The decorative lights that seize your attention as you enter your snug cave room at night? These are sifters for olives, chickpeas, lentils and such.
The bucket that is the sink? This was rescued from nearby town Specchia, and typical of the wash basins of Matera as well during the times captured in the historical record created by painter Dr. Carlo Levi’s Christ Stopped at Eboli and that you will also see today in Matera’s Peasant Museum.
The light fixture that looks like a long-handled vegetable sieve? Yes, it is a kitchen utensil for that purpose used in traditional cooking typical of Matera.
You find hotelier and Matera native Paola De Donno’s touch in every detail of Solosud—a cave hotel in the unique Sassi of Matera.
Each of the three guest apartments in Solosud are carved from the chalky caves of Matera. Paola—who had also considered becoming a retailer of crafts and goods from Greater Pulia (the region we think of as the heel in Italy’s boot)—has also peppered treasures from the coastal area among the restored artifacts of the peasant cave dwellers of Matera’s past. You will find large vases and other ceramics from Enza Fasano’s showroom in Grottaglie and shower curtains made with classic fabrics from Calabria.
Paola’s mind seems to be ever at work to find even more touches to add using the help of locally discovered artisans. She found timber lying on the grass of a carpenter’s place that became the headboards for the rooms’ beds, after a carefully considered aging to give it the right weathered look. Small end tables—both wood and metal—are also locally made.
Solosud Matera Hotel is an experience in "Cave Cozy"
Solosud is perhaps one of the best examples of Sasso hotels and restaurants carving out—literally and figuratively—a new style of chic décor that could be dubbed “cave cozy”.
Talking to Paola over one of the plush breakfast spreads filled with 0 km goodies she puts out every day, we learned how Paola’s prior experience in the hospitality industry has shaped this “cave cozy” experience for her guests. She grew up in Matera, the child of an agronomist who had moved to the area to help the local farmers. In the 70’s her parents decided that they wanted to live in the Sassi proper, and they obtained a house in 1997 that her mother lives in to this day. Years ago Paola and her brother bought what would become their shared house, then consisting of only three upstairs rooms. Over the years the other rooms were acquired including those that are now Solosud. The upper house was completed shortly before 2000 while the downstairs apartment in 2016.
The three cave rooms of Solosud at one time had housed ten people. Years ago, it was likely inconceivable that the blackened walls of the primitive caves would one day be adorned in elegant boutique hotel style.
In the years before her return to Matera in 2010, Paola was living another life either on cruise ships, luxury sail boats in and out of regattas, or in the Sydney suburb where she lived for more than a decade. If you conjure the plush greenery of Sydney surrounds in your mind’s eye, as Paola often does, to contrast it with the almost moonscape grotto mountain that is Matera’s Sassi, you realize she has come quite a long way, in all senses. It was her parents’ aging and her need to be near them that first returned her to Matera. It also led Paola and her brother on a path to rebuilding the house and Solosud property in earnest. He had the challenge of being in South Africa during this time—where he still lives today. She had the challenge of getting past the deeply ingrained sexism of old Southern Italian culture where the workmen she hired would simply ignore her until she reached her brother by phone such that he could convey her orders to them with the requisite patriarchal authority.
With 20-20 hindsight, we would have loved to accompany Paola on her rounds to Matera’s fresh markets and meet more of the Matera she knows so well—both the before and after. Next time…
For more information and to book a stay at Solosud visit the Solosud website.
Read more about similar adventures in Matera sponsored by the Divertimento Group STOP OVERTOURISM MOVEMENT and stay tuned to these pages for more about the Divertomento Group experiences of Italy.