Matera, Italy

I must admit that I love old-world medieval towns filled with historic architecture, cobblestoned streets dotted with small intriguing shops filled with hand made goods. It always makes me feel like I'm truly experiencing something totally different than my home town and this is one of the treasures I value in traveling.

I was watching a performance of Il Volo, an operatic trio whom I love, and they were performing at an outside venue in this incredible town which I had to look up immediately, it was Matera, Italy. 

Matera is a city on a rocky outcrop in the region of Basilicata, in southern Italy. It includes the Sassi area, a complex of cave dwellings carved into the mountainside. Evacuated in 1952 due to poor living conditions, the Sassi now houses museums like the Casa Grotta di Vico Solitario, with period furniture and artisan tools. Nearby rock churches include St. Lucia alle Malve, with 13th-century frescoes.

A UNESCO World Heritage site since 1993, the Sassi represent a unique hamlet throughout Italy: the earliest inhabitants date back to the stone and bronze age, in the middle ages it boasted several monastic communities and later became a vibrant farming centre, owing to the rich harvests from the surrounding hills and plains.

Matera has gained international fame for the "Sassi di Matera". The Sassi originated in a prehistoric troglodyte settlement, and these dwellings are thought to be among the first ever human settlements in what is now Italy. The Sassi are habitations dug into the calcareous rock itself, which is characteristic of Basilicata and Apulia. Many of them are really little more than small caverns, and in some parts of the Sassi a street lies on top of another group of dwellings. The ancient town grew up on one slope of the rocky ravine created by a river that is now a small stream, and this ravine is known locally as "la Gravina". In the 1950s, as part of a policy to clear the extreme poverty of the Sassi, the government of Italy used force to relocate most of the population of the Sassi to new public housing in the developing modern city.

Until the late 1980s the Sassi was still considered an area of poverty, since its dwellings were, and in most cases still are, uninhabitable and dangerous. The present local administration, however, has become more tourism-orientated, and it has promoted the regeneration of the Sassi as a picturesque touristic attraction with the aid of the Italian government, UNESCO, and Hollywood. Today there are many thriving businesses, pubs and hotels there, and the city is amongst the fastest growing in southern Italy.

Matera preserves a large and diverse collection of buildings related to the Christian faith, including a large number of rupestrian churches carved from the calcarenite rock of the region.[8] These churches, which are also found in the neighbouring region of Apulia, were listed in the 1998 World Monuments Watch by the World Monuments Fund.

Matera Cathedral (1268–1270) has been dedicated to Santa Maria della Bruna since 1389. Built in an Apulian Romanesque architectural style, the church has a 52 m tall bell tower, and next to the main gate is a statue of the Maria della Bruna, backed by those of Saints Peter and Paul. The main feature of the façade is the rose window, divided by sixteen small columns. The interior is on the Latin cross plan, with a nave and two aisles. The decoration is mainly from the 18th century Baroque restoration, but recently, a Byzantine-style 14th-century fresco portraying the Last Judgement has been discovered.

For a truly romantic experience why not stay in a cave hotel? Sleeping in the Sassi of Matera is a unique experience!

The Sextantio Le Grotte della Civita project is situated in the historical heart of Matera. The 18 caves have been restored through a careful and conservative process conducted with the utmost respect for the local cultural heritage. Each cave reveals the original shape and materials. The interior design, the respectful and minimalistic approach of Sextantio is reflected in the plain furniture elements. The guests will experience a particular atmosphere evoking the cultural and human history of the Sassi of Matera.

Not a bad way to take a bath!

Happy travel dreams!

Haunted Hotels

OK maybe I am weird, but I love the thought of staying at a haunted hotel. Of all the eerie places around the world (and there are a lot) there's something extra spooky about haunted hotels. Maybe it's the influence of so many movies and TV shows, but things going "bump" in the night seem to be even bumpier in a hall packed with sleeping strangers. Having said that, those same haunted hotels can also be extremely luxurious, with more than just urban legends to get your heart thumping. Whether they're castles in Ireland or top resorts worldwide, check out these hotels that all have a little... extra spirit.


Built in 1888 to encourage Western tourism and to sell train tickets, this chateau-style hotel sits pretty by the Rocky Mountains in Banff National Park. But the Fairmont gets a tad more Gothic once you get inside—and we aren't talking about the architecture. Several ghosts have been reported as regulars, including a bride who supposedly fell down the stone staircase during her wedding. But there’s a less tragic spirit, too: Sam the bellman, who worked at the hotel until 1975 and claimed he’d come back to haunt the joint. His spirit supposedly pulls shifts helping people with their bags before disappearing.


You've never met ghosts as famous as the ones that haunt the Hollywood Roosevelt. The first Academy Awards were held at this oft-filmed hotel back in 1929, and movies stars tended to live there for long stretches of time. Today, there have been reports that Marilyn Monroe's spirit hangs out in one room's mirror, while Montgomery Clift's voice echoes throughout his old suite. Even if you're not a fan of bygone film legends, you can still get goosebumps from the hotel's high-drama lobby and views of the Hollywood sign.


This marvel of architecture was built on Sunset Mountain by Edwin Wiley Grove in 1913—a soda pop heir from Tennessee attempting to cure his chronic hiccups. One of the hotel's most famous guests was F. Scott Fitzgerald, who checked in while Zelda spent some time at a nearby sanatorium. You won't be running into any Fitzgeralds during your stay today, but you could catch a glimpse of another 1920s figure: The Pink Lady, a guest who met her end on the floor of the atrium after falling two floors from her room. The pastel mists you see—and chills you feel—will give her away.


Situated next to the scenic Clwydian Range in North Wales, Ruthin Castle has had many renowned tenants since its 1277 construction, including King Henry VII and his daughter Mary (aka Bloody Mary). The castle was also briefly inhabited by Lady Jane Grey, Henry VII's great-granddaughter and so-called “Nine Days' Queen” of England. Lady Jane was eventually executed for high treason in London in 1554, but her spirit is said to have wandered back to Ruthin Castle to wander the banquet hall and castle battlements. Even if you miss a run-in with the Lady's ghost, you can still explore the castle's objectively creepy dungeons, whipping pit, and drowning pool.


Often considered one of the most haunted sites in England, The Mermaid Inn has a history dating back to the 1100s, although the structure you see today was the result of a renovation in the 1600s. Among the spooky stories and ghost sightings are figures walking through bedroom walls, rocking chairs moving on their own, rooms turning cold, and the spirit of a former chambermaid appearing throughout the property. All part of the experience, we say.


Located in an 18th-century Arab fortress overlooking the Andalusian landscape, Parador de Jaén has a few spooky stories hiding behind its imposing walls. According to the hotel's website, a guest in Room 22 was rudely awakened one night by sounds of a women crying and someone knocking on the door. A team of paranormal investigators was called in to check the room out in the 1980s, and they concluded that the room was, in fact, haunted by the spirit of a young woman who had died of heartbreak in the fortress several centuries ago. The room has been quiet since the investigation, but that's not the only ghost story 'round these parts. The hotel is also said to be haunted by the spirit of "Terrible Lizard," the nickname of a prisoner who died of hunger while locked up in the fortress.


This castle is what you imagine of a 16th-century Irish homestead—red ivy snaking up the walls, deep copper tubs, a library stocked with first-edition novels, afternoon tea overlooking 1,000 wooded and lake-spotted acres. Indeed, the secluded country hotel makes you feel like you're the only person in Ireland—unless you run into a Leslie family member's ghost, of course. Luckily, all reported ghost sightings have been pleasant, like catching sight of Norman Leslie shuffling papers in the hotel's Red Room. Hey, with accommodations like these, we're more than willing to encounter a non-threatening ghost or two.


Taj Mahal Palace is a five-star hotel located in the heart of Mumbai, consistently voted one of the best hotels in India by our readers. Along with amazing views and interiors fit for a royal, one of the property's more macabre claims to fame is its aura of mystery. According to legend, the building's architect jumped to his death from the fifth floor after discovering the hotel was facing the wrong direction. His spirit now allegedly (and harmlessly) roams the halls, running into guests in the hallways and walking around the roof.


Aside from a brief stint as a war ship in World War II, the RMS Queen Mary served as a luxury ocean liner from 1936 to 1967. During that time, it was the site of at least one murder—a sailor being crushed to death by a door in the engine room—and drownings in the pool. The city of Long Beach purchased the ship in 1967 and turned it into a hotel, and it still serves that purpose today—although the reported ghosts of the deceased passengers get to stay for free. (For an extra dose of spine-tingling experiences, see if you can visit the ship's engine room, which is considered by many to be a hotbed of paranormal activity.)


A hunting club for wealthy northerners in 1888, Jekyll Island Club was considered one of the most exclusive resorts in the world by the beginning of the 20th century. Members included such bigwigs as William Vanderbilt and William Rockefeller, and Jekyll Island Club was the site of the first transcontinental phone call to Alexander Graham Bell in 1915. Casual, right? Unfortunately, the resort fell upon hard times during the Great Depression and WWII, and eventually became a hotel in the 1980s. For the past few decades, guests have reported encounters with some spirits as historic as the hotel itself. Railroad magnate Samuel Spencer has been spotted reading the Wall Street Journal, while others catch whiffs of J.P. Morgan's cigar smoke seeping out of the financier's former rooms.


Located in France's extremely scenic Loire Valley, Chateau de Marcay is a 15th-century castle that was converted into a hotel in 1973. The turreted chateau looks like something from a fairy tale—but as well all know, fairy tales usually have a bad guy or two. As the urban myth goes, one of the ladies of the Chateau de Marcay was actually a werewolf, and a farmer shot her by mistake after she transformed one night. The lady decided to stick around, apparently, as guests and staff alike have reported encounters with a ghostly woman dressed in white.


South Africa might be most famous for its game reserves, but it has its fair share of charming—and haunted—hotels. One such place is Lord Milner Hotel, located on the edge of the remote Great Karoo in Matjiesfontein Village. The town served as command headquarters during the South African War, as well as site of subsequent (and controversial) war crimes hearings. No surprise, then, that the Lord Milner Hotel has some paranormal activity going on. According to the hotel, there are a couple of ghostly guests who never seemed to check out, including "Lucy," a negligee-wearing specter who makes noises behind closed doors from time to time.


Known as the Grand Dame of Dublin, the Shelbourne has hosted the likes of Princess Grace of Monaco and drips with luxury: think sparkling chandeliers and afternoon tea services. With all that opulence, you probably won't even notice the ghosts. According to some tabloids (they never lie, right?), one hotel room in particular gets frequent reports of paranormal activity, like water faucets turning on by themselves and a seven-year-old girl appearing out of nowhere. Actress Lily Collins had an eerie experience herself when she stayed at the Shelbourne back in 2013, which she recounted on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon.


Originally built as a private home in 1700, Hotel Meson de Jobito served brief tenures as a market and horse stable before opening as a public hotel in 1993. The original colonial architecture still remains—along with some original locals. Visitors have reported images of miners showing up to look for gold, as well as the sound of horses walking. Apparently, most of those sighting and sounds occur around 4 a.m., but you'll probably be too busy sleeping in your air-conditioned room to really notice.


Overlooking downtown Kalamazoo, the 1895-established Henderson Castle is as famous for its arsenal of ghost stories as its exquisite Queen Anne-style architecture. The 25-room house was the creation of Kalamazoo resident Frank Henderson, who spent the better part of a decade working with surveyors, engineers, and landscape architects to build his dream home. Sadly, he only got to live in the finished mansion for four years before passing away. That clearly wasn't enough time for old Frank—his ghost has reportedly been spotted in and around the property by several visitors. The Henderson Castle opened to the public in 2011, leaning into its history with ghost-themed cocktails at its Spirits Lounge and monthly murder mystery dinners.


One of Santa Fe’s oldest and most elegant places to stay is also one of its most famously haunted. La Posada de Santa Fe Resort was originally a mansion built in 1882 by entrepreneur Abraham Staab for his wife, Julia, who loved the premises so much she may have never left. Today’s guests can stay quietly in one of the surrounding studios, or in the original main house. But for those who lodge in Julia’s former bedroom, now suite 100, be sure to greet her pleasantly like the staff do. To stay in her good graces, you may even want to compliment her gorgeous home.


The spirits are so active at this 153-year-old hotel, they drove out several English national team cricket players back in 2014, who cited sudden heat and lights, and an unexplained presence during the night. Ghosts have long been associated with the tony hotel, says Visit Britain, and it's thought to house elite spirits such as former resident Emperor Louis Napoleon III and a German prince who jumped to his death from his upper-level window.


With a history dating back 300 years, New Orleans is a city with plenty of ghosts, many of them connected to hotels. The French Quarter’s elegant Bourbon Orleans is one of the most famous haunted spots, thanks to its multi-purpose past as a ballroom, theater, and, for many decades, a convent and orphanage. People say ghosts from different eras appear in the hallways or lobby, as well as one lonely dancer who spends some nights swaying under the ballroom’s crystal chandelier. This year, the Bourbon Orleans is really embracing its ghostly reputation with some seasonal perks celebrating the iconic 1984 film Ghostbusters. On Halloween night, the movie's iconic Ectomobile will be parked outside the hotel for some spooky photo ops, and the in-house bar will serve a signature “Slimer Cocktail”—a ghoulish take on an apple martini.


The Stanley Hotel's stately Georgian architecture and world-renowned whiskey bar have lured travelers to Estes Park since opening in 1909. But the hotel reached new levels of fame after inspiring Stephen King to create the fictional Overlook Hotel from The Shining. That eerie association aside, many other ghost sightings and mysterious piano music have been connected to the hotel. The Stanley Hotel leans into its reputation quite cleverly, offering nightly ghost tours and psychic consultations from the in-house Madame Vera.


Since its construction in 1886, the Crescent Hotel has served several purposes: luxury resort, conservatory for young women, junior college. But the strangest mark on its history came in 1937 when it got a new owner, Norman G. Baker. Baker was a millionaire inventor who decided to pose as a doctor (despite having no medical training) and turn the hotel into a hospital that could "cure" cancer. He was eventually found out and run out of town, although reports say that his spirit found its way back to the site and found some otherworldly company, too. The now-operating Crescent Hotel is said to be haunted by at least eight ghosts, ranging from a five-year-old girl to a bearded man wearing Victorian clothing.


Originally opened in 1872, The Read House is one of the premier historic hotels in downtown Chattanooga. Aside from its recent $28 million renovation, the hotel is perhaps most famous for Room 311, the room where a woman named Annalisa Netherly was allegedly beheaded in the bathtub by a jealous lover. Several guests have reported paranormal activity in the room over the years, including unexplained noises, flickering lights, running water, and shadowy figures. The Read House decided to leave Room 311 unmodified during the hotel's renovation, complete with vintage claw foot tub and an AM radio that doesn't work. For guests who prefer scares over sleep, the hotel even offers a "Room 311 Experience" package: overnight accommodations, a decanter of "bathtub gin", cocktails at the bar, $100 dining credit, and breakfast service (should you make it until morning). The starting cost? $666.

Whether in 2021 you want to stay at a haunted hotel or not, give me a call and I can make your future trip memorable 1-800-903-5750

Strangest Places On Earth

I am always intrigued by the amount of strange and wild places to visit on this earth. Thought I would give you a short list of some of the most unusual ones:


Spotted Lake has long been revered by the native Okanagan (Syilx) people and it’s easy to see why they think of it as sacred. In the summer the water of the lake evaporates and small mineral pools are left behind, each one different in colour to the next. The unique lake can be viewed on Highway 3, northwest of the small town of Osoyoos, although visitors are asked not to trespass on tribal land.


In rough conditions at Thor’s Well, also known as Spouting Horn, the surf rushes into the gaping sinkhole and then shoots upwards with great force. It can be viewed by taking the Captain Cook Trail from the Cape Perpetua Scenic Area visitor centre – but for your own safety stay well back, especially at high tide or during winter storms.


A remarkable UNESCO World Heritage Site in southwest Turkey, a visit to Pamukkale (Cotton Palace) also takes in the ancient ruins of Hierapolis, the once great city that was built around it. Water cascades from natural springs and down the white travertine terraces and forms stunning thermal pools perfect for a quick dip.


This remarkable lake was discovered in 1802 on the largest of the islands in Western Australia’s Recherche Archipelago. The lake keeps its deep pink colour year-round, which some scientists say is down to high salinity combined with the presence of a salt-loving algae species known as Dunaliella salina and pink bacteria known as halobacteria.


Found in the northwest of Hunan Province in China, these staggering limestone pinnacles are covered in lush greenery and often shrouded in mist. A cable car goes as far as Huangshi village and from here there are plenty of trails to take in the breathtaking views of Tianzi (‘son of heaven’); unsurprisingly the inspiration for the floating mountains in the blockbuster movie Avatar.


The animal figures and geometric shapes etched by the ancient Nasca into Peru’s barren Pampa de San José are one of South America’s great mysteries. Visible only from the air or from a metal viewing tower beside the highway, some of the unexplained shapes are up to 200m in length and each one is executed in a single continuous line.


Very cool and very weird, this beach is covered in a type of seaweed called Sueda, which turns bright red in autumn. Thirty kilometres southwest of Panjin, these tidal wetlands are an important nature reserve for migrating birds. Only a small section of the beach is open to the public, but it can be explored via a wooden walkway that stretches out to sea.


This glittering sea glass beach in California is a remarkable side effect of years of rubbish being dumped on the beach; it wasn’t until the 1960s that this was stopped and by then the sea was full of everything from electrical appliances to bottles and cans. Over time, the waves broke everything down into colourful pebbles and the beach became a major tourist attraction – now ironically under threat because visitors are taking home the glass.


The deeply creepy catacombs are a network of old quarry tunnels beneath Paris and the final resting place of around six million Parisians. Most are anonymous, skulls and bones taken from the city’s overcrowded graveyards during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; it wasn’t until the authorities realized its potential as a tourist attraction that the bones were arranged in the macabre displays seen today.


This otherworldly geyser is on private land on the edge of Black Rock Desert in Nevada. Created accidentally in 1964 after an energy company drilled down into geothermal waters, today a scalding fountain erupts up to five feet high and the resulting mineral build up means the cone is growing by several inches each year. The brilliant hues of red and green are down to thermophilic algae.


A short ferry ride from Japan’s east coast, Tashirojima has a population of one hundred humans who are vastly outnumbered by their furry friends. Originally the cats were encouraged as the island produced silk and mice are a natural predator of silkworms. Local fishermen regarded them as good luck and the island even has a cat shrine, along with newly built cat shaped cabins for tourists to stay in. It goes without saying that there are no dogs allowed.


Shrouded in myth, megalithic stone jars are scattered across Xieng Khouang Province in groups from one to one hundred. A working theory is that the huge cylindrical jars were used in ancient funeral ceremonies, though local legend has it that the jars were used to brew rice wine for giants. In the 1960s Northern Laos was subject to a massive aerial bombardment by the USA and it’s only been relatively recently that some areas have been cleared and declared safe for visitors.


Chilean sculptor Mario Irarrázabal is responsible for this very weird work of art rising out of the sand in the middle of Chile’s Atacama desert, 46 miles south of the city of Antofagasta. Irarrázabal is known for his works associated with human suffering and this huge unnerving sculpture captures a feeling of loneliness, exacerbated by its desolate and secluded location.

Hope you enjoyed these! Please leave a comment if you have the time and if you have a place you would like me to write about, drop me a line at