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Built as movie director Francis Ford Coppola’s private family retreat in the jungle, this lodge has evolved into a twenty-room, luxury hideaway without losing its homey feeling. Coppola first laid eyes on what became Blancaneaux Lodge back in 1980, shortly after wrapping Apocalypse Now. Reportedly, the area reminded him of some of his filming locations in Vietnam and he arranged to buy the abandoned property (which was originally owned by Francis Blancaneaux, hence the name).
Blancaneaux is located on 70 acres within the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, which encompasses more than 100,000 acres and was one of the first nature preserves established in Belize. It was built on the banks of an elegant curve in Privassion Creek and the multi-level grounds (be prepared to climb plenty of stairs) include a pool with each side tiled in a different striking color and a horseshoe-shaped “warm tub” that’s heated to 98 degrees. The creek is also full of tranquil swimming holes and provides the energy needed to power a small hydro plant downstream that produces electricity for this way-off-the-grid resort.
The Academy Award-winning director still maintains a spacious multi-bedroom villa here with a full kitchen, which can be booked when he’s not in it (perfect for families). It’s decorated with a number of Coppola’s personal effects and the property itself is studded with Coppola mementos including a ceiling fan used as a prop in Apocalypse Now, which spins lazily over the resort’s Jaguar Bar (jaguars have been spotted in the area). In addition to Coppola’s villa, there are 19 other accommodations, all under thatch roofs with white-washed walls, hardwood floors and simple wooden furniture, providing a muted backdrop for the vibrant colors of the tropical trees and plants outside and the exuberant hues of the rich local textiles and crafts that adorn the insides. The best villas (there are eight altogether) overlook the river, and there is a two-bedroom family cabana but you have to climb a steep set of stone stairs to reach it, so it’s not toddler-friendly.
The Italian, family-style Ristorante Montagna, meanwhile, serves up classics like homemade tagliatelle with ragu and Neopolitan-style pizzas (the best in Belize), using produce from the resort’s vast and expanding organic garden. The cellar is stocked exclusively with Coppola wines. When it’s time for a change, make a dinner reservation at Guatemaltecqua where gourmet Guatemalan food is served in a rustic four-table setting.
Dedicated foodies may be interested in booking the property’s Enchanted Cottage. Originally built as the home of a writer who was researching a book on the region’s orchids, the cottage (which is located on its own section of the property) has been expanded to include a full gourmet kitchen with a wine refrigerator and your own concierge plus a private pool with views over the rolling hillsides.
The lodge’s twenty-plus horses (all bred and trained at the resort) are available for rides on the property and they’re kept in a stable, which is basically an equine version of the resort. The spa, which is housed in a building which was built using Balinese designs, materials and techniques, is staffed by two Thai masseuses who are on call at all times.
When director Francis Ford Coppola’s first iteration of Turtle Inn was virtually wiped out by Hurricane Iris in 2001, he hired Balinese-based designer Made Wijaya to re-create it, working with Mayan artisans and Balinese craftsmen. Coppola’s daughter, Sofia, helped design the small but exquisite Balinese spa.
The result is a Robinson Crusoe–style island hideout fit for royalty, with 19 thatched-roof villas and cottages that range from 600 to 1,500 square-feet. A large screened-in porch (where a wooden day bed invites lounging) leads to a living area and bedrooms. Elaborately carved doorways imported from Bali separate the rooms, where the furnishings are set on polished wood floors. Overhead fans, large wicker chairs and couches strewn with batik pillows create an atmosphere of island ease. Coppola brings his family here to de-stress but when he’s not in residence it’s possible to rent his house, which is slightly larger than the others and includes a small private pool and a tiny screening room for watching movies.
The laid-back atmosphere is the real luxury at Turtle Inn. Craving coconut water? One of the beach attendants will scurry up a nearby palm for a coconut, hack a hole in the top and stick a straw in it for you. Guests relax in hammocks strung up between palm trees.
As you’d expect from Coppola, a celebrated winemaker as well as a celebrated moviemaker, the Italian-inspired restaurant does not disappoint and features wonderful wines from his Napa vineyard. Guests can also enjoy fresh charcoal-grilled lobsters and snapper at the beachside Gauguin Grill, and on Mondays and Thursdays, a traditional Indonesian rice table in the main restaurant. Across the street, guests can enjoy casual, authentic Belizean food at Auntie Luba’s Kitchen.
In 2013 many of the accommodations, the main restaurant, lobby, pool deck, and landscaping were refurbished and the organic garden was expanded as well. It now includes chickens that produce organic eggs. Complimentary on-site bird watching is offered in addition to a full roster of land and sea tours and new yoga packages for those who can manage to get out of that hammock.