Lights, camera, action. Film director Francis Ford Coppola's latest production, a restored palazzo in Italy, opens today (March 1). Coppola is of course known for his luxury resort hideaways and hotels (Blancaneaux Lodge, Turtle Inn, Jardin Escondido, and La Lancha) as well as his film repertoire but this new palazzo is particularly close to his heart. The 19th century Palazzo Margherita is in the town of Bernalda, in the Basilicata region of Southern Italy. Apart from being a suitably picturesque location it also happens to be the town where Francis Ford's grandfather, Agostino Coppola was born.
Originally Francis Ford Coppola intended the palazzo as a private retreat where he could return to his roots, yet something prompted him to share. "I never initially dreamed of opening a resort in Italy, let alone in the town of my grandfather Agostino Coppola," he says. "Yet when I purchased and designed the now Palazzo Margherita for friends and family to call home in Italy, I knew I needed to extend the property and surrounding village of 'Bernalda bella' to my guests as well."
We are grateful he did because the private villais a little piece of Italian paradise renovated and restored to its formal glory in partnership with French designer Jacques Grange with the help of local painters and artisans. When you first walk in it's difficult to know whether to look down or look up. Under your feet the exotic tiled floors have been personally designed by Grange, above your head patterns and flowers curl across frescoed ceilings. Coppola describes the Palazzo as his "Painted palace". "For me Palazzo Margherita is a dream come true": he says.
"Its magic gardens, the family gathering in the magnificent salon for whatever purpose: celebrations, intimate teas, evenings of films..."
For all its style the Palazzo is about intimacy, about moments shared. Coppola wanted a place his children wanted to keep coming back to. He says that for him the joy of the palazzo is "Its magic gardens, the family gathering in the magnificent salon for whatever purpose: celebrations, intimate teas, evenings of films..." The entire family collaborated with Grange in contributing personal details to individual rooms, adding to the special atmosphere of visiting a private home.
There are only are nine bedrooms in total; seven large suites and two garden rooms. Each is like an individual work of art with different design themes and colour schemes, some have striped walls and fresco ceilings, others whitewash and open stone work showing the history of the palazzo. All have indulgent bathrooms, luxurious linens and state-of-the-art technology. Some of the rooms have a large terrace or a Juliette balcony from which you can look down on the cloistered garden with its fruit trees and bougainvillea and the secluded 10-metre swimming pool at the far end. At night with the windows open perhaps you'll hear the gentle splashing of the ornate baroque fountain. Fresh flowers in every room make you feel as if an aged family retainer in a starched apron has just left them there especially for you.
There are also some very fine chefs to do your bidding. Food is inspired by the cuisine of the local region, home cooking with a twist. So expect hand-made pastas, local game, fish from the nearby coast or local breads and cheeses. Wines are also from the local region, known for its fragrant Aglianico grape. Since this is your own private villa you may dine wherever you choose; by candlelight in the gardens; casually in the Cinecittà Bar or at the farmhouse table in the kitchen itself, specifically designed to allow guests to enjoy, observe and even participate in the cooking experience.
In the evenings, the Palazzo's salon becomes a private screening theatre where guests can enjoy one of Francis's personally-curated collection of 300 classic Italian films and documentaries.
Right outside the palazzo's stylish walls you can explore grandfather Coppola's quaint town of Bernalda. Further afield the province of Matera has ancient cave dwellings, historic houses, museums, local restaurants and wineries. The beaches of the Mediterranean are a drive away. Depending on the beach you'll either find quiet seclusion or beach-club action, frenetic water-sports and busy tavernas.
So what next for Coppola the hotelier? We understand he is looking at a South Beach loft in Miami - watch this space.
The Coppola Resorts are a collection of unique properties which draw inspiration from his film career and travels. Apart from their style and eco-friendly philosophy the resorts are interesting because they offer a glimpse into the values that Francis Ford Coppola holds dear - family, fun, adventure, and great food and wine. The luxury resorts are all in idyllic spots surrounded by historic or natural beauty. All are havens for those who would also rather just relax As Coppola puts it, "There are things to do - or just do nothing."
They included Blancaneaux Lodge and Turtle Inn in Belize (both have been listed on the 'Best Resorts in Central + South America' by Travel + Leisure magazine)
La Lancha in Guatemala,Jardin Escondido in Argentina and Nicholls Street, a boutique hotel in New Orleans.