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Director Francis Ford Coppola recently opened his latest boutique hotel, Palazzo Margherita.

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Director Francis Ford Coppola recently opened his latest boutique hotel, Palazzo Margherita (top), in the tiny Southern Italian town where his paternal grandparents were born. Working with French interior design Jacques Grange and his longtime production designer, he converted the 19th-century palace into a nine-room hideaway. Photos by Gundolf Pfotenhauer for Coppola Resorts.

W hen director Francis Ford Coppola opened his latest hotel venture a few years back, expanding his portfolio of luxury boutique properties beyond eco-lodges in Belize and Guatemala and a townhouse in Buenos Aires to include a restored palazzo in a largely overlooked part of Southern Italy, I took special notice. This wasn’t just because I live in Tuscany and new hotels are part of my purview as a contributor to Condé Nast Traveler and other publications; nor was it simply that the hotel, in the quiet region of Basilicata (the arch of the Italian boot) was bringing a new sense of style to a part of the country that had been sorely lacking it, despite the beauty of its UNESCO stone-cave villages, spectacular stretches of coast and wild, forested interiors. My interest was piqued because my husband and I have also turned historic Italian buildings into boutique hotels — and we know the pleasure and the pain of the process. Hearing about Palazzo Margherita in the months before it opened, I learned that Coppola had set up a particular, and particularly personal, challenge for himself. He’d chosen to rehabilitate one of the grandest and most significant buildings in Bernalda — the tiny town from which his paternal grandfather emigrated to the United States in 1904 — an ornate 19th-century palace that had largely fallen into disrepair and about which locals had all sorts of opinions. To reinvent the historic home as the lovely little hideaway it is now, he turned to his longtime film collaborator, production designer Dean Tavoularis, and to French interior designer extraordinaire Jacques Grange, whose work he had fallen in love with when he stayed at Yves Saint Laurent’s Grange-designed home in Marrakech. Coppola felt Grange had captured the informal and familial — but no less luxurious — feeling he sought at the palazzo.

Director Francis Ford Coppola recently opened his latest boutique hotel, Palazzo Margherita.

Director Francis Ford Coppola recently opened his latest boutique hotel, Palazzo Margherita.

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The palazzo has been a part of Bernalda’s streetscape since it was built, at the end of the 1800s. Coppola acquired the building in 2005, determined to keep it ingrained in the village’s fabric.

When I visited the hotel, shortly after it opened, the result of the Coppola-Tavoularis-Grange collaboration proved as intimate as it was cinematic, combining old world and new with details both international and specific to the region. I admired the way centuries-old Italian frescoes, restored original marble floors and antique patinas meshed with Grange-designed furniture and neoclassical-inspired finishes. In the interior courtyard gardens, I marveled at the lush plantings of different types of roses and organic vegetables and slipped into the secluded pool hidden behind vine-covered walls. I saw both locals and guests gather for aperitivi in the vintage-styled cocktail bar, with its jukebox of Italian classics and framed black-and-white photos of movie stars, while the open kitchen provided ample space for cooking lessons and a screening room offered on-demand viewings of the director’s favorite flicks. I loved that the nine individually decorated suites — several of which bear the names of Coppola family members who occupy them when in residence — feature large, modern bathrooms with antique claw-foot bathtubs and double sinks. Still, I longed to know more of Palazzo Margherita’s backstory. Recently, I had the chance to connect with the legendary director, who shared the tale of his journey back “home,” his overarching vision for the property’s design and his goal of creating a hotel that feels both internationally luxurious and integrated into the local Bernalda community.

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The Palazzo Margherita suite named for the director himself — which is where Coppola stays when he is in residence — features a large writing desk where he enjoys working, as well as a terrace overlooking the hotel’s courtyard and gardens.

What was the design inspiration for the hotel?

It was to be a palazzo with the patina of age. In other words, although a complete renovation would happen, we would keep its original feeling, with the large gardens taking center stage within the beautiful hand-painted palace.

Can you tell me a little about the inspiration for your suite?

I love the North African, Tunisian feel, given that my grandmother had come from there, and I found that it blended into the palazzo’s very sumptuous and exotic ambience to create a space that I would be happy to stay in. I love the striking tiled fireplace, the anteroom with a large writing desk where I can work and the terrace overlooking the courtyard and gardens. The walls and high ceilings feature beautifully restored paintings and frescoes. During my stay, I especially loved the bar and jukebox area, whose large doors and outdoor seating allow it to spill into the street.

Can you tell me the inspiration there, as it seemed a really great point for guests to meet locals?

We wanted the people of Bernalda to feel welcome at Palazzo Margherita even though it was to be a luxury hotel, so we decided the Cinecittà Bar would be open to all, with the feel of the bar at the famous Roman movie studio of the same name. It is a very popular place, and I personally enjoy very much hanging out there. This is where the guests, who’ve by and large never had a real experience in an authentic Italian town, can meet and mix with people from Bernalda.

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