Venture into the hill towns of southern Italy on an expedition inspired by National Geographic Traveler's September 2011 article "The Towns Italy Forgot." In Puglia, the narrow peninsula that comprises Italy's "heel," discover whitewashed villages surrounded by ancient olive groves. Then visit the rugged landscapes of Basilicata and the famous sassi, or cave dwellings, of Matera. Cap off your adventure by exploring the gorgeous Amalfi Coast and the stunning ruins of Pompeii, Oplontis, and Paestum.
Depart on an overnight flight via Rome to Bari, the capital of Italy's picturesque Puglia region. Arrive in Bari in the afternoon and transfer to our hotel, housed in one of the beautiful masserie, or fortified farmhouses, for which Puglia is so famous. Settle into your room and enjoy free time to explore this fabulous hotel and its waterfront before our welcome reception and dinner this evening.
Torre Coccaro (D)
Spend the day in the Valle D'Itria, traveling through landscapes of brick-red earth, silvery olive trees, and trulli—the fairy-tale-like stone dwellings found in this region. Take a walking tour through the labyrinthine streets of Ostuni, and wander past elegant mansions in the baroque village of Martina Franca. Explore Alberobello, a UNESCO World Heritage site scattered with more than 1,500 trulli, which offers insight into this mysterious form of architecture that dates back to prehistoric times.
Torre Coccaro (B,L,D)
Travel to the town of Lecce, known for its
elegant baroque architecture and the Roman
amphitheater which remains visible under the present-day piazza. Enjoy free time to explore the town and stop for lunch on your own. Tonight, gather for a wine tasting followed by a feast of Puglia's most typical dishes.
Torre Coccaro (B,D)
Puglia is famous for its fine olive oils, and picturesque olive groves stretch in every direction. Take a morning walk with a local naturalist among the orchards, some of which contain trees that date back a thousand years and are protected by regional law. Then visit the archaeological site of Egnazia, where digs continue to reveal Bronze Age and Roman ruins. After lunch, journey to the mountainous region of Basilicata, where our destination is the extraordinary hill town of Matera. This UNESCO World Heritage site features at its core a cluster of sassi, ancient dwellings and caves carved out of the soft rock face by prehistoric settlers and inhabited until the 1950s. Our remarkable hotel lies within these restored grottoes and retains the character and integrity of the original dwellings.
Le Grotte Della Civita (B,L,D)
Spend a full day soaking up the unique ambience of Matera. Venture down the steep streets that crisscross Barisano and Caveoso, the two districts of Matera's sassi (literally the "stones"). Visit a house furnished as it would have been when as many as ten people lived with their animals in one or two rooms. Explore the chiese rupestri, or rock churches, some of which still have their original fresco decorations. After lunch on your own, head out on an easy hike along the opposite ridge of the ravine on which Matera is built and discover some of the rock churches that dot the countryside. Massimo will help travelers improve their photography skills along the way.
Le Grotte Della Civita (B,D)
Today, travel west to the ancient Greek archaeological site of Paestum. Explore its magnificent temples before gathering for lunch in an 18th-century manor house right at the site. Continue to the lively and elegant town of Sorrento, perched on the Bay of Naples. Enjoy an evening at leisure to explore the town.
Imperial Hotel Tramontano (B,L)
A morning drive brings us to the Amalfi Coast, where picturesque towns and villages nestle among cliffs that drop dramatically to the sea. Stop in Amalfi, once one of Italy's four great maritime republics, and see its beautiful Romanesque cathedral. Visit Positano, perched on the cliff face at the water's edge, and enjoy free time to wander the steep streets. Return to Sorrento, and enjoy dinner on your own tonight.
Imperial Hotel Tramontano (B)
Begin the day at the so-called "house of Poppea" at Oplontis, a Roman villa decorated with mosaics and some of the most exquisite wall paintings to have survived from the Roman period. This site, long buried by the ash of Mount Vesuvius, was only excavated between 1964 and 1984 and is considered one of the most perfectly preserved examples of an ancient Roman retreat. Continue to Pompeii and see the splendid—and haunting—remnants of this city, frozen in time when Vesuvius erupted in a.d. 79. Return to Sorrento for lunch on your own and an afternoon at leisure. Celebrate your journey at a farewell dinner this evening.
Imperial Hotel Tramontano (B,D)
After breakfast, transfer to the Naples airport for return flights home.
Born and raised in the south of Italy, Massimo Bassano has traveled, taught, and photographed extensively in his native country. Massimo photographed the September 2011 National Geographic Traveler article "The Towns Italy Forgot," which inspired this expedition. His acclaimed book The Color of Silence detailed the 12 weeks he spent in a little-known Italian monastery, and his work has appeared widely in European publications, as well as in National Geographic Traveler and on the National Geographic website. Massimo will enhance this expedition with his infectious enthusiasm, knowledge, and love for the region.
Massimo will join the following departures:
May 06 - 15, 2014
May 27 - Jun 05, 2014
Sep 25 - Oct 04, 2014
Oct 09 - 18, 2014
Prices are per person, double occupancy. For a single room, add $1,695. Airfare is not included in the expedition cost. Economy airfare from New York to Bari via Rome and return from Naples is from $1,200 (subject to change).
On this program you should be prepared to walk and/or stand for 2 hours during walking tours, and to climb up and down hills and over uneven, cobblestoned streets in warm to hot weather. Le Grotte della Civita, our hotel for our 2-night stay in Matera, is a truly unique property built into ancient grottoes carved out of the cliff face. This property is reached on foot, and guests must be able to climb several sets of steep, uneven stairs cut into the rock in order to reach the guestrooms. The rooms are different in size, and have uneven footing, low lighting, and stairs without handrails.