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The region of Basilicata is probably the least known of all Italian regions and yet it sparkles with some real gems, like Maratea. Tucked between woods, mountains and the sea and looked over by the marble statue of Christ the Redeemer; this is a town where precious memories are just waiting to be made.
Let's start our journey...
It is in the old town that you'll find the heart and soul of Maratea and wandering the lanes will reveal its secrets in languid style.
Like many of the old buildings you pass, with layers of ancient plaster crumbling away and exposing centuries old stone, so it is with the town; slowly, layer by layer, its charms reveal themselves.
A day is never enough here, two or three days are better - the town you leave after a day is not the town you'll leave after a few days. One day gives you but a superficial feel - after three days you can't help but love the place.
You'll find breathtaking views suddenly appearing around corners, then a little family-run trattoria, shops filled with fascinating local products, salami, cheeses and so much more.
I made my most wonderful discoveries down tiny alleyways that appeared to go nowhere - one of my favorites, one that you'd do well to discover for yourself, is La Merenderia (Traversa Dietro l'Annunziata nr 10) - a sheer delight. Your taste buds will thank you for visiting.
I warn you to avoid Panza though, their pastries are addictive - you could easily destroy a year of dieting in a few days of visiting Panza.
Days here are spent gasping at the views, eating, walking, chatting to the always friendly locals, eating, popping into the little churches and eating.
It's a life that starts to become very addictive.
The churches to see include the 10th century San Vitus and Santa Maria Maggiore but there are plenty of others that you'll come across as you explore - not for nothing do they call Maratea the "city" of 44 churches.
I love discovering them, stepping into the cool dark interiors and kneeling in prayer for a little while, often all alone. I find a great sense of peace like this, before stepping out into the bright sunlight and the loud, passionate life of southern Italy once again.
Spend time at one of the bars or restaurants in the piazza too, either sipping a coffee or later in the day savoring an aperitivo.
The main piazza is the one with the town hall and fountain. There's a lovely bench under a big shady tree here, perfect to relax for a little while and chat with the elderly town folk. You'll find them catching up on the days news around mid-morning or in the late afternoon.
A prettier little piazza is Piazza Buraglia, lined with colorful little shops and a restaurant or two.
Pretty as a postcard, photos don't do it any justice at all. It reminds me a little of some of the Cinque Terre towns .
It's a great spot to enjoy lunch or dinner too and the restaurant you'll want to visit here is 1999 Il Ristorante. They've a lovely location near the marina. Gaze out upon azure seas, bobbing boats and the green hills behind as you dine on fish that was swimming earlier in the day.
It's not the cheapest but good food and views make it worth the splurge.
And you thought that only Rio had a Christ the Redeemer statue? This one is made of white marble and is called the Redentore.
The idea for the statue came about in the 1950s and was the idea of an industrialist from Piedmont; locals were divided - they either loved or hated the idea. Since those days things have changed and it is now a part of the town and loved by most.
Heading up San Biagio hill to the statue, which symbolizes the hope of Maratea, it was sad to pass by the ruins of a settlement dating back a thousand years. It was destroyed by Napoleon in 1806 . Most of the people who lived here were evacuated to Sicily and upon returning rebuilt their city in what is now the old town.
Also to visit on the hill is the Basilica of San Biagio, San Biagio is the town's Patron Saint for whom a festival is held during the second week of May.
If you've a car drive up here, otherwise I'd recommend a taxi.
Although the walk from the old town is only around 3 miles, the road linking the town to the hill doesn't have a sidewalk and is dangerous to walk along. Cars hurtle around the bends and can't always notice pedestrians until it is too late.
I prefer those little beaches tucked away in tiny coves; head a little north, towards the next town of Acquafredda, and you'll find some gems. The dark sand, and sometimes gravel of these beaches, contrasts with the green Mediterranean vegetation and the sparkling blue and turquoise waters.
Boat trips out to secret little beaches are easy to organize from the Maratea Marina. Most boat owners are happy to drop you off in your own secret little sandy cove and pick you up later in the day.
If you don't want to do a boat trip the best beaches to visit by land are the main beaches in Maratea, the lovely Spiaggia Fiumicello being the best of them and probably the best beach for little children too. A little out of town the following beaches await:
Cala Jannita: most locals call this the Spiaggia Nera on account of its black sand, it is absolutely beautiful if a little hard to get to. If you do want to visit head south from Maratea on SS18 , it's around 3 kilometers from Maratea and look out for sign posts on your right, you'll see four brown signs, one above the other.
The third sign down says Spiaggia Nera; follow the signs to the parking area where you'll pay 6 Euros for the day and then walk along a footpath, immersed in beautiful and fragrant vegetation, to the beach. The beach is more gravel than sand and being dark in color it gets very hot so bring beach shoes or flip flops.
Do explore the spectacular caves to the right of the beach - most can be reached on foot but others you can swim to. Nearly forgot, some of the beach is private but the free sections are just as lovely. They don't offer all the service of the private ones though so bring a picnic lunch and plenty of water with you.
Spiaggia Luppa: This beach has won awards for the color, clarity and cleanliness of it sea, often considered the best in all of Italy. You'll find it in Acquafredda; from Maratea take the SS18 north and in Acquafredda you'll see a big blue sign on the right pointing to the Hotel Gabbiano - follow that road and you are there.
Before sharing the options I need to ask you why you are visiting Maratea: is it mostly for the beaches and sunshine? Or is it principally for the chance to enjoy the history and atmosphere of the old town?
Depending on your answer these are the hotels I recommend:
You can get to Maratea by train. It was connected to the main Italian rail network over a century ago, thanks to locals who emigrated to the USA in the 19th century and raised money to help lift their town from poverty by improving the infrastructure.
The station is way down the hill from the old town so organize with your hotel for a transfer.
You can get around and explore the coast on the local buses - they are surprisingly affordable and reliable. There are various companies offering bus services - your hosts or hotel will be able to help with timetables.
Best option though is to have a car. The drive down here from the Amalfi Coast is lovely, with lots of delightful little towns to visit on the way. On you way to Maratea I really recommend you spend a few days in the Cilento area - it's one of Italy's best kept secrets.
A car is certainly the better option to explore inland too, for getting up the hill to the statue and to enable you to enjoy some of the spectacular coastal drives nearby.