Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Caves, Culture and Cuisine: Marvellous Matera

Last Saturday lunchtime, following a morning of absolute CHAOS teaching a group of young children in a local primary school, myself and my wonderful man made a break for it, and headed away from our little town for the weekend. Our destination? One of the oldest towns in Italy: Matera.

Matera is famous for its stone houses, or 'sassi', that are built into the rock face and have been inhabited for thousands of years. While the town has now become a glittering gem of the region of Basilicata, it wasn't always this way. The living conditions in these houses were cramped and dire, as 10 or 11 people (there were around 20,000 in total in the sassi) would usually live a small 'house' (which was more like a cave) and share their living space with animals. They had no heat or sanitation, and if that situation wasn't bad enough, they also used to conserve the animal excrement to use as fuel. Pongy or what??

 You may be thinking that, OK, hundreds of years ago this may have been a rather 'normal' situation for poor and working class citizens, but unbelievably, this was the situation in the 1930s and 1940s. This extreme poverty here was finally brought to light during this period, and Matera and its sassi became a huge embarrassment for Italy. In the 1950s a relocation programme was put into action, with sassi-dwellers being moved to newer, less dirty and disease-ridden parts of town. For a long time the caves remained abandoned, but in the 80s, a revival truly began, as the stone houses were bought, and re-modelled into cool cafes, bars, restaurants and B&Bs. In fact, in 1993 the town of Matera actually became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Now if that isn't an impressive turnaround, I don't know what is!

OK, history lesson ends here! Myself and my man were gobsmacked at the former living conditions in the sassi, and paid a few euros to enter one that had been decked out in 1930s style- fake horse and all (Casa Grotta di Vico Solitario). We listened to a guide talk about the dwelling, and made several appalled expressions at some of the animal excrement comments that were mentioned.

See that room at the back? Yep, that was where the smelly stuff was kept...
But what impressed us the most, was the sheer beauty of these sassi; looking out over the rock face at all of these small caves, especially when they were lit up at night, was just incredible. There were plenty of viewpoints to stop at, as we explored the winding streets and passageways of this historic town, so we managed to get plenty of great photos.

Our B&B was called Alle Malve and was located on Via Bruno Buozzi, right in the centre of the sassi. The owner was helpful and accommodating, as she gave us an easy to follow map and, the following day, a lovely breakfast of homemade cake and biscuits, as well as the standard coffee and croissant. Despite being located in an actual stone cave, the bedroom wasn't at all humid; in fact, it was lovely and warm.

On Saturday night we had hoped to eat at local restaurant 'Il Pico', which my lovely friend Ali ( had recommended to me after she and her hubby had dined there during their stay in Matera. However, we couldn't get in as it was full, so instead we headed to 'Soul Kitchen'; a wonderful little place located in one of the sassi, where you can enjoy local dishes and very good service. We tucked into a chef's speciality plate of antipasti, which included local burrata cheese, radish and mushroom salad and a strange (but absolutely delicious) baked ricotta dish. We then followed it with a primo of pasta with sausage and mushrooms. The wine was also local, and of good quality, as we didn't suffer from any form of headache the next day!

Delicious anipasti
On Sunday morning we went for another stroll around the town, and also checked out the Museo d'arte Contemporanea and the Chiesa di San Pietro, before stopping for a very tasty coffee at Kiev Cafe on Via Bruno Buozzi.

Chiesa di San Pietro Caveoso
Our trip to Matera, albeit brief, was simply fantastic. What an incredible place, and only about 2 hours from where we are in the province of Foggia. As well as the delicious food, warm hospitality and unbelievable history, this is also the place where Mel Gibson shot his film The Passion of the Christ. If it's good enough for him....

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Perfect Puglia

Well, would you look at's now March! Doesn't time fly? And, as per usual (oh dear!) this Brit is way behind on her blogging...

A couple of weekends ago, it seemed as though Spring had already sprung here in Puglia. The sun was out, the sunglasses were on, and the thick coats were off. Myself and my man were incredibly lucky, as we had chosen this particular weekend to go on a little trip down to the beautiful Baroque city of Lecce (often named the 'Florence of the South', and it's easy to see why). We were blinded by the sun all the way down and even OPENED up the windows to let in some air, as the car was getting pretty hot. In FEBRUARY. Anyway, we had chosen to say at the Risorgimento Resort in the city centre; a rather chic five star hotel. And before you start thinking that I have rather extravagant tastes in accommodation , I actually stumbled across this place on back in December, and snapped up a great price for that weekend. Myself and the Italian were very impressed, even if the staff weren't the friendliest bunch.

comfiest. bed. ever.

From the Pasticceria 'Natale'. I simply URGE you to go there.
We relaxed, drank coffee, ate delicious cakes and explored the city; in short, we had a wonderful (albeit brief) time in Lecce. Check out my recent article on if you want to know a bit more about lovely Lecce:

When Sunday rolled around, and we (very reluctantly) rolled out of what may be the biggest, most comfortable bed I have ever slept in, we said goodbye to Lecce and headed towards the seaside town of Polignano al Mare.

A visit to this little town, which is located right on the Adriatic sea in the province of Bari, is an absolute must for anyone who has the pleasure of visiting Puglia. Not only is is packed full of history, as it has been around since prehistoric times, but it is also home to cute little shops, restaurants and pavement cafes. Make sure you take time to wander around the windy little streets and read all the arty little messages that have been painted into the stone.

Next weekend we will be heading down to Matera. It is one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world, and home to the famous 'sassi' (stone houses). Roll on Saturday!

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

The Best of British!

You only have to spend a few minutes on my little blog to realise a couple of things. One, is that I am not a fan of the Italian post office. Another, is that I love exploring southern Italy. But one of the most obvious thing you can find out from my blog, is that I love Italian food. Dolce, pizza, pasta, gelato... the list of things I love eating here in Italy is endless. But underneath all of that love for Italian cuisine, I am still very British. There are a huge number of British products that you can't get for love nor money here in the Boot, so I may have literally yelped with joy when this wonderful package found its way to my door:

check out the FLAG!!!!

Thanks to the lovely people at the British Corner Shop (, my cupboard is now well stocked with some yummy goodies, including (but definitely not limited to) chocolate digestives, walkers crisps, Cadbury's fingers, Jamaica ginger cake and, the piece de resistance... LYLE'S GOLDEN SYRUP. Over 400g of thick, sugary goodness now sits in my kitchen cupboard. 'Is it like powdered sugar?' one Italian friend speculated. I corrected him by slowly prising open the lid and dazzling him with the golden GLOW.

One week after ordering, my package arrived on Monday. I discovered (via the handy UPS tracking service) that it had had a (relaxing?) weekend stuck in Bari. Trust the Italians to delay my British goodies. My Italian man was just as excited as I was about the package. 'Ooo my crisps!' he (incorrectly) stated. After a peaceful night's rest, safe in the knowledge that I had all sorts of deliciousness sitting downstairs, I did the only sensible thing possible: made a load of flapjack.

With 250g oats, 100g of butter, about 120g of brown sugar and two tablespoons of golden syrup, I recreated one of my favourite British recipes. My boyfriend took a load of the stuff for his parents to try and they apparently LOVED it. Well, what do you know. Those food-fussy Italians do enjoy some quality British grub!

In some of the flapjacks, I even added a cheeky bit of  Green and Black's cooking chocolate, which had also arrived in my package. And guess what I'm having for my tea tonight? Oh yes, WARBURTONS CRUMPETS. ( 'So, do you like, make a sandwich out of these or what?' Silly Italian.)

So, if any of you fellow expats fancy a quick fix of some tasty British treats, check out a massive selection of stuff at the British Corner Shop, which also has an ever-growing American section too. Next on my list? Quavers and ginger biccies!

Happy eating! 

Monday, 10 March 2014

Sweet Monday...

So, it's Monday again. How on earth does this day manage to come round so quickly? Everyone needs a little pick-me-up on Monday mornings, so here's a little treat for you all. It occurred to me that I haven't posted a photo for some delicious dolce for a while, so I thought I had better remedy that immediately. Behold! A selection of  mouth-watering delights from one of the best bakeries in the local area, Saint Honore....

Cassata, Torta alla ricotta and two creamy chocolatey creations that tasted SO. DARN. GOOD.

Have a great day!!

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Blogger maker?

A little while ago I spent an evening with my boyfriend's family at his brother's house. Every now and then the whole family gets together for a meal, and this time we had the pleasure of sampling some homemade pizza, made in his brother's very own pizza oven! Now, I have eaten my fair share of pizza, and have even had a go at making some dough myself, but I've never eaten it from someone's very own pizza oven at home. Needless to say, I was very excited indeed. My boyfriend's brother was an excellent pizzaiolo, and churned out pizza after pizza all evening, with all sorts of various toppings. After I had eaten a piece of pizza (or 7), I was asked if I wanted to have a go at rolling out the dough and cooking the pizza myself. Erm, yes please! I was told how to roll and stretch out the dough into the pizza shape, and even how to place it in the oven properly. Afterwards, I put the toppings on the pizza and, beaming with pride, placed it on the table for his family to dig into. The fact that there wasn't a single piece left made me feel just a little bit proud of myself... ;)

 While I couldn't take any credit for the dough this time, I did write a recipe for pizza dough in this months ITALIA! magazine, complete with all the information you need to know about how the Pugliese like their pizzas (mashed potato and all!!) Get your hands on a copy now! :D