By Michelle Pellegrino


(ANSA) - Rome, February 4 - If you want to experience Italy's exceptional history, nature and cuisine minus the crowds, try the beautiful Basilicata region in southern Italy. Situated in the 'instep' or arch of Italy's boot, this unspoilt area of the country is also one of Italy's least populated and least visited regions. Basilicata covers an extensive part of the southern Apennines, with around 92% of the region covered by mountains and hills. The lush trees and forests of the Pollino national park, the largest Italian national park, makes this region ideal for nature-lovers, hikers and cyclists. Ski-lovers can head to Monte Sirino (2,005 metres above sea level) with its suggestive views of both the Ionian and Tyrrhenian seas. Basilicata ( is divided into two provinces, Potenza (the regional capital) and Matera. Just north to the city of Potenza is an extinct volcano, Monte Vulture (1,326 metres above sea level) which lends its name to the Vulture region, the most significant viticultural zone in Basilicata producing one of Italy's finest wines, the DOC wine Aglianico del Vulture. Another renowned product the area produced is the delicious and slightly spicy olive oil of Vulture. Basilicata bears witness to many historical epochs. One of the most charming places to visit is The Sassi (stones) of Matera, ancient cave dwellings dug into calcarenitic rock. Matera is possibly the only place in the world where people can boast to be still living in the same houses of their ancestors of 9,000 years ago. The ancient town grew in height on one slope of the ravine, with many streets located on the rooftops of houses. Matera bears a striking resemblance to Jerusalem in the time of Jesus which has resulted in many films being shot here - from Pier Paolo Pasolini's 'The Gospel According to St. Matthew' to Mel Gibson's 'The Passion of the Christ', launching the town to international fame. Matera has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1994. The ancient Greeks established a settlement Basilicata, also known as Lucania, in late 8th-century BC. The seaside port of Metaponto has highly important ancient Greek monuments such as the enchanting Temple of Hera, where Pythagoras founded the first mathematical school in 507 BC, the archaeological park of Grumento Nova and the museum of Greek antiquity. Other highlights of the region are the beautiful seaside town of Maratea with a replica of Rio de Janeiro's statue of Christ, the ancient Roman ruins of Venosa, the important archaelogical site at Vaglio Basilicata and the impressive castles of Melfi and Lagopesole. In August 2011 the film director Sofia Coppola put her great-grandfather's birthplace, Bernalda, on the map by getting married to musician Thomas Mars in the town's historic Palazzo Margherita, now owned by her family. Bernalda is a small medieval hilltop in the province of Matera, where her famous father, film director Francis Ford Coppola, regularly sojourns, declaring he feels right at home among the friendly locals, lively festivals and delicious food, oils and wines. Basilicata's cuisine is deeply anchored in its rural traditions, with plenty of fresh meats and seasonal vegetables. Local specialities include the fresh home-made orecchiette (little ears) pasta, Panella bread (made with flour and boiled potatoes), a hot pepper known as diavulicchiu (little devil),the PGI Senise peppers, Lucanica pork sausages, lamb stews and the fragrant cacioricotta cheese.