Guatemala & Belize - the Director's Cut

The Independent on Sunday (London, England), December 2, 2007 | Go to article overview
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Guatemala & Belize - the Director's Cut


PEOPLE AND PLACE

He's one of the biggest names in Hollywood but making movies isn't Francis Ford Coppola's only skill. He also runs successful hotels. Julie Eagleton finds out about his three resorts in Central America

Apocalypse Now was filmed in the jungle on Luzon in the Philippines. For all the problems we had filming, I found it a very peaceful and safe place and I acclimatised easily. I wanted to buy a small island retreat there, but, as my wife rightly pointed out, it was pretty far to travel to from where we lived in California. So I went looking for a jungle paradise closer to home.

A couple of years later, in the early 1980s, I visited Belize, just after it gained independence. I wanted to talk to the government about establishing a satellite address that would provide a link between North, Central and South America, but it was too much too soon for them. While I was there, someone told me about a lodge that was for sale in the west of the country. I discovered what is now my hotel, Blancaneaux Lodge. It was beautiful, tucked away in the Maya Mountains, overlooking the Privassion River. It had been abandoned and needed a lot of work, but I peeked through its windows and thought: "I could write here."

I first used the lodge as a summer retreat for the family, but over time we expanded the property and made improvements. And, urged on by visiting friends, we thought about opening it as a resort for paying guests.

Blancaneaux Lodge has a tranquil atmosphere, which envelops you as soon as you shed your city clothes and your worries. The spa, the hot pool, the sound of the river all lull you into a peaceful state that lets you reconnect with yourself and your companion, and stimulates creativity - I find it easy to write there. The riverfront cabanas have expansive decks with wrap-around walkways that ensure a dramatic view of the river. The garden cabanas have large, screened porches with hammocks. All are themed with native art and local textiles and hand-painted tile baths.

Following the success of Blancaneaux Lodge, I realised that a lot of guests also wanted to visit Belize's coast. So I started looking for property on the beach and found Turtle Inn, in southern Belize, which we opened in late 2000. I had intended to renovate the property, which was pretty basic, but Mother Nature moved the timeline up when Hurricane Iris swept the resort into the lagoon. When I asked if it had been severely damaged, they told me that it wasn't there anymore.

I created a new Turtle Inn out of the rubble in just one year and I am delighted at how much our guests enjoy the place and how much critical acclaim it has received. The Balinese-inspired cabanas have artisan-crafted furnishings, luxury private baths and broad, screened decks to welcome in the tropical sea air. It fulfils my vision of a beachfront paradise, providing the ideal balance between luxury and nature. It's all about the beach - swimming, snorkelling, boating, letting the waves become the soundtrack of your stay. There are things to do, or guests can just do nothing. I've enjoyed adding lots of detail, but my favourite is the Shellphone - a giant conch shell on a wooden base that acts as an intercom. Just call and your heart's desire will appear. I like to joke that we are the leader in shellular technology...

Belize has so much to offer, it's difficult to choose what to do. Diving and snorkelling are magical; there are so many beautiful, uncrowded places where you can explore the undersea world, and trained guides know exactly where the best spots are. Belize is one of the top diving locations in the world and our dive shop offers scuba and snorkelling and a wide range of Padi courses. The cayes, atolls and the barrier reef - the longest in the western hemisphere - are the main attractions.

Belize's wonderful coastline has many small caves to explore too.

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