Itinerary: discovering the Ionian coast and its hinterland

Enclosed by the Ionian Sea, the flat, sandy coastline is the last golden fringe created by the sloping hills of Matera, repeatedly awarded both the Blue and Green Flag, an important recognition given by pediatricians for child-friendly beaches.
There are many villages in this area, from those on the coast to those inland, all of which are worth a visit as they tell of ancient deeds and modern virtues.
In addition to Policoro and Metaponto, the village of Scanzano Ionico also boasts ancient origins, as evidenced by the numerous archaeological remains found there. Thanks to these findings we can also state that the agricultural and fruit and vegetable vocation of Scanzano, defined as the California of the South, has been well established over the centuries, even since the area was occupied by the Mycenaeans. There are important archaeological traces of this presence: in Termitito, in fact, the remains of a settlement dating back to the 13th-11th century BC can be seen. Scanzano Jonico is also renowned for its citrus, vegetable and tobacco plantations as well as for its welcoming bathing establishments.

The town of Bernalda, which overlooks the expanse of countryside and cultivated fields from the hill with its typical castle, also owes its fame to the famous American director Francis Ford Coppola, whose grandparents came from the town. The director fell in love with Basilicata and Bernalda in particular, so much so that he opened a luxury resort here that he visits several times a year.

The itinerary to discover the Ionian coast includes a stop in the ancient Bollita, now known as Nova Siri. The original toponym remains on the tower, erected in 1520 to sight the ships of the Saracens, built in Marina di Nova Siri. The city boasts a famous ancestor, Diego Sandoval de Castro, alleged lover of the young Valsinni poet Isabella di Morra. Theirs was only a literary bond, but this was enough for the Morra brothers to assassinate them both.

Moving inland, a few kilometres away you can visit Pisticci, better known as the “white city” for its lime-painted houses with characteristic red roofs, lined up in long lines in the striking “Dirupo” district. In Marina di Pisticci there is the second port on the Ionian coast, the Porto degli Argonauti, a strategic point of departure for boat trips (for day-trips or longer), with fully equipped boats and skippers. The Porto degli Argonauti is also a landing place for small-medium sized boats, including those longer than 30 metres, and can accommodate up to 450 vessels.

Overlooking the Ionian Sea is the rounded-shaped village of Rotondella, known for its panoramic position as the balcony of the Ionian. The oldest part of the city is known for the “Lamie” of Bitonte, architectural features consisting of 17th-century vaulted stone arches located under the floor of the building owned by the Bitonte family, from which they take their name.
Going further inland there are two villages where poetry is the star: Tursi and Valsinni. In fact, both towns are the birthplace of two illustrious poets, Albino Pierro and Isabella di Morra.

Tursi is the birthplace of Pierro, twice nominated for the Nobel Prize for literature. The village stands on a sandstone hill between the Agri and Sinni rivers. The poet has repeatedly praised its millenary beauty in his famous verses in the Tursitano dialect. Reading his words, one can easily imagine the evocative charm of the Arab quarter of Rabatana, consisting of steep alleyways and winding steps leading to plunging precipices, called Jaramme by the poet. A Literary Park has been dedicated to him, from which you can enjoy a beautiful view over the badlands towards the Sanctuary of Santa Maria D’Anglona, a real jewel of medieval architecture.

The ancient Favale, now known as Valsinni, was the town of the talented but ill-fated poet Isabella di Morra. In the distant 16th century the village was the scene of the unfortunate “love story” between the poet and the lord of nearby Bollita, Diego Sandoval de Castro. Morra’s life was short and tormented due to her platonic love and the atrocious act of her brothers. Her story remains indelibly imprinted in the castle where she lived, which dominates the small town, and in the Literary Park dedicated to her, where the life and verses of the poet are staged every year.

The Ionian coast is not only characterised by the crystal blue sea and by the golden expanses of soft sand, but also by badlands, clayey formations with an unmistakable morphology that recall a lunar landscape. The Regional Reserve of Montalbano Jonico Badlands is a landscape area of unparalleled beauty. It is the largest in Basilicata and has geological, plant and animal rarities that make it unique in the world. The reserve is based in Montalbano Jonico, a city famous for the cultivation of citrus fruits and vegetables in the so-called gardens of Montalbano.

The itinerary among the gems of the Ionian coast ends with the village of Colobraro which stands on a hill from which it dominates the entire Agri valley, so much so that it is known as the “sentinel of the Val d’Agri”. From there you can enjoy an extraordinary view of the village of Valsinni and splendid views of the entire valley, equally striking at any time of the day and evening.