Mother-Daughter Travel Series: Joanne & Kay in Matera

Our third Mother-Daughter Travel Story comes from Joanne, in the summer of 2012 when her Mom gave her the best 30th Birthday gift: a trip to Italy!

My Mom and I never really got on when I was younger. We were like chalk and cheese. But as I grew up we bonded over our mutual love for good food, wine and culture. I lived in the city and Mom lived in the Welsh countryside. She loved coming to visit me and I’d also take us on weekends away to different cities in England to go shopping, enjoy a meal, do a walking tour and go to the theatre.

In my late twenties I made a life changing decision to give up my law career and retrain as a hypnotherapist. My boyfriend and I broke up and I was saving up for my own place. It was a difficult 3 years as I was in school every weekend, which left little time for visits with Mom. Still, she was always there to lend a supportive ear. Reassuring me that I deserved to be happy and do something I loved. I would call her every morning on our respective commutes to work and often have a good cry as I was so exhausted.

I was so relieved when the summer break came in June 2012 and Mom asked me if I would be able to take time off around my Birthday in August to go home for a visit. I agreed this would be a really good idea. A month later my Mom asked if she could visit me to do some summer vacation clothes shopping. When she arrived she said it would be a good idea if I did too and handed me a card.

“It’s not my Birthday for another month?”

“I know”, said Mom “but I want you to have this early Birthday present. Just open it”.

Inside were plane and hotel tickets to Italy! I jumped up and down and hugged Mom. Ecstatic I looked through the details in the envelope. We would be traveling to Matera in Southern Italy and staying in a cave hotel carved into the rocky mountainside. For the first time, just the two of us, would be taking a girl’s trip. I knew about this city as my Mom and I had a mutual friend who was from the area and had told us all about the Sassi region and both my Mom and I had always dreamt about visiting.

Matera is now the European Capital of Culture for 2019 but when we traveled in 2012 it was not very well known outside of Italy as a tourist destination. I had to learn Italian, fast. Mom and I purchased our audio courses and got to work.

The month flew by and before I knew it we were sipping Prosecco on the plane. When we landed in Barri airport the heat hit us right away and I felt all the stresses and tensions of the previous years just drop to the tarmac beneath me. Driving in Italy is an adventure in itself but somehow we made it down to Matera thanks . We stepped out onto cobbled streets as the summer sun began to set and cast chocolate orange shadows down all the narrow side streets. Tiny buildings nestled in the rocks winding round and round like a sandcastle with bold purple and pink flowers climbing the walls. The smell of slow cooked tomatoes, garlic and crusty bread surrounded us. Everyone from ages one to hundred was sitting out at the piazzas chatting animatedly, kissing one another and drinking red wine or caffe freido. A quick freshen up and we were out to join them.

Our drinks arrived with complimentary stuzzichini (little appetizers like olives and prosciutto). They were the best tasting things either of us had eaten and they were just Matera’s equivalent of some bar nuts to go with our wine!

Our friend Catia and her Mom, Lucia came to visit us for the evening. It was lovely to meet her and even though our Italian was as sparse as her English, we got on great. I'm sure the wine helped.

Many of the restaurants just happened to have their own olive groves and vineyard that they produced their house oil and wine and I can honestly say I didn’t even have a single mediocre meal or drink the entire trip. Neither Mom nor I could manage the traditional multi course meal with full past dish as just the appetizer and everywhere we went we were offered little surprises to try before or after our meals.

There were some times when we weren’t eating and drinking! We spent them exploring the Sassi - the name given to the the stone city carved into the rocks with snaking streets stacked on top of one another. An area occupied for at least 3 millennia and some historians suggest could be one of the oldest continually occupied settlements in the world. Everywhere we walked were ancient rock carvings and frescos painted on the stone. Little churches and museums were dotted all over the place. We butchered the Italian language but everyone was so patient with us and loved to chat to us wherever we went, telling us their personal stories about their relationship with the Sassi. Most of the business owners didn’t live there, as the government had paid or pushed a lot of people to relocate for preservation reasons. In the day the Sassi looks like you could be in Jerusalem a thousand years ago and at night all the thinking colored lights make it look like a nativity scene.

To escape the heat we toured the underground stalagmite caverns and took a day trip to the beach. We wrote our postcards in a cafe on top of the library where the view was even more breathtaking than the pictures on the cards we were sending.

I never wanted the trip to end. Mom looked so beautiful and relaxed: she was in her element. This perfect little place that had everything that we both loved to share gave us memories we both dream about to this day and I hope I will remember for the rest of my life. I made Mom a scrapbook as a Thank You for choosing such a magical trip and for choosing me as her travel partner. We now live oceans apart, me in the US and her still back in Wales and although we still visit one another a couple of times a year, whenever we miss each other, we always think of Matera.

For anyone thinking of visiting Matera, please wait a couple of years as the area has been inundated with tourists this year. For all the mothers and daughters wanting a taste of that Souther Italy food and wine, there are so many other wonderful places in Puglia to visit in the meantime.

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