Francis Ford Coppola is clearly a man who does not like to rest on his laurels. Aside from being a master filmmaker, he owns flourishing wineries, a literary magazine (Zoetrope), a group of restaurants, a pasta & sauce business and a hotel chain, all marketed under The Family Coppola brand.
Two of his five hotel Hideaways are located in Belize and were born out of a love of the country from his time filming Apocalypse Now in the late seventies. Both are suitably remote – Blancaneaux Lodge sits deep in the rainforest of the Maya Mountains whilst Turtle Inn lies at the end of a long sandy peninsula on Belize’s southern coast.
Fortunately local airlines service the tiny Placencia airport just a few minutes from the hotel. We flew in from Belize Town with the bonus en route of stunning views over the turquoise Caribbean sea, and the string of UNESCO protected coral reefs and cayes that line the coast making the whole region a must-visit diving destination.
This is a peaceful spot, the only local settlement being Placencia a couple of miles down a pretty winding road. We cycled on the resorts complimentary bikes, but there is also a hotel shuttle. It is a sleepy village of charming, colourful shacks with local tourist-oriented businesses occupied by Garifuna people, descendants of African slaves who migrated from the Caribbean islands bringing a a rich cultural mix of food and culture.
Thankfully it is an area that is also devoid of chain hotels, and Turtle Inn sits on a long stretch of virtually unoccupied palm-lined beach. It is an utterly charming collection of some twenty-five low rise thatched buildings amongst the palms.
They are connected via plank walkways and grassy paths to the beach, two pools and a variety of communal buildings with a selection of bars and restaurants.
The entire property is ecologically friendly, created using low profile, environmentally sound designs, thatch, hardwoods, pine and bamboo. Windows, screened doors, ceiling fans and high, thatched ceilings allow for circulation to enable hot air to escape without air conditioning. Turtle Inn also uses local and regional plants that do not rely on intensive irrigation whilst an organic garden supplies herbs and produce for the restaurants.
The accommodation is in cottages and larger private villas, priced according to proximity to the sea, and size. All have spacious floorplans with screened windows and porches allowing access to the ever-present sea breezes.
Francis Ford Coppola has always been drawn to the rustic, Balinese style of living, and he and his wife, Eleanor, are hands on when it comes to sourcing items for the interior design. There are rich colours and wood carvings, authentic brightly patterned bedspreads and hand-woven rugs. Handcrafted wood doors with intricate carvings and traditional artwork add more Indonesian touches.
Comfortable sofas and chairs complement the deep chocolate-hued woodwork and floors. Bathrooms are spacious with deep baths – modeled after Japanese soaking tubs – and a private walled garden with an outdoor bamboo-nozzle shower.
There is even Coral Caye – your own private island for up to ten that sits eight miles out to sea and accessed by private boat.
FFC’s instructions also dictate low lighting, no restaurant buffets and no TV or air conditioning. We found the end result to be total relaxation, not least after taking advantage of the Inn’s private spa with its selection of treatments and truly excellent oriental massages.
The main all-day dining room is called Ristorante Mare and features plenty of Coppola family recipes as well as local recipes alongside a comprehensive wine cellar (naturally with plenty of Coppola wine on offer).
The Laughing Fish Bar on the beach offers the same menu but with sand in your toes. Lit by flaming torches, the Gauguin Grill has tables on the beach with a menu of grilled lobster and fish, while Auntie Luba’s Kitchen offers a taste of Belizean fare. We tried them all and every aspect was invariably excellent.
Sadly, departure day came far too soon, but helpfully is remarkably laid back. We relaxed at the beach bar, iced drink in hand, until the local flight buzzed past to the airport. Only then where we summoned to the hotel’s taxi for the two minute ride that takes us virtually to the door of the plane. A little piece of paradise, made even more special due to such exquisite vision (thank you, dear Francis!), and attention to detail.
For more information visit The Family Coppola Hideaways
To read our ‘Conversation’ with Francis Ford Coppola visit here
To purchase a copy of Francis Ford Coppola: Interviews visit here
CELLOPHANELAND* were guests of Turtle Inn