With the past 12 months often feeling as though the world has been cast in a disaster movie, we find legendary filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola’s luxurious Blancaneaux Lodge in Belize is the place to get back to life’s simple pleasures.
In a strange echo of our current reality, Blancaneaux Lodge was discovered by Coppola in 1981 when searching for a remote work destination. For almost 20 years, it served as a personal family hideaway and quiet place to write before opening to the public in 1993. Now, it operates as an exquisite retreat for anyone hoping to escape reality, or perhaps find it again.
Nestled in lush gardens on the banks of the Privassion Creek, Blancaneaux Lodge offers eco-luxury and impeccable hospitality within the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve in the Cayo district of the Central American country Belize. The 20 individual cabañas and villas, three restaurants, pool, and main lodge blend seamlessly into the stunning scenery along with a horse stable, a 3½-acre organic garden, and the hydroelectric plant that powers much of the property.
Impressively, before ecotourism became prevalent in the late nineties, Coppola led the way by harnessing hydroelectric energy from the creek and creating an organic garden to grow fruit and vegetables for the restaurants. He and his wife, Eleanor, developed Blancaneaux from an abandoned hunting lodge into what it is now and viewed their roles mainly as conservators, always exploring new technologies to help preserve this remote corner of the world
The cabañas and villas accommodate two to six people, each with its own character. Features include open-air living rooms, hammocks that swing in the breeze, walled gardens with outdoor showers, private plunge pools, and viewing decks. In a joint effort with Coppola, Mexican architect Manolo Mestre designed the warm and intimate décor which is based loosely on designs the filmmaker saw while filming Apocalypse Now in the Philippines. In fact, some props and parts of the set can even be found at the lodge, like the overhead fans in the Jaguar Bar in the main building.
The Coppolas personally sourced other furnishings from Mexico and Guatemala. Bright, tropical tones mix with rich mahogany furniture handcrafted in San Ignacio, the closest town. The delightful “shell phone” intercom system connecting guest accommodations to the front desk deserves special mention. Conch shells sit majestically on mahogany bases reminiscent of gramophones and connect guests to reception for ordering room service or just testing it out to say hello.
In the bathrooms, locally sourced, handmade toiletries sit in sweet ceramic pots and hand-painted tiles adorn deep Japanese baths. Every day, the attentive staff scatter hibiscus flowers over enormous towels, and modern amenities like hairdryers are tucked inside antique wooden boxes to maintain a sense of uninterrupted, natural living.
On-site, take a tour of the lodge’s stables and go on a guided ride through the forest. Idle by the pool or drift lazily down the creek on a river tube, while gazing at the sky. When the urge to be pampered comes, visit the Waterfall Spa where the professionally trained team who has studied the ancient techniques at the Sacred Wat Pho Temple in Bangkok offer wraps, treatments, and massages. Afterwards, sip a glass of crisp Coppola wine in the hot pool that snakes out over the creek and watch the sunset through the trees. When adventure beckons, a team of experienced guides are on hand for excursions further afield. Hike to nearby Big Rock Falls and take a refreshing swim with the water crashing around you, or explore nearby Mayan archaeological sites, like Caracol and Xunantunich.
At the end of the day, enjoy a “Jaguar Juice” in the main bar, the house cocktail named after the elusive jungle cat only a lucky few have seen slinking through the trees. A potent combination of local craboo liqueur, aged rum, and fresh pineapple juice is served over the bespoke slate bar carved with ancient Mayan symbols created by a Belizean artisan. Nearby, a piano waits to be played. It was shipped from Miami by Coppola, and it is not the only personal acquisition scattered around the site by this most hands-on celebrity hotelier.
Upon discovering that Belize did not have the coffee culture he, as an Italian American, felt essential, Coppola imported an espresso machine and then a pizza oven. He himself taught some staff how to make his family’s traditional Italian recipes handed down generations. Many of these dishes are on the Montagna restaurant menu in the main lodge. Two other restaurants provide ample choices when hunger strikes, including poolside Guatemaltecqua, specializing in cuisine from nearby Guatemala. Sample the subtle warmth of pepián soup, or salpicón, shredded beef salad flavored with sour orange and cilantro.
The third eatery within the organic garden, known as the Garden Spot, is an extra-special treat. At the pop-up bar, guests order fragrant cocktails dressed with fresh herbs before strolling among the vegetables. The head gardener leads tours to show what’s in season, and the chef tags along to pick ingredients for a different dinner every night.
To stay at Blancaneaux Lodge is to be charmed and to feel like a member of the family. The friendly staff will all know your name; many have worked for Coppola for over 20 years, which gives them huge insight into guest experience. Needs are anticipated, like the ice-cold flannel scented with eucalyptus offered after climbing to the top of a Mayan temple in the midday sun (at that moment, I would have given my very soul for that level of refreshment)
To get to Blancaneaux Lodge, guests arrive from Belize City airport by car via the gorgeous, scenic Hummingbird Highway or by special charter flight or helicopter to the private airstrip. A 7-night package for those craving the best of both worlds splits time between Blancaneaux Lodge and Turtle Inn, Coppola’s beachside Belizean hideaway opened in 2003. There is also Coppola’s private island hideaway, Coral Caye, for those desiring complete and utter solitude. Sample all three if you can, and return feeling as though you have reconnected to the world.
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All photos courtesy of @saskia_rabbit