Basilicata

Basilicata's Pollino National Park     Photo: courtesy, Tourism Italy

The Greeks, who established colonies here, thought gods lived in the Apennine mountains. Today Basilicata, which borders Puglia to the west and forms Italy's instep, is the country's poorest region and one of its least visited areas. Yet Basilicata's gorgeous 20-mile west-coast sashay along the Tyrrhenian Sea, with its azure water and six hidden villages, rivals the Sorrento Peninsula, to the north.

One such find is Maratea, between two of Italy's largest national parks (Pollino and Cilento), with a grotto-pocked shoreline lit with bougainvillea blooms. Fifty years ago, the Italian count Rivetti transformed the village into a resort town favored by his countrymen. Maratea has a 300-boat harbor and, built into a slope of 2,000-foot Mount San Biagio, a pristine medieval center with a maze of cobblestone streets, piazzas, and 44 churches. Inland in Matera, sassi neighborhoods—cave shelters carved into two ravines that slice through town—have been inhabited since ancient times. The sassi, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, were depicted in the 1979 movie Christ Stopped at Eboli, based on Carlo Levi's book about his experiences as a political prisoner in the area; more recently, The Passion of the Christ was filmed here.

Adventures: Maratea's rocky seabed makes for good snorkeling and diving, or take a fishing boat to swim in the grottoes; the hills are full of ancient paths, some of which connect towns. (Aquafredda is a 3.5-hour hillside traipse from Maratea.) Andiamo Adventours (800-549-2363, www.andiamoadventours.com) offers guided hiking, and Mondo Maratea Servizi Turistici (www.mondomaratea.it) arranges diving, horseback riding, and hang gliding. Tour the sassi with Nuovi Amici dei Sassi (011-39-0835- 331-11, www.isassinelmondo.too.it) or check out ninth-century churches, Byzantine frescoes, and a Romanesque cathedral.

Meals: Forza Sette is the prime spot in seaside Maratea for a sunset pint of Peroni. Up in town, the Taverna Rovita serves fine local fare, like octopus tentacles sizzling in olive oil. Drink the dry Aglianico del Vulture wine, introduced by the Greeks.

Lodging: On its own piney promontory in Maratea, the sprawling Santavenere (doubles, $146–$638; 011-39-0973-876910, www.mondomaratea.it) retains the feel of a family villa, with comfortable sitting rooms, terraces, picture windows, and bedrooms splashed with aquamarine tiles. There's a spa, grass tennis court, and beach, and a saltwater pool built next to a cliff. Here the natural world is revered—one night, conversation focused on a giant mushroom, plucked that morning from the forest and displayed on a gold plate in the living room. La Locanda della Donne Monache (doubles, $73–$319; 011-39-0973-877487, www.mondomaratea.it), a convent-turned-hotel-and-cooking-school, dates from 1735, when it housed Visitandine nuns. The salmon-colored inn is built on several levels; the 29 rooms have views of the surrounding peaks and the town's tiled rooftops.

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