How To Spend The Summer In Italy For Free!

How would you like to live in Italy for 3 months, for free??

I know I would dearly love to. I found out about this incredible opportunity and unfortunately I can’t take advantage of it. It happens across the time I have my Glam Italia Tours, and on top of that my son starts college in the fall, so I have to be here.

But can you imagine yourself sipping your cappuccino every morning in an ancient piazza, living in a centuries old home, cooking with the locals and spending balmy summer evenings with a glass of wine under the shade of a 500 year old tree and a view to die for?? Not only can it happen, but it can happen FOR FREE!!

ancient buildings in the southern Italian town of Grottole in Basilicata
Grottole, Basilicata

Italy’s Shrinking Villages

Italy has a problem. Up and down the country its magical, beautiful little villages are becoming ghost towns. With not enough local work to support the young folk, they are having to move either to the big cities or to other countries in order to make a living. As the older generations head heavenward these picture postcard, gorgeous little towns and villages are being left close to empty.

More than half of Italy’s small towns are likely to be deserted in the next few decades. Approximately 2430 of them are considered to be at risk.

Airbnb Has A Plan

Airbnb has come up with a brilliant plan to stop these idyllic villages from falling into ruin, starting with the revitalization of one darling little town.

They announced this week that they are going to sponsor four people to have an unique opportunity to live in the little town of Grottole for 3 months, experiencing real, authentic Italian life. I die. Can you even imagine???

The village of Grotole in Basilicata, Italy. Win the opportunity to live here for 3 months for free
The village of Grottole in Basilicata, Italy

“Selected candidates will become temporary citizens of the village and will volunteer for a local non-profit organisation called “Wonder Grottole” whose aim is to revitalise the town’s historical centre,” it said in its call for applications.

The Italian Sabbatical – Your New Country Life In Grottole

Escape the hustle and bustle of the city and become a temporary citizen of a village in the south of Italy. Immerse yourself in the local culture and discover how to speak, act and cook the Italian way. You will also get to support the local community by hosting an Airbnb Experience. Your goal? To help the local community revitalize the small village of Grottole.

Candidates must be over 18, be available to move to Grottole for 3 months, from June to August 2019, and have a good knowledge of English.

Ancient ruins in the southern Italian town of Grottole in Basilicata. Win a 3 month sabbatical in Grottole - live in Italy for free for 3 months!
Ancient ruins in the southern Italian town of Grottole in Basilicata

The village’s four newest residents will be announced on March 29, 2019.It says the small village, which is near Matera, the 2019 Capital of Culture, has only 300 inhabitants and more than 600 houses standing empty.

Airbnb paints an idyllic picture of life in the village, promising days beginning with cappuccino and a language lesson before meeting a cast of bee-keeping, olive-oil producing residents.

But while it sounds like a holiday, Airbnb expects the four new “residents” to complete training to become Airbnb Experience Hosts who’ll go on to work for Wonder Grottole.

The chosen four will be expected to completely immerse themselves in the local culture, studying Italian, working in the community garden, and learning to cook traditional recipes, before then passing on their newfound knowledge to the influx of visitors Airbnb Italy is hoping will then descend on the village.

Grottole Basilicata castle on the hill.
Grottole’s castle

We have to create a system, or the many Grottoles across Italy will continue to remain hidden gems,” said Matteo Frigerio, Country Manager of Airbnb Italy. 

This system, it’s hoped, will breathe new life into the village which is currently heading for extinction.

Where Is Grottole?

map of southern Italy showing Puglia, Basilicata, Calabria and Campagna. Map shows Naples, Matera and Bari

This is super exciting. Grottole is in Basilicata, the region that makes up the instep of Italy’s boot. The village is only an hour drive from Matera, one of my favorite towns in the world! (see related posts about Matera here, here and here ). The village is an hour’s drive from the beautiful beaches that make up Basilicata’s Ionian coast. If you love beaches you are also close to another of my favorite parts of Italy, the neighboring region of Puglia, and its magnificent coastlines. (see related post about Puglia). The Amalfi Coast is only a little over 2 1/2 hours drive away, with the town of Salerno giving you fast train access to all of Italy.

“In ten years we’d like to see the village full of people of different cultures perfectly integrated with the local community” said Silvio Donadio, founder of Wonder Grottole.

You can apply to win a 3 month sabbatical here: APPLY HERE

11 Things You Must Do In Matera


This past September I took my Glam Italia tour to one of the best places I have ever been. Deep in the heart of Italy’s south, in the region of Basilicata there lies one of the three oldest and most continuously inhabited cities in the world, Matera.
Matera has been populated since paleolithic times.

You can read more about Matera here

Matera needs to be on your bucket list, and while there you absolutely MUST do these 11 things:

11 Things You Absolutely MUST Do In Matera

1. Walk

In order to understand this amazing city you need to walk. And walk and walk. Up and down and around the rabbit warren that is the Sassi.


When you walk the Sassi you will discover that it is an optical illusion – it’s actually quite disorienting! Things look far away, but in fact they are quite close, it’s just that the Sassi is so vertical

Related Post: The Best Shoes And Sandals To Wear In Europe This Summer

2. Take a tour of the Sassi


You can’t come all the way to Matera and not take a guided tour of the Sassi. On the Glam Italia Tours I use Antonio Manicone from Matera Tour Guide. Antonio is the top rated tour guide on Tripadvisor, and with good reason. He is fantastic! I use him for my Glam Tours and I sincerely recommend you use him too.


No guide book can give you the insight into Sassi life that a guide will give you. Antonio’s grandparents lived in the Sassi until they were relocated by the government to the apartments on the other side of Matera. His stories about their life in the Sassi and the social fabric of the community brought an entirely different experience to the tour.


Without a tour it would be incredibly difficult to understand the structure of the homes, and the brilliance of the design of the communities.

You can find Antonio here

3. Visit a Rupestrian church

Santa Maria di Idris, Matera

The Rupestrian cave churches of Matera are sensational, both for their design and for the spectacular frescos inside. In a country overflowing with church art, these take you to an entirely different place. The art is largely Byzantine in style even though much of it was painted in the Middle Ages. The frescos in Santa Maria di Idris will take your breath away

 Find the best hotels in Matera here

4. Stay in a cave hotel

Staying in a cave hotel was such a fabulous experience! We stayed at the beautiful Le Dodici Lune where the ceilings are high, the decor is beautiful and the service is wonderful.

sitting room area inside our cave hotel in Matera

Hotel specialist Alex Polizzi says that you should always know where you are when you wake in a hotel. Most hotels are very much alike and sitting inside that room you could be anywhere. When you wake in a cave hotel in Matera you know exactly where you are. And it’s magical.

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5. Eat in a cave restaurant


Le Dodice Lune has a world class restaurant on the property, in yet another giant cave. The visual is fantastic, second only to the food itself. Local cuisine is fresh and flavorful, and really just sensational!

The staircase down to the wine cellar at Le Dodici Lune in Matera

Pair it with local wines from the Basilicata for the most perfect experience ever.

Book a table at Le Dodici Lune

6. Walk through the Sassi at night


The Sassi is spectacular at night. Take time to stroll through the labyrinth streets after sundown. The city shimmers like a jewelry box, and it’s beautiful!


In the 17th century a man of the cloth wrote that every evening it was customary for every home to put a candle in the window. With so many doors and windows it would look like a sea of light reflected in the stars above. Dalle sassi alle stelle / from the stones to the stars.

Related Post: 10 Reasons Why You Need To Visit Puglia

7. Cross to the other side


From the Sassi you can walk down the gorge and cross a bridge to the other side. There are caves to explore, an unobstructed view of the Sassi, and incredible views of the countryside.

Rail Europe (Americas)

8. Go to a cave house


The cave house of Vico solitaire in Sasso Caveoso gives you insight into the life of the average family living in the Sassi. This cave home housed a family of 11 and their animals. See how the cave was set up as a home, where the kitchen was, where everyone slept, where the animals lived – it’s fascinating!

Train Tickets and Schedules  

9. Visit the crypt of the original sin

This is one of the best things I have ever done.

Image result for crypt of the original sin

Outside of Matera in the middle of nowhere, along the wall of the Gravina di Picciano gorge you will find the Crypt Of The Original Sin, a heavily frescoed cave church that was abandoned in the late 9th century, became overgrown with moss, as was used for centuries as a shelter for shepherds.

Rediscovered in 1963 this cave church holds a fresco cycle that comprise one of the most important examples of early medieval painting in the Mediterranean. The painter is unknown, simply referred to as the flower painter of Matera, but his work is hauntingly beautiful.

Image result for crypt of the original sin

The apses depict saints, and the entire back wall tells the story of Genesis.

If you are someone to whom art speaks, you will understand me when I tell you that when they slowly raised the light on these paintings I had tears rolling down my cheeks.

Photography is forbidden, so images have been sourced from Google. I will be writing a separate post about the crypt.

Related Post: How To Order Coffee In Italy

10. Explore the art galleries

Matera is a delectably artsy town, and is full of cafes, restaurants and little art shops and galleries. It has been named the European Capital of Culture for 2019. When planning your trip to Matera factor in an afternoon for aimless strolling and wander into as many local haunts as you can.

11. Visit The Palombaro Lungo

One of the things I found incredibly fascinating from Antonio’s tours is the Palombaro Lungo, the largest of the sassi’ incredibly clever cisterns dug to capture what rain water the area got. An intricate system of tunnels, caves and water channels captured rain water to be drinking water for the locals. Eels kept the water moving so that it didn’t become stagnant and lime kept it safe to drink.


You can walk 17 meters deep into the cistern which was dug by hand into the rock.

Matera is one of the most spectacular places I have been to, anywhere in the world. If you are staying in Puglia it is super easy to get to Matera, which is only an hour or so drive from Alberobello.  You can take a train from Rome to Bari, grab a rental car and be in Matera in 2-3 hours.

Although a bit remote,  Matera is definitely worth the trip. I hope that you will make it out there one day.

My book Glam Italia! How To Travel Italy: Secrets To Glamorous Travel (On A Not So Glamorous Budget) is a must read for anyone planning a trip to Italy. Get your copy anywhere in the world on

Discovering Matera ~ Into The Sassi


People with an interest in Italian travel generally  have heard of Tuscany and Umbria. But it seems that very few have heard of Basilicata, the dry, mountainous region in the instep of the Italian boot that is bordered by Campania and Calabria on one side, Puglia on the other, and whose southern coastline is on the Ionian sea.

This also means that most people have not heard about one of the most spectacular places I have ever visited, the city of Matera.

The sassi in Matera, waiting for the rain

Matera is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, it’s history dating back to paleolithic time, roughly 10, 000 years ago. 


Matera is famous for it’s ancient cave dwellings which are in the section of the ancient town known as the Sassi. A gorge splits the land wide open and is filled with more than 1500 caves that have been homes since the paleolithic age. In the middle ages many of the larger caves were built out with more traditional house fronts added, during a time when the city thrived.

the gorge rolls down to a flowing river, crossab;e by a rope ans wood bridge.
Matera caves

The more wealthy you were, the higher up the hill your house was, allowing more light to flow in. The poorer you were the lower down the gorge you lived, with the least available light. The lower down the hill the less building there was, until all there were were caves.

looking across the sassi to Santa Maria de Idris church

Consequently most of the exterior building happened higher up the hill.

Matera wasn’t built from the ground up, it was quite ingeniously built from the ground down. They literally dug down even sized blocks of stone to create new houses or rooms.

Rupestrian church Santa Maria de Idris

Some of the caves were built into beautiful rupestrian churches, adorned with their byzantine styled frescoes.

Rupestri church, image via
matera santa maria de idris
iinside Santa Maria de Idris
image via pangea project
 matera santa maria de idris
image via

Photography inside the Rupestrian churches is forbidden, so the fresco images used here are from the web.

santa lucia alle malve
Santa Lucia alle Malve

santa lucia alle malve

The frescoes in the churches are painted in archaic Byzantine styles that are 200 years behind the style of their contemporaries being painted throughout Italy at the same time ( the1300’s), which is a good indication as to how remote and isolated Matera was. But still they are breathtaking. 

the rabbit warren that is the sassi in Matera

The prosperity that Matera knew until the 19th century waned until it eventually became poverty stricken.
In 1935 Mussolini exiled writer and painter Carlo Levi to the Basilicata.  He was tormented by what he saw in Matera, cave homes with 20 plus people and their animals all living in one room, children looking like famine victims with grossly bloated stomachs and skeletal limbs, too disheartened to wipe flies from their eyes. No running water or sewerage, rampant malaria, devastating poverty. 

He wrote the book “Christ Stopped At Eboli” (published in 1945) about what he saw in Matera, a place so cut off from the rest of the country that almost no one in Italy had even heard of it in the 1940’s. For most Italians this was the first they heard about Matera and the dreadful conditions the people were living in. The book struck the very soul of Italy, and for decades was part of the school curriculum.

Christ Stopped at Eboli: The Story of a Year (FSG Classics) 

By the 1950’s Matera had become the shame of Italy. The government built new housing in the upper part of the city, outside of the old town, and started moving families out of the caves and into apartments. The government took over ownership of the sassi, and from the 1960’s until the beginning of 1990 the sassi essentially was abandoned, apart from squatters here and there. 

in the rabbit warren of the sassi every walkway is someone else’s roof

By the early 1990’s people started moving back. The government created a program whereby if you committed to rebuilding and renovating the cave homes you could have them rent free for 30 years, followed by a 99 year lease. This has helped Matera turn into a vibrant, arty, fabulous city that has been named European City Of Culture for 2019.

Walking up to Santa Maria de Idris in Matera during the September 2016 Glam Italia Tour

The sassi became re-gentrified, homes and luxurious hotels were built inside the caves, followed by restaurants, bars and shops. A huge portion of the sassi has been kept intact and unchanged for posterity, and is used in movies that need an ancient feel, such as The Passion Of The Christ. 

Matera of the movies – this section of the sassi remains untouched

The rest has become one of the most chic, unique and fabulous places you will ever visit.

The Glam Italia Tour stayed here at Le Dodice Lune hotel deep in the sassi. See the hotel link below.

Matera is a city that will take your breath away. The combination of the rich history, the brilliance of the architecture and the design of the sassi, the abject poverty turned into successful rehabilitation, and the absolutely exquisite beauty of this place works its way into your heart and leaves you aching to go back.

Where to stay in Matera