Ancient town of Matera (Sassi di Matera) at dusk, Basilicata, southern Italy

This town wants life to be more than pasta and a selfie…

Matera, in beautiful Southern Italy, is a UNESCO World Heritage listed town. Unlike many towns with this prestigious honor, which aim to capitalize by inviting guests by the millions, Matera doesn’t want any tourists, ever. Don’t take our word for it, the Mayor proclaimed these exact very words to the New York Times. Apparently, they’re not the only one…

Italy, much like nearby Spain and France, is suffering from a very fortunate problem, but a problem indeed. Too many people want to come visit, and it’s changing the landscape for locals. From higher housing prices due to Airbnb to a drain on natural resources and costs, tourism carries major challenges.

Gravina in Puglia, Bari, Italy: landscape at sunrise of the old town and the ancient aqueduct bridge (viadotto Madonna della Stella) over the deep ravineIn the dreamy Cinque Terre of Northern Italy, local government voted in 2015 to limit the number of visitors to 1.5 million per year, in hopes of ending congestion and ruining the very reason people sought the region out: natural, local beauty. Now things are moving South.

Matera, Italy, sits in the Basilicata region of Southern Italy, an area which is receiving quite a lot of attention in 2019, mainly because it will soon be named the European Capital of Culture by the European Union itself. No big deal, no pressure. The honor has travelers scrambling to take in the breathtaking caves and untouched cityscapes before mainstream tourism takes over.

Ancient town of Matera (Sassi di Matera) at dusk, Basilicata, southern ItalyKnow this: getting there requires a bit of effort. The closest nearby airport is Bari, and the fastest route will still take over an hour upon landing. Once there, don’t expect to get around town on any high speed mass transit options either. This untouched, largely poor and native region is steeped in 8,000 years of Italian soul – and that’s exactly why Mayor Raffaello De Ruggieri is sending a clear message. Don’t come. The full New York Times article is highly worth a read.

“We don’t want tourists.”

Matera doesn’t want to become a city where electronic street sweepers polish away character, or where selfie sticks line up to capture the dramatic hillsides at dusk. The region aims to limit tourism numbers via a €19 charge, which also demands that travelers leave something meaningful behind. Whatever the wishes of the mayor and Lucani (people of Basilicata), this is one fantastic place. Not seeing it may be an even greater crime than angering its mayor.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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