defiantly local and rustic. Under the arched stone ceiling you can dine on fresh pasta, organic cheeses, bruschetta, fried aubergine and courgette and cured meat. We hear the chef’s panacotta is a particular delight.

Breakfast is an unmissable event too - an expansive banquet of freshly squeezed orange juice, local bread, honey, jam, ham, fruit, cakes and jasmine tea. The butter comes presented in true rural peasant style, hidden inside a coating of scamerza cheese, which kept it cool in the days before fridges.

Lunch is available on request, and you may not like to eat in every night, but with local restaurants just a stone’s throw away, there is plenty of pleasure to find in exploring the town’s delicacies. Many, like La Taipa and Ristorante le Botteghe, serve local specialities such as broad bean and chicory puree and exquisite balsamic vinegar. Granita and gelati are also easily found. One of the best picnic spots we’ve seen is in the remote prehistoric landscape of Murgia park.

Features include:

  • Restaurant
  • Room service
  • Vegetarian menu
  • Breakfast
  • Lunch by arrangement
  • Cooking Classes
  • Food and wine
  • Walk to restaurants
Eating:
Activity:

Activities

  • Explore the Unesco world heritage site you're staying in. Matera's alleys and cave churches have been used as a setting for Jerusalem in several films

  • Visit MUSMA, the contemporary sculpture museum, then stroll around the lovely cathedral

  • Explore the surrounding rock churches. There are 150 here from the Byzantine Empire, with the fantastic frescoes of La Cripta del Peccato a real highlight

  • Watch the birds soar above the Murgia Park. 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


  • Visit the antiquities and paintings of author Carlo Levi at Museo Nazionale Ridola and Museo di Arte Medievale e Moderna
. He wrote a book about the life of peasants living in the caves in the post-war period

  • Explore the nearby ghost town of Craco, and Aliano, where Carlo Levi was imprisoned during the Fascist era


  • There are some beautiful beaches about an hour from Matera, in particular the coast south of Taranto (try Pulsano or Torretta)


  • Taste the local specialities such as salami, cheese and velvety red wines


  • There's a tennis court in Matera, should you fancy a game, or the hotel can arrange in-room massages

  • Take Italian lessons, try your hand at Italian cooking or learn how to paint; the hotel can recommend excellent teachers

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Art
  • Birdwatching
  • Cooking Classes
  • Food and wine
  • Hiking
  • History religious
  • Horse-riding
  • Languages
  • Museum
  • Tennis
  • Traditional cultures
  • Well being
  • Wine tasting
  • Mountain biking

Kids

Children of all ages are welcomed, with extra beds free of charge in the Superior and Suite. Please note additional bed is not available for the Standard cave. However, it's not well suited to toddlers, since there are many hazards like uneven floors and stairs that they could fall down if not closely monitored.

Best for:

Teens (over 12)

Family friendly accommodation:

Suites 4 or 8 are best, with lots of space

Kid Friendly:

Our guests' ratings...

10/
Rooms
10/
Food
10/
Service
9/
Value
10/
Overall

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