Have you heard of Basilicata? Well, if not, it is a hidden gem in the south of Italy that we highly recommend you visit.
Despite not being the most well-known Italian region, it boasts ancient cities, breathtaking beaches, stunning national parks, and beautiful archaeological sites. All of which are well worth exploring next time you visit the ‘Bel Paese’.
Basilicata’s rich history dates back to the Stone Age and provides numerous sightseeing opportunities within its beautiful landscape. Much of this reflects in the design of its medieval castles, coastal resorts, quaint hilltop villages and ancient architecture, influenced by Romanesque, Byzantine, Benedictine, Norman, and Swabian cultures.
Please check out these things to do in Basilicata to learn more about the area and what its main drawcards are.
Map of Places to Visit in Basilicata, Italy
Montescaglioso is a picturesque hilltop town that lords over the Bradano River valley on a rocky outcrop that is surrounded by lush forests and rolling hills.
One of the most notable attractions in Montescaglioso is the Abbey of Santa Maria di Montescaglioso, a magnificent Romanesque-style monastery dating back to the 11th century. The abbey boasts stunning frescoes and a beautiful cloister which will captivate you with its intricacy.
Another highlight is its historic center, which features narrow winding streets, ancient churches, and traditional stone houses. Visitors can stroll through the town’s picturesque streets and soak up the charming atmosphere of this historic hilltop community.
If you are a foodie, Montescaglioso has you well covered. It is known for its delicious local cuisine, in particular, handmade pasta and locally produced cheeses and wines that are beautifully showcased in its trattorias, osterias, and restaurants.
Nestled within the small mountain town of Latronico, the Terme Lucane hot springs is the perfect spot to relax.
You will find them near the tiny hamlet of Calda, whose name refers to the high-temperature springs found there.
The thermal springs reside amidst the stunning mountains of the Pollino National Park, one of Italy’s most pristine areas. The properties of its local waters have been known since prehistoric times, as evidenced by archaeological findings.
Its current spas were established in the early 20th century and are certainly invigorating. Having spent some time hiking to several small scenic waterfalls within the park, we found the hot springs were just the tonic we needed and left us very refreshed.
Pietrapertosa is a place you will be instantly wowed by. One of the more remarkable villages in Italy, it sits on a jagged peak within the Lucanian Dolomites that overlooks the stunning Basento river valley.
The views are incredible, and the village itself is a quaint warren of narrow streets and stone houses that ooze character and charm.
One of its highlights is its castle, which dates back to the 12th century and has been restored in recent years. Visitors can explore the castle’s towers and battlements, as well as the underground tunnels that connect it to the surrounding area.
If you’ve got a head for heights, the Flight of the Angel is something else you must do. The thrilling zipline that connects the village to the neighbouring town of Castelmezzano, spanning 1.4 km and reaching speeds of up to 120 km/h!
For a small town, Venosa offers plenty to entertain the visitor.
The birthplace of Roman poet Horace, who was born in the town in 65 BC; visitors interested in his life and work should head to the Casa di Orazio. A museum dedicated to his legacy is in the area.
The Archaeological Park should fascinate history buffs as it features ancient remains of monuments from the Latin colony of Venusia circa 291 BC. While the stunning Aragonese Castle is an imposing medieval fortress that once served as the residence of the noble Caracciolo family.
In the castle’s basement, you’ll find the National Archaeological Museum of Venosa, which houses a collection of ancient artefacts and works of art from the region’s rich history.
Not too far away, the Jewish Catacombs is a fascinating network of underground nooks and tunnels dug into the ground that will mesmerize those who aren’t claustrophobic.
If you are into wildlife, you will want to visit Policoro, a quaint coastal town in the province of Potenza. It is home to the WWF Nature Reserve, a protected area that covers a stunning landscape of forests, wetlands, and sandy beaches.
Best explored on foot or by bike, it accommodates several rare plant and animal species. It is also the location for the ‘Italy Sea Turtle Rescue Center’, a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting and rehabilitating sea turtles in the Mediterranean Sea.
Whilst in Policoro, you should also take the opportunity to visit the ruins of Heraclea and the National Museum of Siritide.
Established around 433 BC, Heraclea was a Greek colony between the Siris and Aciris rivers on the Gulf of Taranto. Today visitors can see the remains of its fortifications while archaeological finds uncovered from it are on display at the nearby museum.
If you are the kind of person who gets easily spooked you might want to give Craco a miss. If you aren’t though, then the fascinating ‘ghost village’ in the province of Matera should captivate you.
The village dates back to the 8th century, and has a long and complex history of invasions, earthquakes, and political upheavals. Situated atop a hill overlooking the surrounding countryside, it is known for its dramatic ruins and eerie atmosphere.
Despite its turbulent past, Craco thrived for centuries as an agricultural and cultural center, with a rich heritage of art, architecture, and folklore. Sadly it was abandoned in the 1960s due to land erosion and lack of infrastructure and services.
We were keen to come here as this village was a filming location in the movies ‘The Passion of the Christ’ and ‘Quantum of Solace’. We found its winding streets and crumbling buildings beguiling as it gave us a hauntingly beautiful insight into the region’s past.
Tucked between the Tyrrhenian Sea and the Apennine Mountains, Maratea is somewhere many travelers instantly fall in love with.
Known for its natural beauty, historic landmarks, and charming Mediterranean atmosphere it offers beautiful beaches surrounded by cliffs and crystal-clear waters.
For those who fancy exploring, the old town comprises a spectacular maze of narrow streets and alleys lined with colorful houses, boutique shops and charming cafés. The town’s medieval walls, towers, and churches are well-preserved, making it a perfect spot to take in on foot.
Whilst there, be sure to visit the Christ the Redeemer Statue. It is the second biggest in the world, offering plenty of Insta-worthy photo opportunities, both of it and the surrounding scenery.
The capital city of Basilicata, Potenza, is a destination full of surprises.
One of its main drawcards is its historic city center, which features winding, narrow streets, exquisite churches, and the National Archaeological Museum. The latter is dedicated to archaeologist Dinu Adameșteanu and exhibits relics and artifacts discovered in the area.
The city also provides access to several hiking trails, national parks, and stunning vistas which showcase its tremendous natural beauty. While the town is also known for its delicious local cuisine, which includes the region’s famous lagane e ceci pasta dish and lucanica sausage. Both of which we tried and really enjoyed.
Depending on the timing of your visit, make sure to attend some of the festivals and events throughout the year. One of the main ones is the Feast of San Gerardo, that takes place in May.
For those interested in the history of the Basilicata region, a trip to Metaponto is a must.
There you’ll find the Metaponto Archaeological Park & Museum, which lets you explore an intriguing cluster of Greek monuments, temples, and historical artifacts.
One of the most significant testimonies of Magna Grecia, the archaeological site is notable for its various ruins of Doric temples. Constructed at some point between 570BC and 530BC between them, they are individually dedicated to Aphrodite, Apolo, Athena, Demeter and Hera, and have immense cultural significance.
The museum also showcases Bronze Age weapons, jewelry, shields, and beautiful crafts, including Italian-Mycenaean ceramics. Walking around it, you get a real sense of how the people who used them lived over 2500 years ago.
3. Pollino National Park
The Pollino National Park in Basilicata is a natural wonderland and a must-visit destination for anyone interested in outdoor activities and stunning scenery.
The vast park offers various outdoor activities, including hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, and wildlife spotting for those who want to explore it. Visitors can also venture onto its massive trail network that leads through rugged mountains, deep canyons, and pristine forests.
Along the way, you will spot a wide variety of wildlife, including the golden eagle, the wolf, and the elusive otter.
As well as these adventure activities, the park is home to several small towns and villages worth exploring with a local guide. They include San Severino Lucano, Viggianello, Papasidero and Morano Calabro. All of which have their charms, stories and ways of life that will earn a special piece of your heart.
Castelmezzano is a beautiful village located in the heart of the Lucanian Dolomites. It connects to the neighboring town of Pietrapertosa via the aforementioned ‘Flight of the Angel’ zipline. Additionally, it has a trail that will take you there, offering spectacular views of the village and surrounding mountains as you traverse it.
If you make your way here, you can also explore the narrow, winding streets of the town and visit the crumbling ruins of the 11th-century Castello Saraceno castle. You can also admire the Church of Santa Maria dell’Olmo, which has a 14th-century wooden statue that depicts Madonna holding a child.
Additionally, foodies can indulge in various delicious local cuisines, including the famous ‘peperoni cruschi’ (crispy peppers) and ‘cavatelli’ pasta.
If you are interested in local crafts, you can visit several workshops and stores selling stunning handcrafted products made from local materials, such as wool, leather, and ceramics.
Not to be confused with Maratea, the city of Matera is famous for its stunning ancient cave dwellings, known as the ‘Sassi’.
The Sassi is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It consists of two districts, Sasso Caveoso and Sasso Barisano, which comprise cave dwellings carved into the area’s rock formations.
The history of the Sassi dates back to prehistoric times, and the caves were inhabited continuously until the 1950s. Unfortunately, the living conditions in the Sassi were deemed unsanitary at this time and led to a forced evacuation of the inhabitants.
However, in recent years, the Sassi has undergone extensive restoration and revitalization efforts, transforming the district into a popular tourist destination. Visitors can stroll through the narrow alleys and staircases of the Sassi, admiring the ancient architecture and learning about the history of this unique city.
When doing this, several historic churches and museums should impress with their facades and interiors. They include the Rock Church of San Pietro Barisano and the Museum of Medieval and Modern Art of Basilicata, located in the distinguished Palazzo Lanfranchi.