Coppola’s Italy for Guests, Not Moviegoers

BESIDES being a filmmaker and a winemaker, Francis Ford Coppola has owned hotels and resorts since the 1980s. With his latest, Palazzo Margherita,, in Bernalda, Italy, he now owns five properties. His first, the Blancaneaux Lodgein Belize, was a result of his developing an affinity for the jungle, “as people do,” he said, while filming “Apocalypse Now” in the Philippines 35 years ago.

The latest, in the Basilicata region of Italy near the boot’s arch, was inspired by family. “This is where my father’s father, Agostino, came from before he immigrated to America,” he said. “So when I was about 21, working for Roger Corman, I came to Europefor the first time and took the ferry over the Adriatic to see what had become like a mythical place to me.”

The reality lived up to the myth. Bernalda’s local feel, its food and wine and the countryside have kept him coming back. Below are excerpts from a conversation about what makes this region of Italy so enchanting.


Q.Why Bernalda?

A.People have been visiting Italy as tourists for probably thousands of years, and there are parts that are hardened to that. But when you walk outside the gate here, you’re right in the middle of a real town, with real Italians who will invite you to their house for dinner.

Q.What’s it like?

A. It’s a little Medieval hilltop city with a castle right there near the Ionian Sea. It was always very poor, so the people have, over the years, provided their own entertainment. There’s always a street being blocked off for musicor dancing. And the wine, the food, the olive oil has a different style.

Q.What makes the food and wine different?

A.We’re equidistant from lots of different cultures. Calabria, Naplesand, right across the water, Greece. You know, everyone says their region has the best wine and olive oil, and it’s no different here.

Q.How do you think the villagers will feel about having a few more tourists around?

A.They like to meet people. When Sofia was married here, it was unbelievable. They treated her like Diana.

Q.What did your ancestors do there?

A.My grandfather came from the original town. He had been the apprentice of a local genius who brought electricity to the area. When he went to America, he was already a talented machinista. He’s the one who engineered and built the first Vitaphone machine that made Al Jolson talk. My great-grandfather tended olive trees.

Q.What’s a good city for a day trip?

A.Bari is the closest big city, but there is also a place called Lecce, which is spectacularly beautiful: unbelievable architecture, and it’s maybe an hour away, great food, great wine.

Q.What of this region is not to be missed?

A.Well, there’s incredible history to the region of Magna Graecia, which is what this was 300 years ago. In Metaponto there’s a museum of Greek antiquity and various Greek ruins that can be visited, aside from the famous Sassi cave dwellings near Matera. When I come, I like to go to those places, but I’m lost in the life of the town of Bernalda. I think people who come get adopted and always return.

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