March 30, 2014
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We are in a cave. Yes, a cave, but we are not spelunking. This is no ordinary cave (are there such things anyway?) for it was also once a monastery, so there are pointed arches separating the rooms. It’s neither cold nor humid inside, though it can be a little dark. Electric lighting is subtle, and for the most part, hidden and angled for dramatic effect rather than to allow one to put on her mascara.
Flickering candles everywhere add to the ambiance, as do the pieces of roughly carved wood furniture, homespun linens, and high iron bed stands. But then there are modern bath fixtures and wifi (though no tv nor telephone) lest you forget in what century you are sleeping.
When I was first researching for this trip I came across Il Sextantio in Matera and was immediately enthralled by its style and the allure of sleeping in a cave, albeit a luxurious one. The hotel sits in the restored sassi of Matera. The literal translation of sassi is stones, but really refers to the caves carved out of the stones in the ancient town which had been home to the people of the area for hundreds of years all the way up until the 1950s when the government forcefully relocated most of the population to the “new” town section of Matera. In the 1990’s the area was reopened to development and private citizens. It’s now filled with hotels, hostels, and restaurants yet many empty structures remain.
Several months later I came across an auction on www.luxurylink.com for three nights at this property and the price made it too tempting to pass up. When we arrived, there was one more surprise. Because the hotel was almost full on our first night there with a tour group from National …
February 6, 2014
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On our last day in Lecce we decamped our car from its parking space, drove around in circles a bit and headed out of town going east, in a straight line on highway 364 to San Cataldo on the coast. I’m not sure what we expected, but there wasn’t much “there” there. In October everything was shuttered, but I’m sure in August it’s hopping. So we turned the car south and followed the coastal road with the goal of stopping in Otranto and making it to the “end of the earth” (or at least the very tip of the heel of the boot) in Santa Maria di Leuca.
Our first stop was in a tiny town about mid way between San Cataldo and Otranto. I can’t remember the name (it might have been Torre dell’Orso) but it had a nice hotel (with a fantastic bathroom) high on a cliff overlooking the sea. This was the first of many “torre” ruins we’d see along the coast.
The next stop was the town of Otranto which boasts a small castle and cathedral. The old part of town is charming and the port is incredibly picturesque. Once again, not knowing where to park in the town, we ended up down at the marina where we found free parking. There’s a tourist information spot there (free map!), public restrooms, and behind the restaurant at the end of the building on the right, are access stairs up into the old part of town. It could not have been easier.
Above, part of the castle fortifications as seen from down at the marina. Below, the castle from the old part of town.
Inside the castle, above, and below, frescos from one of the castle rooms.
View of the marina from the castle ramparts, above.
Otranto’s Cathedral …