Luxe Lodging Where You Least Expect It: Italian Caves!
December 10, 2012
As you start planning your vacations for 2013, you might want to add this incredible hotel to your list. Set within 9,000-year-old grottoes in Matera, Italy, Sextantio is a new property that offers a rustic yet luxurious experience. The caves lie within a stunning rocky canyon in the Basilicata region, which has a long history of poverty and blight. This hotel, spearheaded by the Italian-German philanthropist Daniele Kihlgren, will bring tourists to the area while also ensuring the caves are preserved. Continue.
Called the Sassi (stones) of Matera, the underground grottoes are a UNESCO heritage site and represent the largest and most intact troglodyte settlement in the Mediterranean area. Up until the 20th century, the area housed families who lived with as many as 20 members, along with animals and chickens, in one room with no running water or electricity. In the 1950s, these disturbing conditions pushed the Italian government to move most of the Sassi dwellers into social housing in the newer part of the city, leaving the grottoes to drug users and even prostitutes.
Today, thanks to Kihlgren, 18 of the grottoes are being rehabilitated. Each stone was meticulously lifted to install systems for heating, electricity, and running water. Then, they were put back in place, leaving intact their uneven surface laced with Stone Age shells and fossilized insects. The doors and shutters were recovered from the village; there are no glass windows, and the little light that gets into the caves is supplemented mainly by candles. Any layers of plaster added in the 20th century were removed.
From furniture made of wood fragments to hand-woven linens, all materials and techniques employed were local and traditional. Exceptions were made for the egg- shaped bathtubs— by Philippe Starck—and a few sleek washbasins in rooms where Kihlgren was unable to install antique troughs from neighboring farms. Other furnishings include stools once used for milking cows, cast iron pots, and wrought iron beds. Overall, the rooms are meant to recall the “pauper look” of historic homes in the area. Any superfluous elements were avoided; so were mini refrigerators and televisions.
The hotel serves breakfast in one of the nearby stone churches, which offers sweeping views of Gravina’s rocky valley. Nothing gets between the visitor and the wild canyon landscape. Here, luxury equals simplicity.
All images courtesy of Sextantio Le Grotte della Civita Albergo Diffuso