When Francis Ford Coppola bought an ancient palazzo in his ancestral town of Bernalda tucked away in the arch of Italy’s ‘boot’, he put this unknown region of Italy firmly on the well-heeled international traveller’s radar. This magnificent palace is quite unexpected as you step away from the hustle and bustle of the very normal and rather mundane main street, through an imposing set of wooden doors into a courtyard filled with birdsong and fountains.
Everything in this delightful hotel feels fantastically spoiling and indulgent. The complete lack of visitors in Bernalda except the lucky few who manage to secure one of the nine bedrooms in Palazzo Margherita, give it very much the feeling of a private home of a very rich aunt from another era. Under the watchful gaze of decorator Jacques Grange, Coppola enlisted the help of each member of his close-knit family when it came to the design and feel of the palazzo. Our favourite bedroom is the Sofia Suite; feminine and pretty with trompe l’oeil frescoes, long French windows leading onto a small terrace overlooking the fig trees below and a vast tiled bathroom with one of my favourite marble baths in all Italy. The bedrooms in the restored stables are also divine. Cleverly they mask the view of the surrounding apartment blocks and satellite dishes which unfortunately cannot be hidden from the views of the bedrooms on the first floor. These stable rooms are less formal and just a short stroll from the stunning swimming pool at the back of the garden.
The beautifully tiled brick-vaulted kitchen epitomises dining a casa, with copper pots hanging from the ceiling and bunches of freshly cut basil, rosemary and oregano stuffed into jars along the counter. With a long communal wooden table overlooking the cooking area, Coppola has cleverly managed to source a brilliant chef Filomena whose assistants look just like the beautiful Southern boys of his most notorious films. Locally sourced ingredients are lovingly transformed into superb dishes such as the zuppa di cozze from the nearby coastline, all served on pretty ceramic plates that offer an original twist to the more recognisable plates from Vietri Sul Mare. The other side of the kitchen leads onto the Cinecittà Bar; a fun place reminiscent of the 1960s with blaring jukebox, black and white photos of the great and good of Hollywood and, most cleverly, access to the main high street which brings in curious locals, keen to investigate their most famous cousin’s creation. Guests wanting a little more privacy (this place is made for assignations) can eat under a pergola in the candlelit walled garden.
Palazzo Margherita is truly an extraordinary, quite unexpected jewel that begs to be discovered. The perfect place to stop for a few nights en route from Puglia to the Amalfi Coast, or for a long weekend with a loved one.