ISSUE 59  |  L'Amour

Romance Revisited in a Remote Italian Cave

February 14, 2013 9:30 PM

BY Meredith Swinehart

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We're making wild inferences about the name, but the Sextantio hotels are among the most romantic we've covered. (If we're being honest, "Sextantio" more likely refers to a six-sided something than anything sensual. But I've run the name by my Italian friends and no one knows what it means, so I'm free to make it up.)

The second project of the Sextantio Albergo Diffuso group is Le Grotte della Civita, a hotel sited in the caves of Matera, in southern Italy. The ancient mountain town is impressively historic, flaunting ruins from the Neolithic age. (Mel Gibson took note of its pedigree and filmed most of "The Passion of the Christ" in Matera.)

As with Sextantio's first hotel, Santo Stefano di Sessanio in L'Aquila, the developer/owners aimed to revitalize an ancient village via responsible and sustainable tourism. But unlike L'Aquila, where prior efforts to grab quick tourist dollars had left an ancient site with a host of inauthentic "improvements," the caves of Matera were in dire disrepair. Upon beginning work, the new owners found graffiti, caches of stolen goods, and worse. But by teaming with Matera residents to restore and staff the hotel and source produce, furnishings, and gift shop wares from locals, Sextantio is so far succeeding at improving the local economy and sharing regional Italian history with the rest of the world. Today, the caves are filled with bathtubs and candlelight, tisanes and wines; romance has been restored. For booking information, visit Le Grotte della Civita.

Above: At right, an original–very, very old–stone basin sink in one of the guest rooms.

Above: The property features details from many eras; the oldest floors are rough-cut stone while newer flooring is more brick-like.

Above: Antique furnishings were sourced locally; the owners made an effort to use the materials they found on site. Where new furnishings were required, like the bathtub and faucet, they chose minimal, modern designs.

Above: Arches and vaults throughout the property suggest ancient crusades.

Above: Guests can dine al fresco in a meandering courtyard.

Above: Perfumed oils in the spa.

Above: A modern Agape bathtub in an ancient stone cave.

Above: Bed linens are new and locally made.

Above: Guests can enjoy Abruzzo wines in the hotel restaurant, which is located inside a deconsecrated thirteenth-century church and lit solely by candles.

Above: What once served as a stable and manger is now a quiet place to sit and read.

Above: The depth of history in Matera is humbling. Free for the exploring are cells of a Benedictine convent abandoned in 1283; these are relatively recent structures compared to nearby caves from a Neolithic village.

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