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visiting the Basilicata region of southern Italy, also known as Lucania

visiting the Basilicata region of southern Italy, also known as Lucania

Jun 9th, 2001, 03:14 AM
  #1  
Carol
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visiting the Basilicata region of southern Italy, also known as Lucania

I just returned from a trip to the Basilicata (also known as Lucania) region of southern Italy. Here's what you'll find there if you go before it changes: Beautiful, rugged scenery; complex, culturally varied, interesting history; kind, hospitable, unjaded people; ancient folkways, pageantry, manners, and lifestyle still practiced in many parts; delicious, simple, robustly flavored cooking of wholesome natural food; in many parts (other than relatively famous places like Matera and Maratea), zero foreign tourists (except for you if you're fortunate enough to go there).

From May 21 to June 2 I was on an 11-day soulful tour of the region organized by a woman in New York, then went on a 4-day visit on my own to the small town of Accettura (birthplace of one of my grandparents), where I watched various phases "Il Maggio", also known as "La Festa di Sangiulino", a fascinating multi-day festa of ancient pagan origins centering around the "marriage" of two trees, one of which is carried for hours from the forest into town by 50 pairs of oxen, accompanied by folk musicians and people of all ages and walks of life from both town and surrounding countryside. (These days, this pagan festival is strangely combined with a more traditional patron saint celebration, which takes place on the 50th day after Easter.)

I'd recommend both the organized tour of Basilicata (Lucania) and the independent visit to Accettura during the week of the Sangiuliano festa. I'm posting my real e-mail address (for a change) because I'd be glad to answer any questions from people who might consider visiting Lucania.


 
Jun 9th, 2001, 03:16 AM
  #2  
Rex
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Welcome back, Carol. Nice report.
 
Jun 10th, 2001, 01:39 PM
  #3  
cmt
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Hello again. I would really like to encourage thoughtful, curious, flexible travelers ("tourists" OK) to visit this beautiful unspoiled area before its old traditions fade away. I will therefore be topping this message every now and then. Thanks for reading. Feel free to ask me any questions you may have.
 
Jun 10th, 2001, 05:42 PM
  #4  
tonyccc
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Carol;
We stayed in Matera for 3 nights last year as a part of an independent trip we took to Southern Italy.
We arrived in Matera two days before the Feasta della Madonna Bruna, which is held every year on July 2nd. There was a nightly festa leading up this day, with music in the piazza nightly,
and all the streets festooned in festive lights.
Matera is renown for having a great passeggiata, with most of the townspeople taking a nightly stroll. With the approach of the feast day, it seem liked everyone for miles around was
there. Finally, on July 2nd the Festa
began. At dawn a cart , with a statue of the Madonna in it, drawn by eight mules and guarded by men wearing folk costumes makes a trip throughout the town, and finally to the Duomo. There it goes around the square in front of the Duomo 3 times. Then the Madonna is removed and brought into the church.
Then, with fireworks blasting amid the confusion, townspeople destroy and demolish the cart, taking pieces of it with them for souveniers.
That evening there is a fantastic fireworks display.
We loved Matera and Basilicata.
The Sassi in Matera were remakable.
We got lost twice roaming through them.
The people were warm and friendly.
The food was good and inexpensive.
We ran into no American tourists.
Unfortunately, because we only had a few days to spend in Basilicata, the only other towns we visited were Bernalda and Metaponta, although we drove around the countryside from Potenza
We plan on going back sometime in the near future and exploring the region more thoroughly.
 
Jun 13th, 2001, 07:26 PM
  #5  
cmt
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Hi, Tony. It was nice to find your comment. I found Matera (i sassi) very interesting and unusual, but we were only there for a day trip. Remember how dry Matera is? Well, the day we were there, there was a surprise deluge and we all got soaked. I wanted to stay longer anyway, despite wet clothes, but majority ruled and our visit was cut short. Basilicata does seem to have some of the best pageantry anywhere, e.g., the festa you saw in Matera, the pagan "Maggio" in little Accettura, and the spectacular parade of the Turks in Potenza just to name a few. You're probably familiar with this very good website about the region. I found it over a year ago, but strangers who also discover it keep recommending it to me, and I keep recommending it to others because it's so good: www.basilicata.com. The photos are beautiful, info is useful, and it's easy to use. The "guestbook" message board is actually where I heard about the tour that I ended up taking! (I think it may be the only USAmerican tour strictly to Basilicata.)
 
Jun 17th, 2001, 03:40 AM
  #6  
cmt
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Is anyone interested in seeing a folk dance group from this region? I don't know the details, but I thinks one will be in NYC and possibly in Princeton, NJ in Jan.
 
Jul 7th, 2001, 08:14 PM
  #7  
cmt
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In a shameless attempt to draw some attention to this beautiful, hospitable, and underappreciated region, here I am again...TOPPING!
 
Jul 7th, 2001, 09:44 PM
  #8  
Marly
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Carol,

I'm fascinated. My grandmother came from Brindisi di Montagna. I always thought that the Basilicata region was remote and unappealing to tourists, and have never read of any tours that went there. It's particularly interesting to learn that the tours are only in the Basilicata region, rather than of several more "popular" areas of Italy.I went to the site you referenced, but it's written almost exclusively in Italian, which I don't read or speak. Does this woman who handles the tours run some of them with English speaking guides? Thanks for bringing this to my attention.
 
Jul 7th, 2001, 10:18 PM
  #9  
Pauline
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I just finished a good book called Dancing with Luigi by Paul Paolicelli. He spent 3 years living in Italy and researching where both sets of his grandparents came from. One grandfather came from Matera, the other from a town in the Abruzzo. The book gives you a good understanding of growing up Italian-American and I enjoyed reading about his travels in Italy searching for records of his relatives.
Pauline
www.slowtrav.com
 
Jul 8th, 2001, 05:29 AM
  #10  
Janice
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Carol, did you see my message about needing a hotel for one night in Basilica? We need it to be near the Autostrada, as a stopover from Tuscany to Sicily. I think Cosenza will be too far south. We have been trying Maratea, but I can see that it is very busy in August. We need a room for Saturday night, August 4! Any ideas?
 
Jul 8th, 2001, 06:13 AM
  #11  
carol
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Janice, since I was on a tour and only had to find my own hotel in Accettura (easy--there's only one) I don't have much experience booking my own hotels in Basilicata. Also, I personally didn't drive at all -- never do on vacations, and never will in the mts. in a foreign country. I liked our hotel in Muro Lucano (Hotel delle Colline, tel. 39-0976-2284, fax 39-0976-2192), a beautiful medium-sized hill town, but, though near the highway, it's way up a steep hill, so maybe not very convenient for you. I don't think Basilicata is such a likely place for a quickie one-night stop, but FYI Potenza is the largest city in the region and probably has the most hotels, though lacks the unspoiled charm of small remote towns. The most touristed places in Basilicata (where there are probably the most hotels) are Maratea, Metaponto and Matera, and Potenza is probably the busiest town. Maratea is beautiful, but it's a resort, and probably the hotels are very expensive and as heavily booked as Taormina Sicily during the "in" season. I've never been to Cosenza, which is in Calabria. When I was a teenager, I stayed one night in Paola, Calabria, with my parents. It was a medium-sized pretty town near the highway, and at the time (1963) there seemed to be no tourists except us, but I don't know how it is now. For names and #s of hotels in Basilicata, try the website www.basilicata.com. Click "alberghi" and then choose the province (Matera or Potenza) and then the particular town(s) you've IDd as maybes based on location. (The site is not entirely up to date re hotels, e.g., it listed a Hotel Croccia in Accettura that has been closed a few years.) If you find a SMALL town with a hotel, it will probably have vacancies unless there's an annual festa or some big wedding going on. However, a SMALL town is unlikely to be right along the highway.
 
Jul 8th, 2001, 06:22 AM
  #12  
carol
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Pauline, I never read the book you mentioned -- will look for it. Most of my reading re southern italy (e.g., Christ Stopped at Eboli, Fontamara) dates from my college days. I've been to a lot of the more "famous" parts of Italy, and lately I've become more interested in seeing the towns of my ancestry. Last year I stayed briefly in the little town in the Nebrodi Mts. (prov. of Messina) in Sicily where 1/2 my roots are. However, unlike many people who visit their ancestral villages, I'm really not that interested in genealogy -- more in the way of life, cooking, folkways, economy, dialect, crafts, history, farming, meeting people, etc.
 
Jul 8th, 2001, 07:40 AM
  #13  
Carol
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Marly, I wrote you a whole long message but it didn’t post! I guess with answering the phone, talking to dogs, etc. I took too long. Very frustrating, but I’ll try again.

Brindisi di Montagna is , I think, a town with a lot of history of Albanian settlement. Might be interesting to learn about it

Although I always wanted to go there, I also thought that Basilicata might not be very appealing to the average person. I always knew more about the Sicilian half of my heritage. I imagined Basilicata to be as described in Christ Stopped at Eboli by Carlo Levi. But the town in that book (really Aliano, called “Gagliano” in the book) was is an exceptionally dry, stark, infertile, desperately poor and neglected pocket of this mostly poor region. I was surprised how green most of the region was. Farming seems to be doing quite well. Obvoiusly, it was a very poor region, which is why there was such massive emigration. But I think it is now prospering a bit. However, unemployment is very bad, and educated young people generally leave the region to find work. The scenery is very beautiful – ANYONE would think so, not just people with ancestry there. The food is good—very robustly flavored “real” food using good and varied produce, and not at all fancy. The people are unbelievably hospitable and seem to really like Americans, maybe because so many of their distant relatives are Americans. (By that reasoning, I think they probably feel warmly toward people from USA, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, etc.). The area is not all commercially geared up for money-spending visitors, so it’s quite unspoiled.

Yes, the tour was to Basilicata ONLY. The woman who organized it is an American whose parents grew up in Basilicata. She loves the region and has a sentimental mission of getting people to respect it and appreciate it. The tour is less than perfect and polished, but it has other wonderful qualities that more than make up for it.

Yes, the tour is entirely in English. When we had guides at the various sites, they always spoke English. Sometimes they were regular official guides (in Matera and Venosa, e.g.), sometimes a local priest (e.g., in Aliano) and sometimes a young friend of the organizer/guide, who led us around his own town, demonstrated how to do genealogical searches, introduced us to his friends at a leisurely lunch. This same young man, who teaches folk dancing and organizes interregional and international cultural exchanges, also entertained us one evening with folk songs and explained their historical and folklore background, and another night taught us folk dances. Another day he invited us to yet another small town to see one ofh is costumed troupes of teenage folk dancers perform in the town square.

It is not necessary to know Italian to take the tour. Two of us (besides the guide/organizer) knew enough Italian to get along on our own if necessary, one person had taken a few months of private lessons before the trip, and the others seemed to know no Italian (or very little). We were all from the USA. I think other, non-USA, English speakers could also go on this tour, but without the air option, of course. In my opnion, it IS necessary to speak and understand Italian to travel independently in this region, outside of a very few major tourist sites. I did not notice ANY other English speaking tourists while I was there, so even those local people who studied English have little opportunity to practice it in real life, and I think many of the people who learn English end of moving out of the region to find work.

If you’d like info re the tour, please e-mail me directly. I hesitate to post specifics here, lest anyone view it as commercial promotion and hold it against the tour oganizer who never asked and doesn’t even know I’m posting anything here.
 
Jul 8th, 2001, 07:49 AM
  #14  
Carol
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Marly, in the previous posting I forgot to reply re that website (www.basilicata.com). Yes it's all in Italian, except for the message board, which is called "guestbook" and which has messages posted in any language the poster feels like using, mostly Italian, English, Spanish and Portuguese. You may still get some use out of that website, though. On the home page, click on "Il Territorio" which will lead you to a table of geographic areas and topics. Click on the various options and you'll see a few pretty photos. i have other web addresses with photos of the region but I think all the words are in Italian. If you enter the guestbook (view) and scroll down you'll see some entries re the tour. Thst's where I heard about the tour. I also "met" another American on that site who'd taken the tour a previous year and with whom I have cousins in common.
 
Jul 8th, 2001, 03:58 PM
  #15  
Dona
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Carol -

Thanks so much for sharing your wonderful trip to Basilicata. It's an area I have planned on visiting but not yet done it. I appreciate your inspiration...

Dona
 
Jul 8th, 2001, 09:17 PM
  #16  
Marly
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Carol,

Thank you so much for your generous reply. I did go to the message board on the Basilicata site once again, scrolled down, and found the name of the woman who runs the trips. I'm going to put myself on the mailing list to learn of future trips. One other question: would my fairly healthy mother who is in her eighties and walks slowly be able to handle this type of trip? I'm thinking of the hills and such, and how much walking is involved. Thank you again.
 
Jul 9th, 2001, 04:08 PM
  #17  
cmt
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Dona, I hope you do go!

Marly, the walks are not long and, with very few exceptions, are not at all strenuous for an average middle aged person or an athletic elderly person, though they might be for an octogenarian. (There was just one short, somewhat strenuous walk to the top of castle ruins in Pietrapertosa, but only two of us opted to go. another walk, while not strenuous, involved clambering around paths broken in an earthquake and the footing was therefore pretty tricky. Only four of us chose to go on that walk.) All walks are optional, but some places (e.g., i sassi in Matera) can only be seen by walking. There's always the possibility of sitting on a bench somewhare, or having a cold drink at a cafe (or even sitting in the bus) while the others walk. A person who prefers not to walk could still soak up a little of the atmosphere of a town that way, and it might actually be very pleasant to do that sometimes. However, I have to point out that this is a rugged region and most of the towns are old HILL towns. (That's the beauty of it.) So even the shortest, slowest walk requires careful stepping on uneven surfaces and on streets that may be constructed right into the hill itself. This would be true no matter what tour you took to this area or if you traveled there independently. Sometimes because of travel time to/from the hotel, the time available to enjoy visiting a particular village or site may be quite limited. Therefore, while the group may walk slowly to see the sights, it could be a problem for the group if someone with EXTREME difficulty walking on rough hilly streets attempted to come along and had great difficulty keeping up even the slow group pace. So remember, waiting in a nice comfortable place, watching people, having a snack, taking pictures, or even napping is always an option and may be a nice way to experience a town.

I'd suggest also asking the tour organizer this question, as the tour is always being modified in response to percieved needs, and there may be new options available that I'm not aware of.
 
Jul 10th, 2001, 12:23 PM
  #18  
Janice
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Dear Carol,
Thanks for your information on hotels in Basilica. I will keep searching. I am a little concerned about safety and reported road work along A3 south of Naples. Should I be? Thanks again.
 
Jul 11th, 2001, 10:08 AM
  #19  
DJ
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Carol,

I enjoyed reading your post and all of the responses. I'm pretty excited about this area as I recently purchased a book called "Southern Italy" which is an Insight Guide that talks about this area, it's history, food, culture, etc.

Unfortunately I'll only be as far south as the Amalfi Coast this fall but I'd like to plan 2 more trips to Italy soon, one focusing on the southern end on one on the northern end. It seems there is SO MUCH to see it's overwhelming. I've never been to Europe and wonder if I'm just reacting this way because this will be our first time and our first country.
 
Jul 11th, 2001, 03:23 PM
  #20  
cmt
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DJ, some of us are just always excited. It's mostly a good thing. That's how we can tell for sure we're not dead yet! When you do your southern Italy trip, don't forget Sicily. And yes there IS an enormous amount to see in Italy (and in most countries), and we'll never see it all.

Janice, I have no personal experience with driving south of Naples, and in fact on this trip I did not travel along the coast south of Naples. However, 29 years ago, when my firend and I were taking a public bus to some place along the Amalfi coast, the bus was unable to proceed at one point because of some huge construction site in the middle of the road that the bus co, apparently hadn't heard of (???!).
 

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