A Little Known Pocket of Italy


On a driving trip through southern Italy some years ago, we passed through the province of Basilicata. This mostly landlocked part of the peninsula is known to some for the cave-dwellings in the city of Matera, and to others for its lovely aglianico wine. We discovered wonderfully friendly people, a landscape dramatic with mountains and plains, and sights that in other regions would have been swarming with tourists. We visited the ruins of a Roman city outside Viggiano, where we were the only people wandering through the ancient streets and buildings. We visited the village of Pietrapertosa, a classic hill town with winding cobblestone streets and climbing staircases, in which the only visitors of the day were the guests at a large wedding. (Since those guests arrived in numerous high-end automobiles and some seemed to be Carabinieri, we assumed that it was a mafia wedding!) 


One of the highlights of the trip was our visit to the small town of Accettura. We chose this hill town because, while it had absolutely no tourist attractions, it did boast a hotel. Upon our arrival, we parked our car in the easiest available parking place and walked up through the centre of town, enjoying the absolute quiet of the sun drenched cobblestones in the mid afternoon. Imagine our shock when, upon inquiring at the hotel, we were informed by the woman in the lobby that she wasn’t sure if they had a room for us, and would have to wait until the manager returned from lunch!


As it turned out, a large group of American-Italians were having a family reunion in the area, using Accettura as their base; fortunately for our plans, the manager of the hotel was quick to find space for us. We soon became known in the little town as the tourists who were not American, much to everyone’s surprise. And as the the American visitors spent their days and evenings elsewhere, we only encountered them in the breakfast room, and we spent a delightful pair of days watching the rhythms of the town. Not far from our hotel was the town square, the impressively-named Piazza del Popolo, which featured a café on either side– two days, two cafés. 

Late in the afternoon, when the day’s work was done, the women sat out on the doorsteps, calling up and down the narrow stone streets to one another, quietly sociable. Many of the older ladies were dressed all in black, and once or twice we saw women in traditional dress: long skirts, long sleeves, kerchiefs. One signora, on discovering that we were Canadian, shared with us the information that her sister lived in Canada (Montreal, from what we could make out), and invited us into her tiny kitchen. The house was small and simple, as probably all of the houses along the street were, and we only saw the bare-bones kitchen, but we stood there together talking in our minimal Italian, drinking limoncello in small glasses, and then, with thanks, were back out in the heat of the afternoon. 


Meanwhile, the tables of the café/bar in the piazza were filled with old men. We also took up a place here, and began enjoying a slow continuum of prosecco, Fanta, fizzy water, and snacks, all of which were insanely inexpensive. We played Yahtzee, as the old men at the neighbouring table looked on with interest. As evening approached, more men began to line the piazza; young kids started to appear, to play foosball and ride bikes. Cars began to pass. By seven or so, the young adults had come out. Four young men played some lively games of foosball, a couple of younger boys kicked a ball in the street, the old men at the table next to us began playing a noisy game of cards. By eight o’clock at least half the people lining the piazza were teenagers and twenty-somethings. Activity would continue late into the evening, as we would hear motorcycles coming and going through the piazza well past midnight. By nine o’clock in the morning, the old men would be out again, after the young people had gone off to work and the woman were shopping in the alimentaria or the small mercato coperto.


We had two gut-stuffing dinners in the trattoria at our hotel: spicy pasta dishes, creamy mushroom sauces, and absolutely huge cheese courses, nothing like the tiny, elegant platters typical of North American restaurants. We (and everyone else that we could see) drank cool red wine that was slightly sweet and frizzante, and very dark. We were absolutely stuffed with food. 

The first evening, while I took our son upstairs, my husband stayed behind to determine whether we would pay immediately or upon checkout, after which he was waylaid by our host and his group of amici, who had been sitting in the next room, where there was a television. They wanted to know how tall he was (he is six-six, a giant among the Italian men), how old he was, what size his feet were, what he did for a living, and how long it took us to get here from Vancouver. They already knew that we were Canadian, and in Accettura for no particular reason. The next night, in reply to his “buonasera”, they all enthusiastically called out “Ciao!” They were clearly his buddies now. 

Photos: Basilicata countryside, Accettura street views, Piazza del Popolo, water buffalo produce decadent mozzarella di bufala

© Leslie Wilkes 2016