Secret Basilicata ~ You Need To Know About The Orangery Retreat

I always talk about making your trip to Italy a mix of visiting the big sites and getting off the beaten track. My book Glam Italia! 101 Fabulous Things to Do in Rome: Beyond the Colosseum, the Vatican, the Trevi Fountain, and the Spanish Steps tells you about places to slip away and find absolute magic away from the crowds in Rome, but I am often asked about other places around Italy to put into a travel itinerary.

Today I want to tell you about a truly special place to add to your Italy travel plans.

A few years ago I fell in love with Basilicata when visiting the town of Matera. If you imagine Italy being the shape of a boot, Puglia makes up the heel of the boot, Calabria is the toe of the boot, and in between the two the instep of the boot is Basilicata.

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For centuries Basilicata was somewhat cut off from the rest of Italy, so it is lesser known than the other regions, and is possibly the least touristed of them all too. Which puts it at the top of my list of must see places!

This summer at the end of my June Glam Italia Tour I snuck off to Basilicata for a few days of rest and relaxation before coming home. While there I didn’t see a single tour bus, flag waving tour guide or t-shirt shop. Instead I met the local people, had fabulous food and wine and travel experiences, visited some amazing sites and made a friend who it felt like I had already known forever.

The Lovely Martine

bath inside a cave at the Bergamot, Orangery Retreat, Tursi
This bath though….

This photo caught my eye a couple of years ago, and haunted me ever since. It is from the Orangery Retreat in a town called La Rabatana in southern Basilicata. I became obsessed with the idea of taking a bath here, surrounded by candles. From the photo I couldn’t decide if it was in a cave of a giant fireplace, but it looked so incredible, so different, I just had to find a way to get there!

arriving at the Orangery Retreat in La Rabatana
Blurry selfie taken with Martine when I arrived at the Orangery Retreat. I was exhausted and had bags under my eyes, but so happy to finally meet her!

Through social media I tracked down the owner, a fun, gorgeous and incredibly inspiring lady named Martine, whose story is the stuff of dreams. We became social media friends, and funnily enough by the time I actually met her in person it felt like I had already known her forever. Some people carry that kind of magic in their pocket, the ability to immediately connect with other humans and make you feel as if you’ve always known each other.

Martine’s story is glorious. She is from the U.K, had a huge career in the wine industry as well as owning her own high end catering business, and gave it all away to move to southern Basilicata and pursue a dream.

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La Rabatana

La Rabatana, Tursi, Basilicata

Martine discovered the town of Tursi, and the mostly abandoned town of La Rabatana that sits above it. Built by the Arabs in the early 800s and abandoned by them 400 years later, this little town on the hill has had a fascinating history. Life unfolded across the centuries here, and at some point in the late 1960s/early 1970s the inhabitants moved down the hill to the new, modern town of Tursi, leaving most of La Rabatana empty and falling into ruin.

Martine fell in love with the place and bought an old house that was missing walls here and there, didn’t have all of the roof, and in some places had no floor. It was 1000 years old and was in need of some serious love and attention.

the courtyard and arab arches at the Mandarin, Orangery Retreat in Basilicata
The courtyard leading to the Mandarin apartment at the Orangery Retreat.

When I looked at the “before” pictures I just couldn’t see how Martine had been able to envision the home she went on to create. It is phenomenal! She keeps doing this over and over too, rescuing old, run down houses and turning them into vacation rentals and homes that are so special, so unique, so wonderful that it is impossible to only think of staying there once!

The Orangery Retreat

While her other properties are in various stages of restoration, Martine has two vacation rentals available, the Bergamot and the one I stayed in, the Mandarin.

Convent of San Francesco in Tursi
View of the abandoned convent/monatsery of San Francesco, seen from my balcony at the Mandarin as the sun is setting

Both share a breathtaking view across the gorge to an abandoned monastery and beyond that to the piercingly blue Ionian Sea. Both are a combination of modern convenience (dishwashers and washing machines, well appointed cook’s kitchens and chic bathrooms) with ancient history.

freestanding bath at the Mandarin Apartment, Orangery Retreat, Basilicata
The Mandarin apartment also has a freestanding bath.

Rough stone walls, floors made of centuries old local tiles, old fountains, very old concrete sinks, freshly plumbed and offset with faucets found in estate sales across the region. An attention to detail that I will never possess but was astounded by each day.

One of the things I adored about the Mandarine was in addition to an indoor bedroom there was also an outdoor one.

like a moroccan riad, the ooutdoor bedroom at the Mandarin apartment at the Orangery Retreat in Tursi, basilicata is completely beautiful
The outdoor bedroom at the Mandarin

Inspired by Moroccan Riads and painted in local colors, with a fountain and pink and white tiled floor, this beautiful space gives you the option of sleeping under the stars, under the beautiful Basilicata sky, the midnight blue of which has become the screen saver when I close my eyes at night.

dinner at the Orangery Retreat in Basilicata. Local tomatoes and deep fried cheese served with Primitivo
local tomatoes made into a salad with fresh basil, topped with fried cheese bites, served with fresh bread and Primitivo wine

Evenings at the Mandarin were spent enjoying fabulous local wines from an estate in nearby Montalbano paired with Martine’s divine cooking, looking out over the candlelit Arab archways on her property.

candlelit archways at night at the Mandarin, Orangery Retreat, La Rabatana
The archways lit with candles.

Morning coffee was sipped here too, as no matter how hot the town was below, the soft La Rabatana breeze cooled the patio and channeled its way through the arches.

It was like being in heaven.

So lovely in fact that Vogue has been there and featured it, weddings happen there and are photographed there, evening advertising campaigns have been shot here. This place is unique.

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fresh fruit at the Orangery Retreat in Tursi
Apricots and nectarines from the neighbors gardens

Most days at least one of the neighbors would pop in to see Martine with a bowl of fruit from their garden, some wild asparagus, or even freshly picked wild capers from the surrounding hills. It was like living inside Under The Tuscan Sun or Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence. Everything we ate was local and fresh and in season.

olives, cheese and fresh sausage at the Orangery Retreat in Basilicata
Welcome snack of olives, local cheese and fresh sausage, served with Prosecco at the Orangery Retreat

The next door neighbor made homemade sausage for us to snack on when I arrived, another evening a neighbor dropped by with a bottle of Prosecco for an aperitivo and some of Martine’s fabulous antipasti. I think one of the reasons staying the Orangery Retreat has resonated so deeply with me is that quite apart from its staggering beauty and history, you feel like you are living inside the local life, not just observing it from afar.

On top of that you sleep your deepest, truest sleeps at the Orangery, the weight of the world falling from your shoulders long before you tumble into the most comfortable beds in the world. It isn’t hard to see why the Orangery has a 9.8 rating on Booking.com!

Reading through the comments in the guest book I saw that everyone feels the same way I do about the experience, and apparently all of us are planning our return.

There is so much to see and do in the area, some of which will find their way into upcoming blog posts.

Getting There

Although The Orangery Retreat and Martine had been on my radar for ages, I had somewhat stupidly put off going because I thought it would be tricky to get to. Not so at all!

Basilicata doesn’t have an airport or a major high speed train hub. Some guests arrive on regional trains and are met at the station. Others arrive by car.

In a quirky twist of fate my Glam Italia Tour ended in Venice instead of Rome, so I traveled from the north of the country down to the very south. In a different set of circumstances I would plan my Basilicata adventures to begin from the Amalfi Coast, Puglia or at least Rome!

My route involved flying to Bari and driving 90 minutes across Puglia and Basilicata on velvet roads that run between fields of olive trees, some of them hundreds of years old. It was so beautiful! My other thought had been to take the high speed train to Salerno and rent a car there.

Before you get panicked about driving in Basilicata – this is not at all like driving anywhere else in Italy! The roads are wide open, well signed and perfectly maintained, and it is a very easy drive. You won’t find much traffic as this is not a densely populated area. I was surprised at just how easy it was to drive there.

See more about the Orangery Retreat in Basilicata on Instagram here and on Facebook here. Visit the website and blog here. You can also find them on Booking.com

Orangery Retreat, basilicata
Leaving the Orangery Retreat feeling relaxed, rejuvenated and refreshed

Do you need help planning your trip to Italy? Or maybe just need some help when you get there? My first book Glam Italia! How To Travel Italy: Secrets To Glamorous Travel (On A Not So Glamorous Budget) helps you with everything from finding great flights, deciding how long to stay in each location, using the trains, shopping tips and much, much more. It has become a best seller and has helped people all over the world create the trip of a lifetime. You can order your copy anywhere in the world on Amazon.com

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Airplane Etiquette ~ What You Need To Know Before You Fly

flight attendants

Spend enough time on planes and you will be horrified at the way some other travelers behave. Most people however are unaware their behavior is offensive and would be embarrassed if they knew. Sitting next to someone doing any of the following things can ruin your flight, but not only do you not want to sit next to this person, you don’t want to be them!

With that in mind let’s look at some airplane etiquette items, to help you become the ideal traveler.

1. Take A Shower!

I don’t know why this even needs to be said, but for the love of God take a shower the morning you are flying! You may think you smell fine, but that musty smell people get when they haven’t showered is gross. Especially when you are trapped next to it on a long flight. Or any flight.

2. Use Deodorant

Again, really?? I had a lady argue with me about this on a travel forum recently. She said why bother when you will jut be sitting there next to strangers anyway? Here is why – B.O is gross. No one should have to smell your B.O on a flight.

3. Wear Clean Clothes

Even if you have been backpacking for 6 months you can find a basin, some water and some soap and at least wash a t-shirt and some undies a couple of days before you fly. Being stuck on a plane next to someone who is smelly is just plain awful, and unfair.

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4. Dress Appropriately

The first thing to think about is being comfortable and warm when you fly, but you also need to be appropriately dressed. Don’t have your boobs half hanging out, your belly out, short shorts etc. Do all of that at home by all means, but on a flight you need to think of others too.

I was stuck next to a girl in a crop top recently, and her belly rolls were all over the place, with her bare skin not only squishing into our shared armrest, but also flopping over into my seat space.

Some airlines won’t let you on if you are inappropriately dressed, others don’t care.

5. Don’t Pick Your Nose, Ears or Any Other Body Part.

This is just basic decent manners. If you need to get something out of your nose/ear/bandaid/other body part, go to the bathroom and do it there. It is so unbelievably gross to be stuck next to a picker.

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6. No Manspreading.

Dudes, I get it – you want to spread your legs, claim someone else’s space, and draw attention to your crotch. But for God’s sake, cool it. Your space is what falls between the arm rests, nothing beyond that. So keep your leg out of the aisle and out of the person next to you’s space. It doesn’t make you look like an alpha male, it makes you look somewhere between insecure and rapey, especially if you are sitting next to a female.

manspreading.

I have exactly zero problem telling any dude to get his leg out of my space, but plenty of women get intimidated (which is probably why you do it) and won’t say anything. It’s not cool, so stop it.

7. Stay In Your Own Lane

Keep your body inside your seat. Your thighs don’t belong in my seat, your arms don’t belong there either. We all have paid for the space that lies between the armrests, so you need to keep all of you inside that space.

If you have a window or aisle seat you can lean to the side or adjust yourself to get comfortable. The person in the middle seat has nowhere to go so they get both armrests – it’s only fair.

Also, keep your hair out of other people’s business.

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8. Keep Your Feet On The Floor

bare feet on airplane
oh come onnnn!

You may be all up on your comfort game, but feet need to stay on the floor. Whether bare feet or in socks, it is never ok to put your feet up on the seats or on the armrests of the seat in front of you.

bare feet on airplane
this is rude, inconsiderate and plain gross.

9. Don’t Bring Smelly Food On Board

I’m a huge advocate of bringing healthy snacks when you fly. Sometimes you wind up bringing something more substantial on the plane with you, but just make sure its not smelly.

Tuna Salad Sandwich

Be considerate of others when bringing food on board. Tuna sandwiches, fast foods, Chinese food – smelly foods don’t only bother the people sitting immediately around you, but also stink out that entire section of the plane. The smell of McDonalds remnants is even more gross 3 hours into a flight than when you board with it.

While we are on food, also don’t bring messy foods that you can spill on someone. I have had starbucks tipped on me, and pho splashed on me. It’s not fair, don’t bring them on board.

10. Take Out Your Trash

trash left on airplane
On what planet is this considered acceptable??

Before landing the flight attendants always come by with trash bags to collect any refuse you have. Rather than dropping trash on the floor, put it in the bag. If you have been sticking dirty tissues etc in the seat back pocket, now is the time to trash them. Don’t leave a mess behind.

Sunset In Rome ~ You Need To Know Where To Watch It From

Most tourists get so caught up in the hustle and bustle happening at street level in Rome that they don’t realize just how completely gorgeous Roman sunsets are. There’s too much going on: too many people, too much history, too many breathtaking sights – Rome is a glorious sensory overload.

late afternoon in Rome at the Forum
This is not my photo – check out @RomeGreatbeauty on Instagram

It is easy to lose yourself in the sheer majesty of the city and miss the delicate moments she has to offer. Sunset is one of those moments. If you know where to go you can get up high and watch the apricot veil drape over the city, making the ancient ruins and the Baroque buildings glow in the near ethereal light. The soft haze starts drifting upwards, as if 3000 years’ worth of souls are floating up into the evening sky.

Castel Sant' Angelo at sunset
Castel Sant’ Angelo at sunset via @takemyhearteverywhere on Instagram

After years of traveling to and from Rome I have learned to make sure I am somewhere fabulous at the end of the day to watch the sun set over the Eternal City.

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In my book Glam Italia! 101 Fabulous Things To Do In Rome I devote an entire chapter to the 7 best places to watch the sunset in Rome.

One of them is in my neighborhood, the Trastevere.

Walk to the end of via Geofreddi Mamelli, go up the stairs through the park-like surrounds and follow the road to the Garibaldi Monument.

sunset on the janiculum hill in Rome
My favorite place to be in Rome at suset is up here, on the Janiculum Hill at the Garibaldi Monument

This is the Janiculum Hill. From the viewing points you can look out across Rome and spot every monument and building you have visited that day. You get an incredible perspective on how small the heart of Rome really is. The first time I went up here I was shocked to see how close the Monument Vittore Emanuele II (the Wedding Cake Building) and the Roman Forum are to the Pantheon.

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View of Rome from the Janiculum Hill in the late afternoon
Just before sunset, from the Janiculum Hill on my iPhone

This is my favorite place in Rome to watch the sunset, for two reasons. Firstly you are across the river (Tras-tevere) so you are looking out at Rome rather than from within Rome.

the dome of St Peter's in Rome at sunset, from the Garibaldi Monument
The sun setting over the dome of St Peters, seen from the Garibaldi Monument on the Janiculum Hill

Secondly you are behind the Dome of St Peters, so rather than looking and photographing into the light you can watch the sun turn the dome into a magnificent apricot-orange ball. I don’t even know how many times I have come up here to watch it, but it has never lost any of the magic.

Rome's Garibaldi Monument at sunset via @tonyhofvander on Instagram
Rome’s Garibaldi Monument at sunset via @tonyhofvander on Instagram

You don’t really see tourists up here. You will meet lots of locals, walking their dogs, going on dates, stopping to enjoy the view. The American school and the Spanish school are nearby, so sometimes you will run into college kids.

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Sunset up on the Janiculum Hill is peaceful and beautiful and gives you a lovely respite from the hubbub of the busy city. On the way back down the hill there are wine bars and restaurants to stop at, or you can walk into the Trastevere itself where there are endless eateries to choose from.

early evening drinks with a view of rome from the Janiculum Hill
Post sunset drinks and snacks up on the Janiculum Hill in Rome

The Janiculum Hill is across the river from the heart of Rome, and is an easy walk from anywhere in central Rome.

Find out more about the best places to watch the sunset in Rome in my new book Glam Italia! 101 Fabulous Things To Do In Rome, available worldwide on Amazon.com

Want to know where to find the Best Rooftop Bars in Rome? Download my free PDF here.

Follow @takemyhearteverywhere on Instagram

Follow @RomeGreatBeauty on Instagram

Follow @tonyhofvander on Instagram

101 Fabulous Things To Do In Rome Book
My new book Glam Italia! 101 Fabulous Things To Do In Rome is now available worldwide on Amazon.com

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