Have you ever eaten a wild hyacinth bulb? These bittersweet lampascioni are a homegrown delicacy at Francis Ford Coppola’s hotel in the sleepy hilltop town of Bernalda. Palazzo Margherita’s daily-changing menu is a tribute to fresh local produce, with the treasured, shallot-like lampascioni served alongside lamb and buttery potatoes in a bread-covered terracotta pot. Other highlights are artichoke salad and broccoli rabe orechiette topped with crisp breadcrumbs. Make sure to leave room for tiramisud, the chef’s ‘southern’ take on the classic Italian dessert: a contrast of dense, coffee-soaked sourdough bread and ricotta.
The ethos behind Palazzo Margherita is that it should be a home away from home (albeit a pretty palatial one, bearing in mind that this was originally home to a Hollywood film director), with friendly staff and an open attitude to eating: guests can eat anywhere, anytime, choosing a location within the property that suits their particular mood. It’s a relaxing approach but also a little bewildering for first-time guests. Don’t fret, though. We’ve gone to the trouble of trying all the options out for you (don’t say we’re not rigorous) and here are our favourite spots to dine out at around the property.
A courtyard breakfast
Toasted local bread topped with a heavenly-light ricotta and cherry compote, towers of Jenga-style fresh fruit and dense Italian cakes made fresh every morning are highlights of the hotel’s buffet. Pile your plate high and amble out into the central courtyard to enjoy your breakfast beneath the flower-covered arches and the hypnotising trickle of the fountain. Made-to-order Italian coffee is silky and irresistible, and freshly squeezed orange juice is so sweet it’s like dessert.
Coffee at the pool bar
Sip an espresso or macchiato at the little pool bar, set in a shady, Wonderland-like grotto. This hidden bar is a stone’s throw away from the walled pool area, so ideal for a post-swim caffeine fix.
Kitchen table pizzas and pastas
Sit around a communal wooden table in the hotel’s eat-in kitchen for a rustic, family-style lunch. Enjoy a complimentary pasta-making lesson while you wait, turning flour and water into perfect orechiette (‘little ears’). Ours looked more like random squiggles, but the experts don’t mind as long as everyone’s having fun. Eat yours the local way, served with broccoli rabe and topped with breadcrumbs for a delicious crunch.
Pretend you’re an Italian film star and sip on a Negroni or a Crodino bitter mixed with Prosecco in the hotel’s Family Bar, one of the most beautiful drinking dens we’ve come across. An ornate chandelier and vintage bar (a deep wooden affair shipped in from Turin with finely detailed mirrors) give the room an intimate rose-gold glow, while intricately patterned walls, floor tiles and a painted ceiling all add to the glamorous but cosy feel.
Pizza with a slice of local Bernalda life
Name-that-film-star among rows of black and white photos or name-that-tune on the old-school jukebox in the hotel’s Cinecitta Bar while you wait for a crisp, wood-fired pizza to arrive. Recline on one of the seats that spill out onto the pavement and watch the world go by, or prop yourself up at a bar that looks like it’s been shipped straight from an Italian film set.
A private picnic by the Ionian Sea
The tranquil local beach has a scattering of sunbeds and parasols reserved for Palazzo Margherita guests. Pick one and look out at the Ionian Sea while you feast on a picnic made up by the cooks at the hotel (they normally add in a delicious seafood spaghetti made with the catch of the day from a local fisherman).
You might have to drag yourself beyond the palazzo’s walls but it’s worth it for some superb local food. The sleepy local town of Bernalda has more to offer than initially meets the eye. Stand at the bar, Italian-style, at Pasticceria del Corso for an espresso and a scorzetta (crumbly almond biscuits topped with smooth dark chocolate). Alternatively you might want to relax under the pink parasols of Azimut Café sipping on a lemon granita made to order from the owner’s lemon trees (Corso Umberto 1; 00 39 328 811 1756)
For a more rural experience, the hotel can arrange for you to spend a day at a local farm in the Agri river valley. Here you can learn to make plaited mozzarella from scratch and pizza in its ancient oven (pizza dough rolled with pork fat is amazing, as the lard miraculously turns into crisp pockets in the oven) then reap the rewards of your morning’s work with a homemade Italian banquet in the Masseria farmhouse – no lampascioni this time, but wispy, locally-foraged wild asparagus.
“Quote Olive on booking and you will receive a complimentary three course dinner for two people at the Palazzo created by the hotel’s executive chef Tommaso Lacanfora, served either in the intimate kitchen or the stunning courtyard”
By Alex Crossley. Photo credits: Gundolf Pfotenhauer
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