Sofia Coppola's Belize
The filmmaker shares her love for this hip honeymoon spot
Central America has been the getaway of choice for the multitalented Coppola family since 1981, when family patriarch Francis Ford Coppola built Blancaneaux Lodge, a retreat in the mountainous Cayo district of Belize. "I have childhood memories there," recalls his daughter, Sofia Coppola, the director. "We had lots of family trips," she says. "It was fun to be there with all my cousins when we were younger, going to the Mayan ruins."
In 1993, Francis decided to expand the lodge and open it to the public. Built on a hillside, the 17 cabanas at Blancaneaux seem to rise out of the jungle, overlooking the crystal-clear Privassion River. The feel is very intimate and personal, perfect for newlyweds: Rooms are decorated with textiles and folk art picked up by Francis and his wife, Eleanor, during their travels through Central America; the wine cellar is stocked with vintages from Niebaum-Coppola vineyards; and the restaurant menu includes some favorite family recipes, including fresh pizza baked in a wood-burning oven (the first in Belize). The ceiling fan in the main bar was salvaged from the set of Francis' hit war epic Apocalypse Now, and the abstract artworks hanging in the dining room were painted by a teenage Sofia. ("Those are embarrassing things I made in high school," the 35-year-old filmmaker says now.)
Blancaneaux was so successful that Francis decided to follow with Turtle Inn in 2002. The new resort is slightly larger, featuring 23 thatched-roof villas with screened-in porches laid out along a pristine stretch of sand on Belize’s Caribbean coast, just south of Placencia. Decor takes inspiration from Francis' beloved Bali, with batik prints, Japanese soaking tubs, Asian antiques, and elaborate hard-carved wooden doors. As at Blancaneaux, there are no TVs or phones in the rooms, offering couples lots of alone time; guests contact the front desk via an intercom hidden beneath a conch shell. It fits the Coppola aesthetic: "rustic but very comfortable," says Sofia, "with good Italian food!"
Clearly, Sofia adores her father's hotels. "Both are in beautiful natural settings, they are bohemian, and they have a personal touch," she says. When creating Turtle Inn, Francis turned to his well-traveled daughter for input: "He asked me about the spa stuff because he knows I love that," says Sofia, "so I went over what to offer." The end result is an intimate, open-air sanctuary specializing in Thai massage.
"I love Blancaneaux, for the feeling of being in the jungle," says Sofia, "[but] Turtle Inn is my favorite. I love being in a little bungalow on the beach." She usually stays in the Family Pavilion; available to any guest, it's a luxe two-bedroom cottage featuring Japanese baths, tropical gardens and a private pool. Honeymooners will love the Chinese Matrimonial Suite, which has a private garden, an outdoor shower, and an incredibly detailed, 200-year-old Chinese fertility bed.
Some visitors come to Belize for adventure, but Sofia does the opposite: "There's snorkeling and fishing, if you're into that. I like to swim and lie around—that's my favorite vacation pastime." If you want to get active, there's plenty to do: Turtle Inn offers easy access to the planet's second largest barrier reef and the world's only jaguar preserve (the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary); Lubaantun, Belize's largest Mayan site, is a two-and-a-half hour drive away. While other guests may fill their days with diving, ruin-hopping or trekking through the jungle, Sofia's activity of choice runs toward simpler things. "I like hanging out and having a pizza at the bar on the beach of Turtle Inn at sunset," she says. "Sometimes I write, but usually I like to be there with friends and be lazy."