The Sextantio Le Grotte della Civita in Basilicata (just west of Puglia) is the most unique hotel we have experienced in Italy and takes eco-luxury to new heights. Built into the caves of the historic town of Matera which has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1993, it somehow remarkably turns cave-dwelling into an exceptional and highly personalised experience. The place oozes history and one feels transported back to the days of the Bible. In fact some of the bedrooms are so old they were inhabited by shepherds 2,500 years ago.

The 18 bedrooms are carved out of the soft honey-coloured tufa stone and located in the labyrinthine lanes that lead out of the town. Simplicity rules throughout. Candles flicker in nooks and crannies, essential oils perfume the spacious rooms, furniture is kept to a bare minimum with only a wrought iron bed carved by local craftsmen adorning most bedrooms. Beds are draped in antique linens found in an ancient trousseau and sinks in the bathroom could be centuries-old drinking troughs. The doors were salvaged from ruins nearby, and even the room key is a weighty iron exercise in local craftsmanship.

Peace and quiet pervade, so wake at dawn and throw open your bedroom windows to reveal the vast canyon-like vision of the Gravina natural park. This is a place for quiet contemplation, but for those looking to explore there is a great deal to see in this fascinating, untouched part of Italy. Palaeolithic settlements, ancient frescoes and churches carved out of caves are all to be found within Matera itself, or take walks or go riding down in the ravine or spend the day birdwatching and enjoying a picnic brought to you by mule.

Despite its desperately poor history, the food and wines of this region are outstanding, starting with breakfast which is served in a former rock church on a long refectory table, laden with freshly baked breads, local honey and fruits piled into ancient ceramic bowls. Just a short walk away is Ristorante Cantuccio, whose menu is posted daily outside and features superb antipasti.

Located in the instep of Italy’s ‘boot’, Matera is unique. At least 9,000 years old and until the middle of the last century one of the poorest parts of Italy made famous in Carlo Levi’s Christ stopped at Eboli, it is a wonderful contrast to the sandy beaches and richer towns that dot the Puglian coastline just a short drive away.