italy / day eight / matera

After all the pasta and breads, olive oil and wine, I was so excited to get to the well equiped hotel gym downstairs, that I barely slept! Jordan and I headed down to basement and I had a really good arms session. We had a quick shower and then enjoyed a westernised style breakfast buffet, whilst going over plans for the day. Today we were going to Matera, in the small region of Basilicata, approximately an hour, by train, out of Bari. The ancient neighbourhood, namely Sassi, are a series of caverns carved out of limestone, nestled in a small canyon.

On arrival, we picked up a map of the Sassi and a punnet of strawberries for our journey. We soon made sense of the layout, breaking it up into a distinct New Town, Old Town, and in my opinion, Very Old Town. The train station is higher up and you could basically follow any of the streets down towards the main square. From there, it’s more of a wander and get lost kind of situation. I loved this, as the small number of tourists that were there just dispersed and you were solely there to immerse yourself in the seemingly small, but literally huge Sassi.

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Mid afternoon refuel of pizza bread and fruit smoothie, and we were back exploring the Sassi. Closer to the ravine, deeper into the town, there were many empty grottoes ready for me to explore; semi fenced off but not really.

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After farewelling the enchanting Matera, we ate at one of the only eateries we could find in Bari, Tankard Gastropub. We put some washing on at the laundromat across the road, whilst eating some delicious ribs and salad. The person manning the venue was lovely and so helpful with the menu, even though he couldn’t speak a drop of english. It was one of the tastiest meals we had.

To this day, Matera is one of the most incredible, absolutely magical places I’ve ever been and is seriously underrated. If you’re going to Italy and not sure whether to go, as it is a bit out of the way, I’m telling you now, it is 110% worth it.

italy / day five / siracusa

A quick workout in the hotel room leaves us hungry as ever. Jordan and I fill our plates with cold meats, some pastries and get some eggs cooked to order from the kitchen. They also have a big bowl of fruit – Jordan finally gets his banana! The plan for today is to head out to Noto, a short ride from Siracusa train station. Slightly confused, we board what seems to be the train heading to Noto; a completely covered graffiti ridden single carriage train. The rackety vessel chugs along the tracks at full speed and we are soon at Noto station. We are greeted by many Italian locals, offering tours of Noto in their vehicles, gesturing towards one of the roads heading up a hill. We brush them off politely and follow the signs up the hill to the centre.

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It takes us a lovely fifteen minute stroll through quiet suburbia to get into the town centre. The small town comes to life as we get closer and it is much more larger and spread out than anticipated. Grand churches stand tall, interwoven in the landscape of other giant, old, sandstone buildings. There is a lot of locals out and about, and kids playing sport. We wisely decide to peruse the beautifully paved streets with coffee cinnamon gelato in hand.

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We grab some sandwiches at a cafe on the main street for lunch, then slowly make our way to Palazzo Nicolai, an old princes home with a great view of the old town. On the way back to the station, we get chatting to a friendly Argentinian man selling handmade jewellery. He shows us his tools and precious rocks, and gives us a demonstration of the copper wire work shown through his products.

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After speed walking our way back down the mountain we just make the old rattler of a train as it pulls up to the platform. Packed full of people, we find some seats near the back next to an African man from Togo. He openly chatted to us the entire way home about travel, family and politics; funny guy.

Back at the hotel, they suggest a restaurant, very popular for it’s pizzas. We take their word and head down to find and empty restaurant. We realise it is only just about to open and we patiently wait outside. We are seated at a table at 7.30pm and get some tasty pizzas to share. By the time we leave, the restaurant is full with a line out the door – great to see such a busy restaurant loved by locals and tourists alike.

italy / day three / taormina

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Ate a balanced breakfast of goji berries and orange jam crostata, then jumped on a bus to Casteloma, a smaller village, higher up the mountain. The bus took about twenty minutes, skilfully manoeuvring the bendy roads. The road came to a dead end in a square, where the bus dropped us off and turned around to make his next leg. It was much quieter once we reached the top. There weren’t as many tourists, and besides a couple motor cycles, there weren’t many vehicles either. The pathways between the old buildings were narrow and the majority of Casteloma seemed to be inside, asleep. This was perfect because we were able to pleasantly explore at our own pace.

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After following some signs to the outskirts of the town, we decided to walk down to Madonna De Rocca, instead of catching the bus. We started on an overgrown path that soon dissolved into suburbia. At first it didn’t seem very far, but we were soon mistaken, and ultimately, very confused about how on earth we were to get there. The homes were scattered all over the hillside and there was no clear path.

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view of Madonna de Rocca (on lower hill to the left)

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crazy trail down the mountain from Casteloma into Taormina
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Casteloma, high up in the mountains

Sweaty and exhausted from climbing stairs and walking on deserted trails, we stopped for a breather and an aperol spritz at a cafe nearby. Once rehydrated we continued a little further on from Madonna de Rocca to a castle that we had seen when we were back in Casteloma. Once at the top, we came to a locked gate (my favourite!), which was soon conquered by the great Pop, Jordan and Lily.

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Once sneaking inside the gates to some of the most spectacular views you have ever seen, we were getting a little peckish for something a little more hardy.  We walked down another ten thousand flight of stairs to the main street of Taormina. We ended up getting a couple pizzas to share at ‘Porta Messina’, after being rudely turned away from ‘Bellini’, for sitting down at a table and asking to share (this was for lunch at a simple cafe, completely empty). We filled our bellies and took a trip to the botanical gardens.

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After all the days we spent admiring the blue waters from above, we took a cable car down to beaches below. The sand was made up of shells and rocks, where Jordan and Pop skipped a couple stones. The place was crazy deserted, but I could see just how busy it would be in summer. After a little scouting and climbing, the sun started to disappear and we headed back up for a nice, last dinner in Taormina.

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