About the Locanda di San Martino
I stayed at this hotel some years ago. Please read on if you would like to discover my experience and opinions, but do also check the latest online reviews from recent guests.
The Locanda di San Martino is a three-star troglodyte hotel in the southern Italian town of Matera, famous for its cave dwellings. The hotel is in one of the cave-districts, and it is composed of many individual caves, connected by external flights of stairs and a lift in the rock.
We visited the Locanda di San Martino in May 2008, booking a double room online for €129. The hotel’s prices compare favourably with the other cave hotels in Matera.
Arrival and facilities
It is hard to get your bearings in Matera and we were glad to have printed out directions to the hotel. We walked from the railway station; a downhill route which is manageable with small cases, but was rather tiring on the return journey. The hotel’s directions led us to the top of the cliff in which the hotel is burrowed; we entered a gateway labelled with the hotel’s name, and found ourselves descending rocky steps past the doorways of the cave ‘bedrooms’ and past a couple of contented guests sipping red wine on a rocky terrace. We found the entrance to the hotel’s lift, and descended through the cliff to reception, which is on ground level at the valley bottom.
The reception staff we encountered were very friendly and helpful. They stocked maps and information leaflets, and recommended an initial sightseeing walk. The hotel’s main entrance is on Via Fiorentini, the little lane which winds down the valley, through the Sasso Barisano district. There are various bars, restaurants and souvenir shops close by, and the road continues around a bend to the other cave district, the Sasso Caveoso, making it a great first stroll when you arrive.
Like the bedrooms, the hotel’s public areas are all in caves. There is a breakfast room, a conference room, and seating areas. The hotel doesn’t have a restaurant, but recommends a good nearby cave-restaurant to its guests. There are chairs dotted around the terraced pathways between bedrooms, so guests (like those we saw on arrival) can sit outside and enjoy the splendid views over the valley.
The bedrooms are all independent caves, set along little terraced paths and off external staircases. Ours was part-cave, part building, as, like most of Matera’s cave dwellings, the cave had been extended outwards a short way. From the outside, you couldn’t guess what lay behind the plain facade. Inside, the room extended back into the living rock, hacked out to create a large living space with huge amounts of room for two guests (I smugly wrote in my notebook “very large cave”). The cave was nicely furnished and artisticallylit: simple but smart and clean. Considering that it was a cave, the space was surprisingly airy, with a pleasant reed diffuser air fragrance to counter any ‘cavey’ dankness. The room was air-conditioned, with heating when necessary (full instructions were provided in a folder of hotel information).
The main piece of furniture was a large, firm double bed on an unusual wooden base. We’d requested a twin; our room also contained a couple of single beds which doubled as settles – one was child-length, the other wasn’t as grand as the double bed but was quite comfortable. There was a narrow writing desk with drawers, a television, mini-bar, table and two chairs and a wardrobe. The main source of light was through the double doors, which contained windows with shutters. There was also a small window high above the door, protected with a mosquito net.
The bathroom was a reasonable size and well-appointed, with a spacious shower under the natural rock roof. As well as complimentary toiletries and sewing kit, we also found paper slippers; a thoughtful touch from a three-star hotel.
After visiting a reconstructed cave-dwelling, we could see how typical the shape and form of our cave was. The comfortable hotel furnishings were miles away from the cramped conditions we saw recreated: we were still glad to be staying in a cave, but imagining a large family living in a similar space, perhaps with animals stabled in the grotto at the back, gave us a more sober perspective on Matera’s charms.
Although the fact that our room – and main window – opened onto the path used by other guests, it was extremely quiet. Although there were definitely other guests in residence (we saw them at breakfast, and very occasionally among the pathways) our room felt extremely private and secluded and of course – being a cave, and being in such a quiet location – silent. It made a really refreshing change from the usual experience of being contained within a hotel, with other guests on every side of you, often audible, and constantly trekking down corridors.
The hotel offers convenient free internet access in each room for guests travelling with laptops. The wired broadband connection was very handy; reception supplied the necessary cable.
Breakfast at the hotel
Breakfast at the hotel was a typical buffet arrangement, slightly busy due to the presence of a German tour group. There were croissants, fruit, rolls etc. The one glaring fault was the tea. In ‘English abroad’ fashion, we asked for hot tea with milk, and found that the only teabags on offer were Earl Grey or herbal tea. Attempts to explain traditional tea to a waitress were met with no understanding, and with a lack of interest which was disappointing in a hotel aiming to attract overseas guests.
The Locanda di San Martino’s address is Via Fiorentini 71. As described above, this is a lane through the sassi; if you’re arriving on foot you can also reach the entrance from above – and the hotel’s lift will save you carrying your cases down so many steps. We arrived on foot from the railway station, and found the map we’d printed off the hotel’s website was invaluable. Follow the instructions on our main Matera page to reach Piazza Vittorio Veneto, then head over the square and along Via San Biagio, with the church of San Domenico on your left. Turn down Via San Rocco, and look out for the hotel’s sign on a low gateway. Enter and descend the steps until you find a way in to the hotel’s lift. Drivers can unload outside the hotel on Via Fiorentini, but parking is off-site and at additional cost (the norm here) – contact the hotel for advice.
It was very exciting – and thought-provoking – to be staying in a real cave, one of the caves for which Matera is famous. It would be a real shame to visit the town without this overnight experience. The hotel was good value for money, and was well-run and efficient. The design, facilities and customer service were well above the norm for Italy. Although there was a small tour group in residence, we were only aware of this once, and the quiet ‘detached’ cave rooms meant there was never any noise or bother from other guests. We would have loved to stay longer in Matera, and in this hotel, and would definitely return to the Locanda di San Martino. Apart from simply sleeping in a cave, I particularly appreciated the peace and quiet, and the view from the doorway and terraces over the valley of caves. Highly-recommended.
Make a booking
> Make a booking or check availability at the Locanda di San Martino. It’s a good idea to book ahead as this hotel is a popular one, with great reviews from other past guests, too.
> Other Matera hotels and B&Bs – including more accommodation in caves
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