Participant or Spectator

We recently made a visit to Matera in southern Italy. Matera is an incredible town known for its caves. It is UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is one of the planet’s oldest cities. The caves provided a natural place for early settlers to live, and man has continued to live in them through today. A more “modern” city sits on top of the caves perched on the edge of a gorge, but it is the caves that define this place

The gorge over which Matera sits

It is a remarkable place that has to be experienced to truly appreciate. I think if you went quickly through this city, you would be amazed. But it is in the occupying of the place for a period of time that it works its way into you. Walking around with all the stone from which there is no relief, walking a normal alley only to have stone rise up out of it to heights of 15 feet or more above you, knowing there is some kind of habitation in that stone, you feel like, indeed you are, crawling in and out of the stone as if you were hiking the Grand Canyon. Yet intertwined amongst all this stone is a human habitation, some of it crude, some refined.

The jumble of stone, cave and "modern" buildings

You sense, you feel the harshness of life for so many centuries here. The ever present stone hardness, without relief, makes you hard. You steel yourself to what life imposes, clamp your jaw and soldier on.

And yet, there is something about the indefatigable human spirit that emerges from it all, filling you with awe and inspiration. In spite of all the hardness, There is an admirable, human quality that brings a softness to the spirit. Too, there is an incredible ingenuity evident in how life was pulled from this stone. We talk with Vincenzo, our B&B owner, and the love and passion for Matera oozes from him. He’s proud to have a daughter he will raise here. He is eloquent in describing the life and character and wonder of the place. It is an inspired story.

A normal looking hilltop town that isn't!

I came away from Matera glad we had stayed for several days, glad that it is in our nature to be slow travelers. Yes, spending a day here would have an impact. But not the deep, deep impact it has when you spend time and absorb the history and character that can only be absorbed by staying, feeling and experiencing. This is the beauty of slow travel. You are a participant not just a spectator.


Kristi and Bill Steiner began leading “learning vacations” to Orvieto, Italy in 2003. Through Adventures in Italy they provide a cultural immersion experience. Many trips include the pursuit of some kind of creative work that complements and reinforces exploration of Italy’s culture. Relationships built over the years enable Kristi and Bill to provide experiences that a typical visitor to Orvieto never gets.

Trips are held in May and September/October every year. Their Discover Orvieto and Taste of Orvieto trips are available to groups any time of the year.

Learn more about Kristi and Bill’s trips. Stay abreast of Adventures in Italy developments, and follow Bill’s musings about travel and Italy on his blog Make Haste Slowly. View Bill’s photos of Italy, Orvieto, and other memorable places at, and follow him on Instagram.

Slow Travel Tours is an affiliation of small-group tour operators who offer personalized trips in Italy, France and other European countries.


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