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Jetsetter Guides

What It’s Like to Vacation Like Sofia Coppola

A glam hideaway owned by the famous Coppola family has thrown the small southern Italian town of Bernalda into the spotlight.

It’s been an exhausting day, and all I want is a quiet night in with a good movie. In most circumstances, that would involve a six-pack, a pizza and some Netflix. But when you’re staying at Francis Ford Coppola’s villa, a crystal chandelier retracts into the frescoed ceiling of the 19th century grand salon, and a state-of-the-art projection system slides into place, ready to play any of the 300 movies personally selected by the legendary director.

There are plenty of celebrity-owned hotels out there, but so many trade substance for scene. And almost none of them provide the Cinderella experience of making you feel like one of the family. Staying at the nine-room Palazzo Margherita in Copolla’s ancestral home of Bernalda, Italy, folds you into the fabric of the town and of his history. It combines the comfort of staying at a good friend’s (exceedingly well-appointed) house with the dream of entering into a life only seen on the pages of glossy magazines.

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The Palazzo Margherita feels like home because it is, first and foremost, just that. Coppola asked his wife and children to help design their own rooms, his daughter was married there and his grand-daughter blew out her first birthday candles in the courtyard. When the family isn’t visiting, you can stay in their rooms — from the delightfully feminine Sofia room to the Francis, whose North African accents are an homage to his Tunisian grandmother. Guests are encouraged to act like family, raiding the kitchen for freshly baked breads and handmade cheeses when hungry, helping the chef make pizza or pasta around a weathered old farm table, and sipping post-dinner limoncello in the private upstairs bar.

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The region of Basilicata, which occupies the heel of Italy’s boot, hasn’t traditionally been known as a tourist hub. All the better. Instead of a theme park version of the country, you get to feel the real daily rhythms of life in the region. Take a passeggiata (stroll) from the Palazzo down the main street of Bernalda, and a local is likely to invite you over for dinner. And staying at the Palazzo gives you access to experiences no other tourist can have. One day, I hung out at a centuries-old fortified farm (pictured below), making mozzarella in an ancient cauldron with milk from the cows outside. I tore it into shreds to top pizzas that we cooked in the same outdoor oven that’s served generations of farm families.

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Photos by Colleen Clark

As tempting as it is to curl up at Casa Copolla, you’re well positioned for exploration. First stop? The beach, just a 15-minute drive from the hotel (staff will drop you off). This is no overpriced Italian Riviera scene of fashion models and private clubs. Simple thatched umbrellas dot the coast. Kids frolic in the surf. Fishing boats pull up to the shore, delivering fresh squid and sea bass, which are grilled simply at a stand in the sand.

Another day I visited the nearby town of Matera, whose cafes, homes and boutiques have been carved out of cave dwellings. Here, the Palazzo team arranged for me to meet up with an art collector and wine expert to taste local vintages in a previously sealed wine cave. This is the benefit of being the guest of a famous host. Coppola knows people. And you, by extension, get to know them too.

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But the best part of every day is coming home. Staff greet you, boisterous and eager to hear about your adventures. You watch the town go by from the sidewalk tables of the hotel’s Cinecittà Bar, you sup by candlelight in the garden, you catch a flick in the salon. Then you tuck yourself beneath frescoed ceilings to dream cinematic dreams of the days to come.