Palazzo Margherita Oh, Serendipitious Life!

Serendipity – a cherished word and a dynamic occurrence in my being.

In early June at the end of a very long day/week, I received the most cryptic email from a virtual stranger: “a mutual friend who wishes to remain anonymous recommended you to us.  We have just been retained by Francis Ford Coppola to bring a group of travel professionals to his Palazzo Margherita, in Italy.

If you are interested in joining us as a guest of the owner from June 14-18, please let us know.”  Really? I receive hundreds of emails from obscure Generals in unknown countries with offers to share millions of dollars – honestly, if the company website and direct phone number hadn’t been included, I might have deleted. I shared with a brilliant dear friend, his comment: are they going to kidnap you? My niece remarked: I hope you’re packed. She, who loves adventure as much as I.

I spoke to the charming principal of the firm, we laughed at my friend’s comment. Let me ponder for 24 hours and determine how I will get my clients set forth on their Journeys – in the midst of summer season!

Si, Si, Si said the girl who always has passport and a bag at the door and adores adventure.

Italy and I have a lengthy history, although I’ve never visited Southern Italy where Palazzo Margherita, is located. The Journey: Rome for a night and onward to Brindisi and Bernalda in the Basilicata region, or as Mr. Coppola’s grandfather described it, Bernalda bella.

Arriving in Brindisi is not momentous nor is the drive to Bernalda, broad horizons resembling the landscape of central California, non-descript and dry. The charm doesn’t lie in the initial scenery; I later learn the allure lies in the food and wine, the people and the surrounding towns, beaches, forest and nearby UNESCO village of Matera, oh and of course, Palazzo Margherita!

Palazo MargheritaAs in France and Italy, those enormous curved wooden doors with the oversize metal doorknockers on a city street often reveal amazing surprises, the stately pale blue door in the middle of Corso Umberto 1, belies the palatial Palazzo obscured behind.

Enter into a gorgeous columned courtyard with a peek of the magical garden in the distance, delicate curved arches, hand painted frescoed ceilings, the wafting aroma of baking bread, welcome you from the quiet street, truly a little gem of a Palazzo.Entry to GardenOnce a crumbling 19th Century artifact, Mr. Coppola and the famed French designer Jacques Grange, along with an esteemed local Italian team have lovingly restored the Villa to a rarified hotel/villa property. One senses Mr. Coppola’s love of family history in every suite, each more stunning. The attention to detail in refurbishing is extraordinary; every tile numbered and replaced exactly as found. Frescoed ceilings have been painstakingly recreated; Murano chandeliers sparkle in many rooms. Despite the grandeur, visiting feels more like staying in a private home, albeit, a posh Palazzo. Consisting of seven oversize suites and two garden floor rooms. The suites wrap around the central courtyard with views of the garden or town plaza, many have Juliette balconies or extended terraces. Each suite is named after a Coppola family member.

Room amenities include fresh flowers, triple pane glass for complete silence, luxurious linens, state of the art technology, spendy (complimentary) Italian bath products, and free Wi-Fi. More amenities: yoga and massage, cinema in the Salon. Need entertainment? A local folk band will come to serenade and regale you; playing ancient instruments and singing boisterous ballads, they will keep you dancing until sunrise!  Mr. G. Inglese, private tailor, will visit to measure then deliver fine hand made shirts, scarves and blouses. In business for over 60 years, his family has dressed the titans of Italian industry and British Royalty.

The photos represent the splendor of the suites and garden.

The images cannot depict the soul and spirit of Palazzo Margherita.

Tommaso Locanfora heads the kitchen crew, they’ve perfected unpretentious nourishing meals; well, several servings of handmade pizza might not qualify as healthy! No Grazie isn’t in their vocabulary! Seasonal ingredients direct from a garden, the sea or a pasture – nothing canned or frozen – regional cuisine, home made, delectable, and humbly prepared and beautifully presented. We enjoyed a marvelous feast every night, with many requests for more red pepper pasta! Romantic dining in the candle lit garden, in the courtyard, by the pool, at the Chef Table in the aromatic bustling kitchen, or in the Cinecittà Bar. This particular bar is open to the public, a gracious invitation to the local town folk.

A regional specialty found at the Sunday market is a locally grown pepper: IGP Senise peppers, which are often sold as whole peppers when dried and are sold in long strings as well as smaller bags. Just like “Champagne” or  “Roquefort” cheese, this particular pepper enjoys origin protection issued by the European Union. The peppers are tied up as ristras, which are called fila (thread) in Italian. As set by the IGP certification rules, harvest has to be done by hand. Among many other aspects, the regulation also defines the area where the peppers have to grow to be legally named “Peperoni di Senise”. They are often fried and offered as antipasti or in pasta dishes. When fried they are known as perperoni cruschi. Look for earlier post with a recipe.

Jukebox Palazzo MargheritaCinecittà Bar with a barrel-vaulted ceiling has a jukebox with fabulous songs, vintage black and white photos of leading stars from Rome studios. Delightful, festive, casual, meet the charming locals in the bar or at the cafe tables under the shady pepper trees. Imagine as many tractors as there are cars on the narrow streets, men passing the time on a park bench. Linger with the locals, Bernalda demands a slow pace!

Staff is friendly and fun, but not familiar, they seem exhilarated by your visit. Everyone is beyond helpful, always there for your every need and with a cheerful smile. I think they are all elated to be working in the Palazzo and it is evident in their demeanor.

Visiting here is not to be seen, this Palazzo is for relaxing and relishing quiet and leisure at an unhurried pace; stray a few miles to a private beach, frolic in the pale Ionian Sea, lounge on the warm sandy beach for an afternoon, hike for a morning in the shaded pine forest. Return for cinema, pool time or a cooking class.

Not typical Italian sightseeing of ancient churches with century old frescoes or museums. Explore authentic small towns, enhanced by interesting UNESCO sites and villages. Small wineries abound, cheese is a specialty, wild boar, prosciutto, homemade pasta and pizza are everyday feasts.

Nearby Matera, a monochromatic ancient village of pale fawn hued architecture is a captivating town; wander the hilly paths with a guide. Carved from a limestone gorge, the cave homes were abandoned for decades until the 1950’s saw a sweep of artists and wanderers re-populating it; in 1993 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Cobbled streets lined with gelato shops, colorful pottery, fine woven linens, and views of the canyon walls that have been eroded by a small stream. A favorite film location for decades, travelers are just discovering it.

There are many stories here, the story of the rebuild and refurbishing, the story of the heart and soul of the owner, a modest owner who doesn’t list his grand films in the cinema catalog, they are available, but you have to ask. Rooms filled with remembrances and love and a warm acknowledgment of family history, this is the main story. And the fact that it is shared with the public is the ultimate finale.

Mille grazie to my still anonymous referral, to Mr. Coppola who shares his passion and his stories with the world. Bernalda bella, indeed. Palazzo Margherita, bella.

Pasta, Pasta at Palazzo Margherita, Bernalda Italy

Foodie Alert! A recent unexpected invitation from an anonymous friend landed me at the palatial Palazzo Margherita in the village of Bernalda, Italy last week. The Palazzo is owned by Francis Ford Coppola; an intimate group was invited to visit and provide perspective on the property. A full blog post soon on the phenomenal Palazzo and the surrounding areas; however, one particular pasta dish left us all begging for more! I’m in a desperate search to find the particular Peperoni di Senise. I brought home a small sample, but must  resource more.

Talented Chef Tommaso Lacanfora indulged us numerous times when we shouted more Pasta, more Pasta! One guest, who will remain unnamed, manged to down three primo pasta portions, followed by a superbo secundo barbeque course!

I’ve discovered a local Sicilian food writer who offered to share seeds with me next summer, although it seems like a long wait for this sensational dish….

recipeRecipeChef TommasoPasta photo and recipe courtesy of Palazzo Margherita.