You know that well-furnished estate you picture yourself in when you daydream? The Francis Ford Coppola family runs it in southern Italy. (Leave it to the movie masters to recreate such beautiful scenes.) Fathom contributing editor Kate Donnelly checked in for a few days of the sweet suite life.
Close your eyes and consider a southern Italian hilltop town. The men sit outside and chat, the gelato store is always open, and the table red tastes just fine. Not a bad visual. Now, open to reveal a grand and dreamy 19th-century palazzo in the city of Bernalda, a remote town in Italy's Basilicata region. Welcome to Palazzo Margherita.
Claim to Fame
The Coppola family, in collaboration with French designer Jacques Grange, painstakingly renovated this large palazzo in the hometown of Francis Coppola's grandfather, Agostino, a place he always referred to as "Bernalda bella."
What's on Site
The light-filled residence has nine suites — three situated on the garden and five in the main house — and is filled with painstakingly beautiful details, from individually hand-painted ceiling frescos to the décor of the rooms themselves. The house is luxe but incredibly accessible and feels like a friend's (very large) summer place. The at-home sensibility comes from the down-to-earth, professional, and genuinely nice staff and cooks.
Everywhere you look are Italian still life compositions — from bowls of walnuts to fresh fruit arranged just so to a gorgeous fountain in the middle of the courtyard. A tranquil pool rests just behind the lovely walled gardens and a small bar borders the swimming pool. Order an espresso between laps. You'll want to unplug and let the charms overwhelm you, but there's stellar Wifi for all your Instagramming needs (read: Italian countryside bragging moments).
In the mornings, the easily navigatable town is perfect for a quick jog or a nice pedal on borrowed bikes. Take a cooking lesson (from the extremely patient Italian pasta chef) and learn how to make the ear-shaped orecchitte using just the right amount of flour, water, and pressure.
In the evenings, step outside and read a book, climb to the quiet second-floor bar for a digestivo, or head to the grand salon screening room with hundreds of Italian films and documentaries.
Ah, the food. Home-cooked, homemade, and from the heart. Meals are a family-style affair at the Palazzo. Wander down in the morning for a spread of grilled bread and fresh ricotta cheese served on a sunny terrace or munch on fresh fruits, sweet items, and eggs made to order. For lunch, local chef Tomasso Lacanfora and his small staff prepares homemade pizzas and pastas. (Fun fact: Unlike their Northern counterparts who use eggs in their mix, down here chefs use only water and flour, resulting in an all-around lighter pasta.)
At night, retreat to either the common eat-in kitchen and bond with your fellow guests at a long, communal table or sit in the courtyard and eat orecchiette rape e peperoni cruschi di Sensie (an authentic Basiclatan pasta dish with broccoli rabe and dried peppers from Senise) and a lamb dish with a brown, encrusted dome (resembling something from the film Big Night).
Most of your meal's ingredients come from the organic garden. There's also a relaxed front-of-the-house spot called Cinecittà Bar where outside guests and visitors can dine on wood-fired pizzas with red table wines and Illy coffee. The décor includes a vintage bar from Turin and is dotted with black-and-white cinema photos on the wall and a jukebox.
In the Room
There's no need to lock your door at Palazzo Margherita. The theme of home-away-from-home resonates here. Each suite is different. My room — the airy, light-filled Suite 9 (Mr. and Mrs. Coppola's) — is an exercise in Tunisian pinks and blues and an homage to Coppola's grandmother, Maria Zasa. There's terracotta, white tiles, Murano chandeliers, and an oval headboard with sheer white drapes.
If there's a chill in the air, sit by the tiled fireplace thumbing through a book. Or throw open the French doors that lead to a patio overlooking the family garden. In the bathroom, Santa Maria Novella products can be added to the claw-foot bathtub for a midnight soak with a glass of wine.
Room with a View
The quiet, tranquil suites in the back of the house (the aforementioned Suite 9 and Suite 4, which belongs to Sofia Coppola) are perhaps the most desirable. In the early mornings, I awoke to birds and swaying trees and the scent of the wisteria just outside. For those looking to save some cash, the more affordable lower back garden rooms still offer plenty of charm.
This Place Is Perfect For
People who take their authentic Italian pleasure seriously, intimate boutique hotel lovers, and those who want to feel at home without the in-your-face-formalities found at a large luxury hotel.
But Not So Perfect For
People who don't appreciate the drama of a room.
What to Do Nearby
The chic, in-the-know general manager Rossella De Filippo is an encyclopedia of knowledge on the region and can recommend all sorts of special excursions.
Bernalda itself is like a small cinematic town and makes a nice day trip. Go for lunch on great red and white-checkered tablecloths at Trattoria La Locandiera or eat seafood at laid-back Trattoria Da Fifina. Nab a lemon granita at the small bar on Corso Umberto and look for photo ops among the small private churches and old cinema.
Ten minutes away is a relaxed beach club serving food and drinks on the Ionian Sea. Forty minutes away is the town of Matera, famous for its ancient dwellings dug out of rock. I followed the Matera guide written by Fathom founder Jeralyn Gerba.
PLAN YOUR TRIP
How to Get Here
The closest airports are Bari (BRI) and Brindisi Salento (BDS). Both are about 90 minutes away.
Bernalda is a remote hillside locale. You'll want a to rent a car to get around.