Travel - The Sassi, Matera

Words and photography - Rebecca Lindon

Travelling to Italy to stay in ancient cave dwellings with a 10-month old isn't everyone's idea of a good time. I even started to question my own sanity as we drove through the city of Matera and were greeted by the sight of the incredible prehistoric rock face.


We stayed at the Sextantio Le Grotte della Civita - a collection of 21 caves, lovingly restored by philanthropist Daniele Kihlgren. The amenities are contemporary but authentic, a purposeful approach that gives you the sense of history in luxury. Starck baths are set against beautiful furniture and fittings made from local materials, and breakfast is a spread of local produce, served in an atmospheric rupestrian church.


Our son was crawling and in many ways, the cave was easy for him to adapt to as there were no stairs or obstacles to negotiate. Prams and pushchairs are an impossibility if you really want to explore so we carried him and took only the essentials during our long walks. The October sunshine felt hotter than expected as it bounced off the rocks so we took shelter in heavenly churches and the handful of cafes that can be found around The Sassi. 


One evening we walked up to the top of the rock face to find a local restaurant recommended by the hotel staff. The church bells echoed through the caves and we were treated to the soaring voice of an opera singer who was practising in her living room. An extensive authentic Italian meal followed, coupled with red wine that I can still taste like it was yesterday. It was truly magical.

Visiting the Sassi with toddlers would be, I imagine, more difficult as little legs might find it hard to negotiate the landscape. But any child who is a confident walker will be easily charmed by the adventure of this prehistoric town, where streets are built on the rooftops of other houses and the sunset lights the rocks on fire.