Out in a frowzy looking field, with views of distant mountains, there is an enormous ruined abbey. Keeping the castle at your back, walk straight through the medieval center and out the other side into a short stretch of seedy looking suburb. Because you have to pay a little something to get into the abbey complex and you probably have bigger bills than they can change (because this must be the most unvisited abbey complex in Italy), pause at the gas station on the right shortly after you leave the old town, and have a coffee or something at their bar, breaking your 50 Euro note. Don't tell them I told you this.
The first part of the abbey complex is specialist material, consisting of the sort of Roman foundations and fragments of mosaic you've seen everywhere else in Italy. Have patience, because a bit further on you enter a mighty standing ruin of a church, begun before the Norman invasions and apparently never completed. The walls are spotted with large stones taken from much older Roman edifices, so among the usual Christian symbols there lurk occaisional bits of old tomb, fragments of victory speeches, lopped off hands and feet, and, remarkably, some inscriptions in Hebrew. Attached to all this evocativeness is a Romanesque church which is still in use, containg a damp crypt and some interesting artworks. The gorgon at the door will put you out promptly at siesta time. Then you can go across the road and peer through the fence at an overgrown Jewish cemetery.
This is an Agriturismo. It was Sunday and full of parties. It is situated on top of a very high hill. The bus could not go up the narrow road but some of us were taken up in their minivan. There was no menu. You just ate what came and it was GOOD. Meats were chicken and lamb. avegetables were cooked in various styles, and the dessert was a kind of spongecake. Local wines. Coffee.
Favorite Dish: The vegetable antipasti and of course their version of caponata.
All right, I'm embarassed not to remember the name of this place, but Venosa is small and doesn't have many places to eat, so you'll probably wind up here anyway.
It didn't look like much, just a building with the word Pizzeria in its name and a bit of green neon. We were ushered upstairs to a large bright room full of people watching a football game and chattering loudly. It was interesting to look at the variety of personalities and guess who they all were. Over there, the physics teacher and the comp-lit teacher from the local high school, discussing amateur theatricals. Over there, several overfed business men with one overdressed lady (a personal assistant?) planning a new real estate deal. At the next table, the local football hero and three adoring young women. Under the mirror, could it be an anniversary party with 25 members of one family. Must be, somebody's just said "What's THAT supposed to mean?" and left the table.
The two devastatingly good looking young waiters were moving fast and everything we saw on people's plates looked marvelous.
The waiters were extremely nice and very jolly, and when it became clear to them we weren't frightened of speaking Italian they became our new best friends. My companion and I tend to linger over dinner, so when the place began to empty out the waiters joined us for drinks and some tri-lingual conversation. This went so well that we were finally invited down to the bar, where we were poured generous quantities of Grappa, on the house, introduced to the chef, had our pictures taken. These are seriously lovely people, and I would go back to Venosa tomorrow just to see them again. Oh, did I mention? The food was outstanding.
I suggest Bar Plaza in Piazza Castello. You have a great view of the Castle and the locals walking up and down through town taking their nightly strolls....and the bar happens to be located in my mother's childhood home and was turned into a jewelery store and then a bar in the early 2000's when my grandparents passed away.
Dress Code: whatever you'd like... it's all seating outside int he piazza!
There is a rail station called Venosa-Maschito quite some distance out of town but I'd be interested in seeing what kind of service it receives. The driving in Basilicata is extremely pleasant and traffic in Venosa is quite calm. If you stay at Hotel Guiscardo you get safe parking. All of Venosa is within a short walk of wherever you happen to be.
The town has two tourist offices, one facing the castle entrance, and another down that straight street through the middle of town. At both, the personnel were extremely helpful and glad to see us. The man at the castle office loaded us with expensively produced brochures about Basilicata, and the ladies at the other one gave us maps and phoned around for hotels for us. At both places, the staff were well informed and expert.
It's clear that the local people are proud of their little town and want tourists to come and enjoy themselves, because we were treated like visiting royalty by everyone except the desk clerks at the hotel.