You Need To Know About This Abandoned Monastery In Tursi!

It’s hard to imagine that there are still places in Italy that feel undiscovered. Each year Italy gets somewhere between 33 million and 58 million tourists, but the bulk of them stick to the most famous destinations. It amazes me that you can escape the crowds and still find totally incredible places, filled to overflowing with priceless art, history and treasures, without a t-shirt shop in sight!

This year when my June Glam Italia Tours were done I slipped off down to the deepest south, (very) southern Basilicata, to stay with my friend Martine at her idyllic Orangery Retreat. I wrote about the Orangery Retreat here. (Make sure you check this post out – this place is fantastic!)

In case you don’t know where Basilicata is, imagine Italy being the shape of a boot. The long, thin heel of the boot is Puglia, the toe of the boot is Calabria, and the instep, running between the two is Basilicata.

The Orangery Retreat is a series of vacation rental apartments in historical La Rabatana, a hill town just above the town of Tursi. La Rabatana was built in the 800s by the Arabs (Saracens), who ran the show for the next 400 years.

RELATED POST: SECRET BASILICATA – THE ORANGERY RETREAT

The Convento of San Francesco

At some point after they left, a church and monastery, known as the Convento San Francesco, was built across the gorge from La Rabatana, sitting atop its own hill with its own majestic view.

The Convento San Francesco seen from the Mandarin apartments at the Orangery Retreat in Tursi, Basilicata, Italy
View of the Convento San Francesco from the balcony of the Mandarin at the orangery Retreat in Tursi, Basilicata

From the balcony of the apartment I stayed in, the Mandarin, I had a clear view of the convent. Martine told me it was abandoned and had frescoes dating back 700 years. I live for opportunities like this, so the next morning we drove over there to have a look. The Convento is only 5 minutes drive from Martine’s resort, plus another few minutes walk along an undriveable road.

The town of La Rabatana in Trsi, Basilicata, southern Italy
Looking back at La Rabatana from the Convento san Francesco

Standing in front of the convent/monastery I looked back across the gorge at La Rabatana and my apartment at the Orangery.

I would love to be able to give you the full run down on the abandoned church and monastery, but google as hard as I might, there seems to be very limited information available about it, and that which I did find was both full of holes and what appear to be some inaccuracies. Which just makes it even more fascinating.

My heart was pounding as we walked in – Martine wasn’t kidding when she said it was abandoned!

walking into the abandoned church at the Convento San Francesco in Tursi, Basilicata

It has also been raided.

Interior of Convento San Francesco in Tursi, Basilicata

I saw one blog post about the convent that said it was abandoned in 1914, but somehow I think it was possibly long before then. This place has been stripped to the bones.

There are gaping holes in the floor where tombs used to be.

empty tombs in the Convento San Francesco in Tursi, basilicata
The tomb on the left is where the noble woman was found

Not too long ago a tomb containing a noble woman holding her baby was excavated. Her dress was intact and is in the local museum. I am dying to know who she was, why she was buried in the nave of the church (in terms of hierarchy this is quite significant) and how she and the baby died.

The Art Hiding Inside The Abandoned Church

Inside the Convento San Francesco in Tursi, Basilicata
There are frescoes hiding behind these baroque walls

At some time during the Baroque period, the inside of the church got a retrofit. Huge baroque installations were built over the original frescoes, hiding them for centuries. As the baroque pieces were stolen and carted away frescoes emerged underneath.

hidden frescoes in the abandoned church at the Convento San Francesco in Tursi, basilicata
Hidden frescoes in the church
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frescoes behind the walls in Convento San Francesco, Tursi, Basilicata

Here is where it gets even more interesting. As I researched the convent/monastery I kept seeing a construction date of 1441. But that cannot be correct because frescoes freed from behind the baroque fixtures are dated to 1377.

frescoe in Convento San Francesco, Basilicata, dated to 1377 A.D
Fresco dated A.D. 1377

Similar to the artwork in Matera, which is perhaps an hour drive from Tursi, the style of painting is very Byzantine. This shows just how cut off from the rest of Italy Basilicata really was. This was the era of Giotto. Italy was full of artists painting in a gothic, gilded style. Faces had changed, art had changed. But not in deep Basilicata, where the art movement was two to three hundred years behind.

byzantine art in the Convento San Francesco, and abandoned chhurch in Tursi, basilicata, Italy
Byzantine style fresco, painted in 1377 inside the abandoned church in Tursi

Seeing these frescoes made me feel the same as when I first saw the frescoes in the rupestrian churches in Matera and at the Crypt of the Original Sin. It knocks the wind right out of you, leaves you speechless.

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And how crazy that these treasures sit unprotected in a church that has been stripped? Looking along the length of the wall at the baroque architecture all I could think was how many exquisite paintings are hidden away behind here?

Italy is full of little towns like this, economically disadvantaged but with sensational church art that goes unprotected. In my travels across the country I always get excited to find these churches and have always marveled at how the local people have taken care of them despite a complete lack of funds. So seeing the Convento San Francesco in this terrible state was totally jarring.

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The Abandoned Monastery

Attached to the church is the (also abandoned) monastery. This has been attempted to be repaired but in a particularly nonsensical, grotesque way. Concrete, and badly done concrete at that, defies logic.

ugly concrete restoration destroys the look of the abandoned monastery at Convento San Francesco, Tursi, Italy
Ugly modern concrete restorations at the abandoned monastery make no sense at all.

But you can still walk into the monk’s cells and see where and how they lived, while marveling at their views across the valley below. Unfortunately they now have ugly concrete floors, but it is still pretty fantastic to see.

Window in a monk's cell in the abandoned monastery at Convento San Francesco in Tursi
Room with a view. Inside a monk’s cell in the abandoned monastery at Convento San Francesco
view from monk's cell in the abandoned monastery at Convento San Francesco in Tursi
missing floors inside the abandoned monastery at th Convento san Francesco in Tursi, basilicata
Missing sections of floor and pieces of walls, the interior of the abandoned monastery also feels stripped

Another thing I found interesting with regard to when the Convento was built is the dome on the tower. It looks very Arabesque, which makes me wonder if it predates the 1377 frescoes, or if it was a later addition? I will have to add studying the architectural history of Basilicata to my to do list, just so I can figure this one out!

modern concrete restorations below the dome at Convento San Francesco in Tursi
Ugly concrete making for a surreal restoration attempt of the monastery. Look at the dome and its interesting shape

Next time I stay at the Orangery Retreat in La Rabatana (I seriously cannot wait to get back there!) I want to find a local historian to explain everything here at the Convento to me. And then to take me on a walking tour through the fascinating town of La Rabatana. This place is an absolute treasure trove for anyone interested in history.

Did I mention I cannot wait to go back??

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For more information on the Orangery Retreat see their website here


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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.

10 Best Tips You Need To Know To Sleep On A Plane

Are you one of those lucky people who can fall into a deep sleep on a plane? I used to be, what feels like a lifetime ago, but the past ten or fifteen years I have really struggled with sleeping on planes even on long haul international and night flights.

Air new Zealand Evening flight over clouds
Air New Zealand flight at sunset

When you take long international flights and don’t sleep it can often cost you the first day or two of your trip, with debilitating jet-lag and travel fatigue.

If you can’t fall into a deep sleep when you fly there is still considerable value in getting some quality power naps. The following tips will help you to either get some good naps in during your flight or to get into a decent sleep.

How To Sleep On A Plane

1. Bank Sleep.

Avoid boarding your flight exhausted. The more tired you are the harder it can be to fall asleep. I used to work right up until the last minute and would end up boarding my flight too exhausted to sleep. Then I would be stressing about not getting to sleep, which in turn kept me awake.

Now I bank sleep in the week leading up to my flight. Even catching an extra 15 to 20 minutes sleep per night can make all the difference in the world, and believe it or not actually help you to drift off during the flight.

2. Go Easy On The Booze…

Alcohol can dehydrate you during a flight and stop you from falling into a decent sleep. Ideally don’t drink any alcohol on a flight you want to sleep on, but if you have to have a glass of wine with dinner, stop at one. Sleep specialists disagree with the concept that a few drinks will lull you into sleep, arguing instead that they will keep you awake.

Your body starts to dehydrate while you are flying anyway, but compounding it with alcohol can really make you feel hellish when you land, even if you have drunk yourself into a slumber.

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3. Avoid Salty Snacks

Choose your snacks wisely. Salty snacks like chips and nuts and sugary snacks like cookies, candies and sweetened food bars can also prevent you from sleeping and cause your body to dehydrate and swell up. Your best bet is to pack healthy snacks that are easy to digest and that are low sodium/salt and low sugar, and ignore the salty snacks on the beverage cart.

4. Be Very Careful With Sleeping Pills

Plenty of doctors will write you a prescription for a sleep aid, but proceed with caution. Make sure you take any sleep medication for a test run prior to flying. Some sleep medications can leave you feeling drowsy and lethargic when you land, others don’t end up putting you to sleep and just leave you feeling drugged and foggy.

Be very, very careful not to combine alcohol and sleeping pills as things can really go sideways at 35,000 feet. Be especially careful taking Ambien when you fly. If you have ever witnessed someone get crazy on Ambien you will know what I mean here. Google Ambien Zombies and you will see what I mean. There are endless stories of passengers getting naked, climbing on other passengers, wandering around planes in a drug stupor. And they have zero recollection of it once the drug wears off.

Last summer I had a house sitter go crazy on vodka and Ambien while I was in Italy. She has zero recollection of it, but during a 36 hour rampage wrecked tens of thousands of dollars worth of damage on my house. I had to take out massive loans to get my house fixed. I cannot imagine what would happen if that kind of crazy occurred at 35,000 feet! Technically the flight crew could put the passenger in restraints, but the screaming and carry on would continue throughout the flight. Don’t let that be you.

5. Dress For Comfort

I’m a big believer in looking stylish or at least decent when I fly (always channeling the business class upgrade!) but at the same time dressing comfortably. I avoid flying in jeans or anything too fitted or restricting. Most people swell when they fly, so jeans that are totally comfy on the ground can become torture devices during the flight.

angelina jolie always has perfect travel wardrobe
Angelina Jolie always looks good at the airport, while still dressing for comfort during her flight

If you are flying in the main cabin you have very limited space to get comfortable in so it is important that you aren’t overly constricted by your clothing. Wear layers that you can add on or take off accordingly, and be aware that planes can get very cold. It doesn’t hurt to have a soft sweatshirt or hoodie that you can roll into a pillow. I have yet to find a neck pillow that actually is even remotely comfortable…

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6. Time Your Slumber

This is more of a jet-lag /travel fatigue avoiding measure, but having a plan in place seems to help with actually getting to sleep too.

As soon as your flight takes off change your watch to the local time at your destination, and try to adjust your sleep time accordingly. Try to time your sleep for nighttime at your destination. That can mean trying to sleep during the first half of a flight going east or the second half of a flight going west.

So if you are flying Los Angeles to Singapore, sleep the first half of your flight, and if you are flying Los Angeles to Rome sleep the second half of your flight.

7. Choose Your Seat Wisely

It is definitely worthwhile paying a little extra to choose your seat, and as most travelers are already clued in to this that means booking your seat when you book your flight.

economy cabin boeing 777

Window seats give you a wall to lean against, aisle seats mean you have to get up each time the middle or window seat people want to walk or go to the bathroom.

Exit row seating tends to have more legroom but there is nowhere to store a bag during takeoff and landing.

I use an app called Seat Guru to find the best seat on the plane. Some are too close to the toilets so get both noisy and smelly. Others don’t have full recline or have entertainment units under the seat in front, cancelling out your legroom and ability to stretch.

8. Explore Your Seat

I always see other passengers not using and not knowing about the features their seats offer.

Some planes have seats with more features. Check to see if your headrest bends to hold your head (saving you neck pain). Some seats don’t just recline, but the bottom slides forward, giving you even more comfort. Premium Economy typically has a bar that drops down below the seat in front of you, allowing you to raise your feet. Having your feet raised even a few inches changes not only comfort, but swelling, and can help avoid the dreaded DVT – this is huge. Make sure you are not front row Premium with no seat in front!

RELATED POST: WHAT IS DVT?

There are lots of features on newer plane seats that can make a huge difference in your comfort level, which in turn can help you to sleep. Every little detail counts!

9. Accessorize.

There are a variety of accessories you can bring along to help you get to sleep.

Ear plugs or even better, noise cancelling headphones, not only tune out neighbors conversation but also the incredibly annoying, sleep preventing, engine hum.

Sleep masks will help block the blue light from other passengers’ TV screens.

Fitglam Natural Silk Sleep Mask

Essential oils can help you fall asleep and also knock out any unpleasant smells wafting around. If you suffer from allergies the pressurized air in the cabin can wreck havoc on your sinuses. A little eucalyptus oil on a cotton pad can work wonders to keep you breathing clearly and alleviate sinus pressure, in turn helping you sleep.

BYOB – Bring Your Own Blanket airline blankets can be totally sketchy, so you always want to have a scarf/shawl/pashmina that you can use as a blanket or bundle up in to keep you warm.

10. Download Sleep Apps.

Download a sleep assisting app prior to departing.

From yoga nidra to binaural beats to apps like Sleep Pillow that allow you to create white noise playlists of different water and rain sounds, there are tons of sleep enhancing apps to put on your smartphone.

I have dozed off on plenty of flights listening to the sound of rain pattering away on a tent on my Sleep Pillow app!

Hopefully these tips will help you get some shuteye on your next long haul or overnight flight! If you think of any others please leave them in the comments section below.

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