When I planned my 2000 kilometer road trip from Venice to the bottom of the boot and back, it all started with an invitation to Hotel Santavenere, a 5-star luxury hotel and spa in Maratea. It’s a town in Italy I’d make a bet you’ve never heard of. I certainly hadn’t. Maratea is a hidden gem in the not-yet-discovered Basilicata region and is known as the the Pearl of the Tyrrhenian. Just a few hours south of the wildly popular Amalfi Coast, Maratea isn’t frequented mostly because of fewer transportation links to reach it.
And so the road trip was born. It was one of my favorite trips in all of our seven years living in Italy, but even without the other off-the-beaten-path stops like Civita di Bagnoregio, Bomarzo and Craco, my stay at Hotel Santavenere and Maratea would have been worth it.
Hotel Santavenere is located on a secluded stretch of the Mediterranean coastline just below the village of Maratea. The hotel itself sits among a beautiful garden with stellar views of the sea just a short walk or golf cart ride below. With a private beach, pool, on site restaurant and the best spa I have ever been to, you hardly want to leave this little slice of heaven.
The grand villa feels more like you’re visiting with family than it feels like you’re staying in a hotel. With just 34 rooms, the staff quickly came to know us and I found us having chats about our day and what we did when we’d run in to the various staff members.
Each of the rooms and suites are uniquely decorated and our suite, which was located on the bottom floor conveniently on the corner and next to the pool, was decorated in soothing blue tones with lovely period furniture.
We also had a huge patio that stretched from the bedroom to the sitting room and a private garden. It was perfect since we had brought our dog, Emma, with us.
I’m always a fan of double sinks in the bathroom. I can set up without worrying my stuff will be in the way or the victim of an unintentional bath when Tim always manages to get water everywhere. I also loved the Bvlgari bath products.
A buffet style breakfast with fresh fruit, local cheeses and salami and more types of breads and pastries than an Italian panificio was served on the sun-kissed terrace overlooking the sparkling sea each morning. I’d order my cappuccino and then head right for the little case with a selection of brioche. The nutella filled brioche was to die for.
Hotel Santavenere also has a beach-side restaurant at lunchtime that serves a wonderful selection of southern Italian dishes and fresh fish and seafood. We ate lunch at the beach-side restaurant twice and everything we tried was delicious. We can highly recommend the mussel sauté, the octopus and potato salad and the eggplant parmesan.
While the beach-side restaurant is casual and you can feel comfortable wandering up in a beach cover-up at lunchtime, the evening restaurant on the terrace is elegant. Book a table for around sunset; though the sun actually sets in a spot not quite visible from the hotel, the sky turns stunning shades of pink and orange.
Just like the beach-side restaurant, the terrace restaurant did not disappoint. Actually, it was so good we decided to cancel our reservation in the port and have dinner for a second night in the restaurant. The lobster ravioli were some of the best I’ve ever had.
To work off all the delicious food you’re bound to indulge in, Hotel Santavenere also had the most unique fitness center I’ve ever seen. It is actually located outdoors on a terrace with views of the sea.
The spa at Hotel Santavenere has some serious wow-factor and the treatments were hands down the best I’ve ever had. And I’ve been to my fair share of spas. What is particularly unique is that when you book treatments, the entire spa is reserved exclusively for you.
Having the spa to ourselves, we could thoroughly enjoy the emotional showers, regenerating bath, the hydro-massage pool with sea water and salt and sun grottos. The salt grotto is entirely made of salt and the bed is sort of like a water bed, so it massages you. Salt has healing powers. And just in case you didn’t get enough sun lounging on the private beach, you could tan yourself under the sun lamps. The use of these spa amenities is included with the spa booking.
Like the guest rooms, each one of the rooms in the spa is uniquely decorated and you can choose which you’d like to have your treatment in. We had 60 minute full body massages and I was massaged into a blissful sleep. A pedicure followed my massage and I have never had such an amazing pedicure! Seriously, I would stay at Hotel Santavenere again just for that pedicure. It was that good. Fully relaxed from the soothing massage and with soft feet and freshly polished toes, I felt like I’d been pampered right onto a cloud in heaven.
Christ the Redeemer, Maratea and Dino Island
Though Hotel Santavenere certainly has enough to do right on the property to keep you entertained, they do offer a selection of excursions and we went on a couple to explore the area with local guides.
As we were driving from Paestum, a statue stood high on a mountain and I joked that we’d driven so far south that day that we’d driven all the way to Rio’s Christ the Redeemer. The joke was on me because little did I know that Maratea is home to one of several Christ the Redeemer statues around the world.
Maratea’s Cristo Redentore (Christ the Redeemer in Italian) is actually the fifth largest Christ statue in the world. He stands 21 meters (70 feet) tall and has an arm span of 19 meters. But unlike Rio, Christ has his back to the Mediterranean and instead watched over the village of Maratea below Him.
It was the the Piedmontese entrepreneur Stefano Rivetti who built Cristo Rendetore with his own money in the 1960s and He remains today. Cristo is open to the public and you can either hike up the mountain to Him or you can take a shuttle bus that will easily whisk you up the steep, winding road.
Just below Cristo are the ruins of the first village of Maratea, and though archaeological findings date the original settlement back to the Paleolithic era, the ruins we see are from the 9th century. The locals had moved to this spot on the high ground of Mount San Biagio and built the fortified Castello when the Saracens (the name for the people of Sicily after it became a Muslim emirate in the 9th century) sacked numerous towns.
When the Castello could no longer accommodate the growing population, some people moved strategically behind Mount San Biagio and built the Borgo. The Borgo’s position behind the mountain made it invisible from the sea and safe from further sacks by the Saracens.
Today the Borgo is the historic center of Maratea and a charming village to spend some time wandering about. The piazzas are lined with small cafes serving up Maratea’s assortment of delicious pastries and the quiet streets are lined with cute shops.
For such a small town, Maratea is home to 44 churches. The main church, located on Mount San Biagio at Castello, is the Basilica of Saint Blaise and it is built over the ancient temple of Minerva. Saint Blaise became the patron saint of the town when a ship fleeing the religious persecution of Leo III the Isaurian brought the saint’s remains in 732. Saint Blaise’s remains are still kept in the Basilica today and the saint is honored when a silver statue is transported in a procession on the second Sunday of May every year from the Basilica to the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore, the main church in the Borgo old town.
We also took an excursion to Dino Island, an uninhabited island down the coast. A small boat picked us up right from Hotel Santavenere’s dock and we sailed down the coast. With a heat wave, just being out on the water with a sea breeze was amazing. Just like with the spa, the excursions are booked so that guests have privacy and out boat captain left it up to us where we’d like to have a swim.
Dino Island is a tall rocky island with many sea caves that you can enter like the famous Blue Grotto on Capri. We navigated all the way around Dino Island, checking out some of the caves. Many caves are only big enough to swim in and a few are big enough for a boat or two.
You can hike to the top of Dino Island, but it was a hot day and we decided that we would rather enjoy swimming in the Mediterranean Sea. Though the pedalos that you can rent from the public beach across from Dino Island did look fun.
Our boat captain knew of a cave that you could swim through for about 100 meters and then opened up to a black sand beach at the back of the cave. It sounded too cool to pass up, so we dove right in and swam to the beach. I only wish I’d had a waterproof camera to take some photos inside.
Back at the hotel, we spent a full morning playing and swimming in the Mediterranean. While even on the hottest days the Adriatic makes me squeal from its cool temperatures, the water along this stretch of Basilicata Coast was absolutely the perfect temperature. I could have stayed forever at Hotel Santavenere where the toughest decisions were beach or pool.
Know Before You Go
We were guests of Hotel Santavenere in order to bring you this story. However, Luxe Adventure Traveler maintains full editorial control of the content published on this site. As always, all thoughts, opinions, and enthusiasm for travel are entirely our own. This article contains affiliate links. When you book on Booking.com through our affiliate site, we earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. It just helps us keep things running here at Luxe Adventure Traveler!