Francis Ford Coppola – the name needs no introduction. As a director in the 1970s he changed the face of filmmaking with The Godfather and Apocalypse Now, and in the decades since his children have made their own waves in Hollywood. His daughter Sofia directed the cult movie Lost in Translation, and his son Roman wrote Moonrise Kingdom and The Darjeeling Limited with Wes Anderson. Coppola’s father was an Oscar-winning composer, and he counts actors Nicolas Cage and Jason Schwartzman among his nephews.
And the dynasty does not stop there. With the proceeds from the success of the The Godfather, Coppola purchased his first vineyard in California in 1975, carrying on a tradition started by his grandfather Agostino, who used to produce wine in his New York basement during the Prohibition years. The Coppola brand now produces wine under ten different labels, which are sold around the world.
From movies to winemaking, Coppola has always been in touch with his Italian roots, never more so than in 2004 when he bought the Palazzo Margherita in Bernalda, the small hilltop town where his grandfather was born. Near the Ionian sea in the decidedly non-touristy region of Basilicata, after several years of renovations the palazzo is now open to guests, all hoping a little of the Coppola magic rubs off on them during their stay.
The atmosphere is certainly magical as you walk through the archway draped with Wisteria and through the walled courtyard to the impressive doors of the palazzo. Built in 1892, the building is in typical Italianate style, with high ceilings and arched windows giving onto effusive gardens filled with citrus trees and fragrant herbs.
Coppola worked with the acclaimed French designer Jacques Grange to restore the house. His aim was to create a place that his children would want to spend time in, connected to the origins of his family. Each of the bedrooms was decorated with a different family member in mind. The cool-toned Sofia suite is designed to represent a misty garden at dawn. The walls are painted in cool green-grays with the suggestion of leaves and shapes painted to look like wooden trelliswork, while a private terrace overlooks the garden. The result is calm and feminine.
The Gia suite, named for Coppola’s first grandchild, features a frescoed ceiling depicting the lovers Cupid and Psyche that dates back to the house’s original owners, the Margherita family. With pink walls and floral furniture the effect is decidedly romantic, a feeling that carries through into the bathroom with its antique claw-footed tub.
The Roman suite has a languid Gatsby-esque mood, with a cream and palest green color scheme and geometric motifs. The ceiling is painted with an Art Nouveau-inspired fresco, while the dark wood furniture and lamps are reminiscent of a private members’ club. Elsewhere, the suite of garden rooms with their rough-hewn stone walls and curved ceilings are more rustic in feel, but no less charming.
If deciding which room to call home is a difficult task, it’s surely the only difficulty you’ll encounter during your stay. The staff at Palazzo Margherita is determined to share the best service and the best of the region with you while you visit. It’s not unusual for staff to take guests to nearby farms to witness the olive harvest or to dine on local produce at the farmer’s own table. Other days guests can learn to make pasta from the palazzo’s chefs in the sprawling traditional kitchen, or watch a film from Coppola’s extensive collection in the screening room. On a recent weekend, locals and guests mingled together, while a band played traditional Italian songs and others lead the dancing out into the courtyard.
Further afield, the Unesco Heritage Site of Sassi di Matera is 40 minutes away. Here, you’ll find ancient cave dwellings, or sassi, some of which have existed since 7,000 BC. Although many of the sassi are uninhabitable, others have been adapted into hotels, restaurants and even churches – making for a fascinating afternoon of exploration through the winding alleys. On the way back stop in at the Crypt of Original Sin which has extremely well preserved frescoes of Old Testament scenes dating back to the 8th Century.
Whether your agenda includes dips into the storied history of southern Italy, or a strict poolside tanning schedule, the staff at Palazzo Margherita will be there to share their delight in the region, in its delicious fresh produce and robust wines, its beautiful scenery and friendly inhabitants. For a few days, or perhaps a week, the palazzo will be your home. A place, just as Coppola hoped when he bought the house, that you’ll want to spend time in, surrounded by friends and family.
Find out more about Palazzo Margherita