Sextantio Cave Hotel: A Breathtakingly Unique Hotel in the Ancient City of Matera, Italy
Sextantio Le Grotte Della Civita, a cave hotel in Matera, Southern Italy, is one of the most unique and exotic places in the world to stay. It's incredibly romantic, with rooms lit by candlelight that give it such an otherworldly feeling.
The owners who restored this cave hotel, using only traditional methods, wanted to give people the most authentic experience of staying in a cave. While you are there, it's mind-boggling to think that these caves were first occupied 9,000 years ago.
- Incredibly Romantic
- Unique – where else can you stay in a room that was first occupied 9,000 years ago?
No bathroom privacy. No useful mirror.
No lunch, dinner or room-service
Matera is 5,000 years older than Rome and has been continuously inhabited for the last 9,000 years, making it the third oldest city in the world.
People first settled in Matera in Paleolithic times when woolly mammoths roamed the earth. Think about that for a few minutes, now imagine being in a cave and watching woolly mammoths walking by. How mad is that?
Around the Iron and Bronze Ages, the inhabitants, using metal tools, dug into the landscapes of soft volcanic stone to create cave dwellings, which we can see today.
Located in the Basilicata region of Italy, Matera is in the arch of the boot and is the most outstanding example of a troglodyte (cave dwellers) settlement in the Mediterranean region.
Sextantio Le Grotte della Civita translates to English as Sextantio The Civita Caves.
Sextantio, formerly a 13th-century medieval monastery, has 18 rooms, six of which are suites. They are spread out through the oldest part of the Sassi (the Italian word for stones – everyone refers to that area as the Sassi).
The once medieval church serves as a communal dining room with furnishings similar to what the monks would have used. The reception area is in a cave once used to raise animals.
A considerable part of the restoration of Sextantio is to keep everything as authentic as possible. The company that owns the hotel studied archival photos and oral history — even employing the help of an anthropologist — to reconstruct the rooms.
They wanted to have a minimal impact on the Unesco World Heritage site and keep the original character of the caves. Free-standing beds, baths, and other furnishings do not change the shape and uniqueness of each of the caves.
Everything is rustic and feels authentic. No lights, only candles.
The flagstones of the floors in each cave were taken up by hand and numbered. Underfloor heating was installed, and the stones were placed back in their original position.
Furniture was made from reclaimed materials found in cellars and landfills. Mattresses are set on wooden planks and have blankets made in the local tradition. Soaps and candles are also locally handmade.
The designs are simple to honor the lives of the people who once lived and worked there.
You can see the owners were passionate about the restoration project not as a gimmick to draw attention but to be experienced by people worldwide.
With that minimalist approach, there are no televisions, mini-bars, mirrors (not even in the bathroom), rugs, and glass in the window or curtains (they have wooden shutters).
When we checked in, what was funny was the size of the key they gave us; it was giant! We struggled to get the key to work in the big wooden door, but it was fun and part of the experience.
The window above the door is open (no glass), and the staff comes in to close the wooden shutters in the evening. We were there in January 2022, and it was freezing and raining, but the room was incredibly cozy.
Where else can you stay in a room that was first occupied 9,000 years ago?
The Vibe of Sextantio
I wasn't sure about the bed on wooden planks, but it was pretty comfortable, and the bedding was lovely. We had a small dining table with chairs that were set for two.
Candlelight is amazing for highly sensitive people; I have had baths by candlelight, which was lovely, but staying here you don't have a choice, it's all the time.
Being forced into that calming light made an impression on me. It automatically relaxes you and gives you a sense of peace. Reading a book by candlelight in complete silence is wonderful.
Staying at Sextantio was very quiet, and while Matera was not overrun with tourists, quite a few people were staying at the hotel. Even though there was no glass in the window, I didn't hear much, which surprised me.
Everything was tranquil. I visited in January, so I can't speak about what the summer months would be like, but if you are highly sensitive, traveling during the summer is not a great idea anyway.
Breakfast is served in the old medieval church and is a gorgeous buffet spread. The cakes were so lovely, I kept going back for more. The rustic tables and chairs create a relaxed ambiance that we enjoyed taking our time over breakfast before heading out for the day.
It was such a lovely space, I could have had a three-hour breakfast but since it's on the smaller side they serve breakfast in groups. You chose when you check in which time you would like. You have to finish and be out before the next group but you do have lots of time, it didn't feel rushed.
Be prepared for this hotel before you go. There are some things that you should be aware of ahead of time.
If you are getting ready to go out for dinner in the evening, you will get ready by candlelight with whatever mirror you brought yourself. The one in our room was pretty much useless, it was an antique. You can imagine that might not be your best look (there is a hairdryer). Also, the bathroom is on the other side of a stone divider, but no door. That translates into whoever is in the room with you will hear absolutely everything from the bathroom.
My one complaint about the hotel is that they don't have a restaurant. You have no option for lunch, dinner, or room service.
Each morning they leave a bowl of fruit and a jug of water in your room which is excellent. There is a small menu where you can order drinks delivered to your room.
Remember there is no mini-bar, so bring snacks that don't need to be refrigerated. You can pre-order a dinner served in the old church, but it's a special event type thing, contact the hotel prior to your visit to get more information about that.
I really would have loved to order room service. After a day of walking and visiting various parts of the city, we missed lunch and wanted an early dinner.
Many restaurants are not open for dinner at 5 pm; some open at 6:30 pm, and some at 7 pm.
Italians eat very late, so if you are that early, you either can't find a restaurant or are the only ones there. We were exhausted, and then having to walk around trying to find a restaurant made us somewhat grumpy. It was raining, and we were going up and down steps looking.
That was totally on us, we should have organized our day better, but it would have been really lovely to go back to the room and order food service.
You can use a service like Uber Eats to deliver food to reception, but we didn't realize that.
I wouldn't say I like the open-concept bathrooms; it makes no sense. However, in this hotel's case, they couldn't block off a section of the cave without changing the character.
It would not have worked if they put a door up, and they would have lost the authentic feeling. You are in a cave, and it feels that way.
I loved the shower experience. For highly sensitive people, it's incredibly relaxing to shower by candlelight. Everything felt rustic and relaxed with a rainfall shower and soap in an unusual container.
In the U.S., we are so used to having everything right away when we want it, so it's an adjustment to being in a slower way of living.
Things aren't open 24/7; plan your days around opening times. A lot of places close in the middle of the day. Slow down, relax and enjoy the experience.
Staying in this hotel was a fantastic experience, total immersion into a slower way of life. Two nights in Sextantio is more than enough to see everything.
Sextantio Le Grotte Della Civita
- The restaurant serves only breakfast.
- In-room Massage
- Outside Terrace
- Rooms lit by candlelight
- Free Wi-Fi
- Paid parking only & have to get a transfer bus to the hotel
How to Get There
& When to Go
Fly into Bari and take the airport shuttle bus to Matera, just an hour's trip.
Use the national rail line to get to Bari, the capital of Puglia. On arrival in Bari change to a private rail line, Ferrovie Appulo Lucane, that runs every day except Sundays and holidays.
Private trains do not leave Bari station; they depart from a smaller station next door. Leave Bari train station. Once outside, look left and see the entrance of Ferrovie Appulo Lucane; buy a ticket in person for the train to Matera. You can take a bus to the Sassi area from the Matera station.
If you drive to Matera and want to stay in the old district, you will have to park your car in the new part of town and take a taxi. The taxi will drop you as near as they can get to your hotel. Cars are not allowed in the center of the old town.
Alternatively, your hotel will have a shuttle service and a preferred garage. Usually $25 per night.
Best Time to Visit
Offseason, Spring, and Fall are the best times. I visited in January, and it was a little too cold.
Italian, although each region has its dialect.
Cash | Cards
Most places accept credit cards but always carry cash. Shops in smaller cities, some car parks, and most parking meters only take cash. Use Visa or Mastercard with no foreign transaction fees in Italy.
Discover, Diners Club and American Express are not commonly accepted. ATMs are the best way to get cash.
The standard voltage in Europe is 230 V; buy a travel adapter before leaving the US.
113 Italian National Polizia
115 Italian Fire Brigade
118 Health Emergencies
EU Emergency Number
Dialing 112 from any country in the European Union will connect you to emergency services, such as police, fire, and ambulance services. Dialing 112 is free; you can dial from any mobile phone, landline, or payphone.
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