Italy Travel Diary, Part 1
Over the Easter weekend, I headed to southern Italy for a family holiday with my parents, sister, and uncle. My parents are obsessed with Italian food and culture, and we must have visited Italy over twenty times on various family holidays, however never to the regions of Basilicata and Puglia before.
Day One: we flew into Bari airport, from where a driver from our hotel came to meet us. We didn’t spend any time in Bari at all, but headed straight to Bernalda, the location of our first hotel: the incredible Palazzo Margherita. Owned by Francis Ford Coppola, this sumptuous boutique hotel is housed inside a traditional Italian palace, complete with private garden and outdoor swimming pool. It is truly luxurious, yet still manages to be perfectly elegant, rather than overdone.
The hotel is a haven in the centre of the quiet town, and other than its public-facing coffee shop, is exclusive to its hotel guests. There are only nine bedrooms in the house, the majority being expansive suites, and each complete with king-size beds, plush furnishings, and rolltop bathtubs in the bathrooms. My sister and I were sharing an absolutely massive suite, with a balcony that looked onto the street, and more than enough room to fit an one-bed apartment inside.
Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are all served wherever you like: al fresco in the courtyard underneath the blooming wisteria, on your private terrace, or poolside. Produce is grown within the hotel’s herb garden, and dishes on the menu are seasonal, including cime de rapa, a dish that is native to the region and that we ate continuously throughout our trip: fresh orrechiette pasta served with ‘turnips’ that are very similar to broccoli, and tossed with lots of chilli, garlic, and breadcrumbs.
After a leisurely lunch, we spent the afternoon relaxing around the hotel, exploring the lush gardens, and enjoying the beautiful golden hour - the hotel really is entirely walled from the public, so feels incredibly peaceful and private.
Just before sunset, we headed out for a wander around Bernalda, and ate dinner at a local restaurant. As we’d had an early start to the day, I was very happy to curl up back at the hotel that evening.
Day Two: After a delicious buffet breakfast enjoyed al fresco (think fresh cheeses, hams, homebaked pastries, yoghurt with granola and fruit, plus multiple cups of coffee), we took a taxi to Matera. The city is known as ‘the underground city’, thanks to its unique and historical ‘Sassi’: ancient cave dwellings that date back to the Paleolithic era.
Each individual street, corner, and building in Matera is achingly photogenic and rustic, and still shows remnants of its ancient history. The historic ‘old town’ remains (relatively) untouched by tourists, (aside from one of the main shopping streets) and we spent several hours wandering around, capturing the incredible views and lapping up the sunshine; there are multiple churches and homes that you can visit around town. If you’re ever travelling within the region, Matera is really a must-visit spot.
The city is also host to a number of acclaimed restaurants, and we dined at the incredible Baccanti, which is housed inside a cave-like building, and serves an elegant and sophisticated Italian menu.
After more wandering and a stop for coffee, we headed back to Bernalda for the evening, and arrived back at Palazzo Margherita in time for a pre-dinner pasta-making class. We were brought inside the hotel’s kitchen to meet the chef Donatella, who taught us to make three different types of pasta after mixing together fresh dough. She then tossed our homemade pasta into a delicious and simple tomato sauce, with lots of fresh cheese and basil thrown in for extra measure: buonissimo! We topped this off with a three-course dinner in the upstairs bar, and a lazy evening winding down from a massive food coma (this seemed to be a recurrent theme throughout the trip).
After breakfast the next morning, it was time to check out, and move onto our next destination. Palazzo Margherita is really one of the most special hotels I’ve ever stayed in, and I really didn’t want to leave. The hotel is timeless and elegant, yet still contains the grandeur of a historic Italian palazzo. Staff are overwhelmingly friendly, and the service is faultless: due to the limited number of bedrooms, they know each guest by name, and are always on hand to help.
Bernalda is a quiet town, so if you ever visit Palazzo Margherita, it is really to escape to some peace and quiet. However, I would happily have spent several more days here, reading and relaxing by the pool and gardens. For now, onto the next stop: Puglia!