Francis Ford Coppola has made Palazzo Margherita as grand as any Cinecittà film set (it’s not mere whimsy that the bar is named after the famed Roman studio), perhaps the reason why many A-listers have flocked to the sleepy 15th-century town of Bernalda to grace its gilded, fresco-embellished suites. However, the Palazzo’s bucolic locale and a code of silence among loyal fans of its elite home-from-home atmosphere have ensured that its cinematic salons, lavish landscaped gardens and home-made Italian fare stay out of the spotlight; keeping it as intimate and laid back as a palace can be.
11am. Earliest check-in 2pm, but both are flexible subject to availability.
Double rooms from $750.28 (€682), excluding tax at 10 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional local city tax of €5.00 per person per night on check-out.
Rates include breakfast, in-room drinks and cooking lessons with the Palazzo’s chefs. The minimum stay is two nights.
The Salon, inspired by neo-realist maestro Luchino Visconti, doubles up as a screening room. The hotel has a well-populated library of classic Italian films, which are screened on a regular basis, or you can arrange a private showing. Elegant and friendly general manager Rossella is happy to arrange private yoga or pilates lessons and massages in your room. She also sources all the Palazzo's ingredients, so be sure to quiz her about her knowledge of the local gastronomy.
In November and December 2018, the hotel will only open for exclusive buyouts.
At the hotel
Screening room, a movie library, a selection of games and cards, free WiFi and bicycles are free to hire. In-room: Loewe HDTV, Blu-ray DVD player, Apple TV, iPod dock, free minibar and Santa Maria Novella bath products.
Our favourite rooms
Suite Four was designed by Francis’ daughter and acclaimed director, Sofia Coppola, and has a spacious bathroom with a hammam and chromatherapy shower. The decor is lavish yet tasteful, with pastel-shaded frescoes, chevron floor tiles, lacy wall friezes and a small garden-view terrace.
Take a flower-scented dip in the outdoor pool hidden at the foot of the hotel’s sprawling gardens. There’s a bar close by the secluded swimming area, so you can kick back on a day-bed with a cocktail while gazing out over the winding fruit tree-lined pathways and gently swaying palms.
A camera to capture the hotel’s grandeur for envy-making tales once you arrive home; or even better, make like a Coppola and get some film footage of the surrounding scenery.
The hotel has a two-night minimum stay. For exclusive buyouts, the minimum stay is three nights.
Rooms are spacious enough to fit a family and the staff are accommodating, but delicate decorative features and manicured gardens require well-behaved bambinos. Cots can be provided in all rooms except Garden Room Two, and are free for under-2s.
The hotel uses exclusively locally sourced organic ingredients in its meals and some are grown in the gardens. The building has been sensitively restored to cultural heritage standards, but there have been some subtle solar panels added to keep it energy efficient.
Ask the staff to set up the gazebo table in the garden with candles –the idyllic combination of low light and lush surroundings will rouse a smile from even the most cynical Smith.
Despite its regal setting, the hotel’s casa-from-casa style means there’s no need to put on airs and graces, and there’s no risk of nose-diving monocles if you swan up to the kitchen table in your swimwear.
To encourage a home-from-home atmosphere, guests can dine at the eat-in kitchen or in the courtyard if they wish, but there’s no official restaurant on site. Food is locally sourced (or brought from Puglia if unavailable nearby) and dishes are deceptively simple. Sausage with rocket or grilled pork rib may sound like frugal fare for such elaborate surroundings, but tuck in and you’ll find it’s the melt-in-mouth unctuous, flavoursome fare Italians excel in. Home-fired pizzas are also available in the evenings. A Continental breakfast buffet is served each morning, with local meats and cheeses, home-made cakes and croissants, cereal, fruit and lashings of strong coffee.
Three: The Cinecittà Bar (named after the famed Roman film studio), which serves Illy coffee and wood-fired pizzas on a terrace overlooking the town square; a poolside bar; and the Family Bar; an elaborate space with salvaged furnishings, including the Palazzo’s original chandelier and a vintage bar from Turin, and walls dressed in retro Le Manach fabric.
Breakfast is served from 7:30am to 11am, lunch from noon to 3pm. Guests can tuck into a home-made pizza from 7pm to noon, and a light menu is available in the courtyard or garden throughout the day.
The full room service menu of rustic Italian fare can be enjoyed until 11pm. From 11pm–7am a range of snacks and paninis are available.
Palazzo Margherita sits in Bernalda, a walled 15th-century town and owner Francis Ford Coppola’s ancestral home, located just above the arch of Italy’s ‘boot’ far away from the tourist trail. The hotel is just a 20-minute drive from the Ionian coast.
Bari Airport and Brindisi Salento Airport are both about a 90-minute drive away and serve flights from Italian cities and some European destinations (including London Gatwick and Munich). Transatlantic flights and flights across the Pacific connect at Milan or Rome Fiumicino airports to both Puglian airports.
The hotel is a 15-minute drive from Metaponto station, from which you can catch a direct line to Rome or Bari Airport using Trenitalia.
The hotel’s unspoilt scenic surrounds remain so because Bernalda’s off the beaten track, so a car is essential to navigate the winding countryside roads. Luckily the hotel’s spot-on service includes valet parking too.
Worth getting out of bed for
Bernalda is a petite and peaceful mediaeval comune with a few frescoed adobe-style churches and a smattering of historic monuments, such as the Castle of Bernalda. It’s a sleepy place so if you leave the hotel you may want to drive out into Matera, a province that has been used as the backdrop for many historic films due to its changeless ancient scenery. The prehistoric cave dwellings known as Sassi di Matera are some of the earliest settlements in Italy. Located 40 minutes from the hotel, you can find panoramic views of this photogenic area from the surrounding hills and an illuminated night-time visit offers a glimpse into ancient history. The Musma di Matera (+39 0835 330582) is housed in a decaying palazzo, offering a much more dramatic backdrop to the modern Italian art displayed within than the typical white-wall gallery space. If you grow tired of crumbling monuments, you can adjourn to the seashore, where a few suitable-for-sunbathing areas are dotted along the Ionian coast; the hotel can arrange access to beach clubs on Marina di Pisticci's pristine white sands. Matera is also renowned for viticulture and gastronomy, and any wine enthusiasts should make the two-hour pilgrimage to Grifalco vineyard, one of very few locations in Italy where Aglianico del Vulture red wine is produced; dubbed ‘the best red in the country’ by Italian food and wine magazine, Gambero Rosso. The hotel can arrange a guide to regale you with the history of this 12th-century vineyard before guests dive in to a lunchtime tasting. For something to accompany your rare vintage, join the palazzo’s chef Tommaso at Bernalda’s farms and fish markets to cherry pick from his inimitable knowledge of country cuisine.
Bernalda may be petite, but its restaurants use the fabulous local farm fare to create tempting rustic menus. The Trattoria La Locandiera (+39 0835 543241) offers hand-made pasta, meat and fish dishes that veer away from run-of-the-mill Italian fare, such as cod-milk pie with caponata and balsamic vinegar. The food is beautifully presented on wooden trenchers and the gingham tablecloths, rustic bric-a-brac and piles of books make this cosy trattoria feel like a family home. Unusually for this pasta-producing province, they offer a selection of gluten-free dishes. Da Fifina (+39 0835 543134), just across the road from Palazzo Margherita, serves fabulous seafood and tantalising pasta in laid-back surroundings. La Corte (+39 0835 548509) is a bijou trattoria with vaulted stone ceilings and no-nonsense dishes made with local pasta and meat. For a light lunch with a kick, visit Cantine Del Notaio (+39 335 6842483), a vineyard an hour and a half's drive away on the slopes of Mount Vulture, with cellars that date back to the 13th century. The locally sourced lunch is said to be very good, but it’s the highly drinkable Basilicata wine that’s the star of the show here.
Mr Smith and I have stayed in many hotel rooms over the years, but we can’t recall having had an ensuite bar before. Just outside our door is a Seventies-meets-Art-Nouveau room with little café tables and walls covered in stretched Le Manach fabric (despite belonging to film director Francis Ford Coppola, the restored palazzo is more general pattern than General Patton, thanks to the handiwork of decorator Jacques Grange). ‘I feel like I’m in Montmartre,’ says Mr Smith, eyeing up the purple and mahogany colour scheme. They say that absinthe makes the heart grow fonder, but this is southern Italy, and a glass of vivid-orange Aperol has us gazing lovingly into each other’s eyes.
We roll off the bar stools and into our suite. Mr Smith immediately sets to work fathoming the Loewe telly with the expertise of a Bletchley Park code breaker, and locates a lengthy list of movies – mainly Italian classics – which has been personally curated by Coppola. The bed is quite spectacularly large, although in this room it only just looks big enough. ‘I wonder if there’s a severed horse’s head in there?’ I remark wittily, but the Godfather reference is lost on Mr Smith. Having discovered the complimentary Santa Maria Novella toiletries, I have a soak in the roll-top Devon & Devon bathtub. Mr Smith decides to road test the shower, which is more sit-in than walk-in, with a Silvestrin-inspired marble bench.
Scented in herbally Florentine monastic cloaks, we sashay downstairs for a perambulation in the formal gardens. They are breathtakingly beautiful, with palms, fragrant climbers, a fountain and a long covered pergola. Francis’s daughter Sofia got married here, and it’s an undeniably romantic setting. Right at the back of the plot is the swimming pool. Rather than ubiquitous sea blue, the lining of the pool is an inky colour that gives the water a fabulous moodiness. ‘That’s Black Blue by Farrow & Ball,’ says Mr Smith, ‘the same as our front door at home.’ It’s good to know he’s been concentrating.
Staying at Palazzo Margherita really is like staying in a family home (if they’re a rather affluent bunch). You can eat anywhere you like, at pretty much any time you like. It’s the middle of the afternoon, and we decide to have lunch by the pool. A table is set up in the shade, with a vase of flowers from the garden, and we dine on pearl barley with herb pesto, and linguine with green beans and cacioricotta. Having devoured the palazzo’s immaculate home-made pasta, later we have a go at making some ourselves. We join some other guests in the kitchen, where we knead balls of dough around the dining table. The chef patiently shows us how to roll the knife with just the right amount of pressure to create delicate orechiette, or ‘little ears’. Mr Smith’s look more like mangled noses – perhaps something got lost in translation? Nevertheless, his efforts go into the cooking pot with all of the others, and we help to make a simple sauce with fresh tomatoes, basil and a surprising amount of the starchy cooking water. I have a go at tossing the sauce, and splatter it all over the cooker.
After all of that hard work we’re in need of a TV dinner, and we retire to the grand salon on the first floor. It turns out that the chandelier is electrically operated, and it rises seamlessly to the ceiling while an enormous cinema screen drops down behind it. ‘This is better than our local Odeon,’ observes Mr Smith. Occasionally there is a knock at the door and a new dish is ushered forth, revealed from beneath a silver cloche: paccheri pasta in perfectly al dente ribbons, tender sliced beef in sweet vincotto, and Margherita cake, a sort of Italian black forest gateau with boozy cherries. The whole experience brings new meaning to the term ‘movie theatre’.
The following day, after a breakfast of croissants, three different types of cake and a leaning tower of fruit, we motor to Matera, a jaw-dropping Unesco World Heritage site and the backdrop for many a big-screen adventure. The town is famous for its Sassi – meaning Old Stones – comprised of ancient little dwellings dug out of the rock. While Mr Smith accesses his inner caveman, I search out the local jewellery shop, having been tipped off by one of the receptionists at the palazzo. Laden down by my new copper pipe and agate necklace, we trundle off to Musma, the Museum of Contemporary Sculpture. Modern works of art are displayed inside the hewn tufa rock of the centuries-old Sassi – it’s an unexpected delight.
Back at the hotel, it’s time to eat again, and we pull up a stool at the Cinecittà Bar. This place has its own dedicated pizzaiolo from Naples. He gives us a masterclass in the art of dough-stretching before serving up a variety of tempting toppings – despite the name, it’s not just tomato-and-mozzarella margheritas at the palazzo. Surrounded by black-and-white photographs of vintage movie stars, feeling like a right couple of Coppolas, we enjoy a suitably filmic end to an Oscar-deserving stay.
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