Gourmet Traveller

Dear Italy...

A love letter to...


By Nicky Pellegrino

This place isn’t mine but I feel like I belong to it. A pale-pink house with its back to bare-ridged mountains and its face turned towards the sea. Green lizards lazing on warm rocks, bougainvillea rioting over a pergola, a shingle beach at the end of the garden.

It took me a while to fall in love with Basilicata. At first it was only the little pink house that drew me back thanks to the cousin who has kindly let me have it whenever I asked. But year after year I kept returning until eventually there was nowhere else I would rather be.

Basilicata lies in the south of Italy, the instep between the toe and the heel of this boot-shaped country. It doesn’t have the showy appeal of other better-known regions; not the swagger of Naples, the riches of Florence or Rome, the romance of Venice. This is a land touched by poverty. It is a place of scarred beauty.

My corner of Basilicata is the Costa di Maratea, a short stretch of rocky coastline that nudges Calabria at its southern end. Around the coast there is a road made of hairpin bends with dizzying views across the Tyrrhenian Sea. A road that leads down to a small harbour with a cluster of seafood restaurants, with fishing boats moored alongside sleek yachts and old men sitting beneath trees, playing card games on summer evenings. A road that veers upwards to Maratea itself, a hilltop town of steep, narrow lanes and 44 churches, some dating back to the 15th century.

High above, on the peak of Monte San Biagio, is a giant statue of Christ the Redeemer, 21 dramatic metres of reinforced concrete and

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