How cinematic touches bring filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola's properties in Belize to life

Aspire checks in to two luxury boutiques owned by the director of The Godfather trilogy

It’s quiet in Belize’s Mountain Pine Ridge, but not silent. The soft gurgle of a creek emanates from below, its running water reflecting the brilliance of the stars above, and somewhere in the canopy a nocturnal jungle creature rustles the treetops. The small sounds of the surrounding wilderness are made more profound by the location’s remoteness; it’s like existing within the confines of a movie soundtrack.

Maybe that’s what Francis Ford Coppola was aiming for when he created Blancaneaux Lodge, a premier boutique resort nestled in Belize’s western region. The Oscar-winning director purchased the abandoned property, originally a jaguar-hunting house, in the early 1980s, before renovating it and turning it into the 20-room resort beloved by discerning travellers today.

The hotel is noted for its luxurious accommodation, high-end service and, of course, cinematic touches. Although these hallmarks of Blancaneaux have always been the case, its remote location kept it somewhat under the radar for many years. Recently, the property has become more accessible, most notably due to road improvements through the surrounding Mountain Pine Ridge.

A rough airstrip lying just outside the property’s perimeter is a sign of the not-so-distant past when travellers to the remote outpost arrived by light aircraft, rather than braving the bumpy journey by Jeep through the jungle.

Adventures await

It’s not a drive I mind taking. Experiencing the transition from the airport in gritty Belize City to the ever-heightening foliage in the country’s western Cayo District is part of the adventure, an essential transformation that makes it clear you are entering the wilderness. Even with a paved road, the winding curves of the Mountain Pine Ridge are not for the faint of heart. Entering Blancaneaux feels like discovering an oasis.

Among the knotty pine trees is a lush garden dotted with thatched-roof cabanas decorated with Balinese details and connected by winding rustic stone paths. The main building houses a restaurant and bar featuring Coppola family recipes and Coppola wines, as well as movie memorabilia from the similarly jungly Apocalypse Now.

A sense of calm permeates the resort, perhaps due to the friendly staff, who make it clear they are ready to meet your needs, whether that’s arranging adventures for the following day or simply pointing out a tropical bird that’s landed nearby. A warm pool (separate from the main, cooler pool) and fully outfitted spa further identify Blancaneaux as a place where relaxation is on the agenda.

There are no bad rooms here, but my favourite has its own personal plunge pool overlooking the jungle and creek below. When I’m able to tear myself away from that dream view, I’m rewarded with one of the most comfortable beds known in the world of hotels, and a delightful ‘shell phone’ that works as an intercom to the front desk. This giant pink conch is one of the many creative touches that reminds guests they are staying in a property designed by one of history’s greatest filmmakers.

The food at the property alone makes the trip worthwhile. It is not an exaggeration to suggest that the best pizza in the entirety of Belize is served here, but perhaps great Italian food is to be expected from the Italian Coppola family.

Blancaneaux takes it to the next level by leaning into the location. Guests can book a four-course dinner at the on-site farm after touring the rows of produce and picking their own ingredients to be incorporated into the meal, which is served at sunset in a moment of true appreciation for what the jungle can provide.

Cayo is Belize’s inland adventure hub, and resort guests have no shortage of ways to explore the area. The hotel keeps a stable of horses ready to trek riders around the jungle or to nearby Big Rock Falls for a refreshing dip under the hot Belizean sun. The largest man-made structure in Belize is a Maya ruin called Caracol, and Blancaneaux is one of the closest hotels to the ancient site.

To the beach

The property is not Coppola’s only hotel in the country. Belize’s small size makes it an excellent destination for travellers looking to explore the jungle and the beach in one trip, which is why many Blancaneaux guests book a trip to the other Family Coppola Hideaways property, Turtle Inn, which is found in the coastal village of Placencia. The resorts are connected by less than two hours of incredibly scenic driving along the Hummingbird Highway and, because they are part of the same hotel family, guests can leave the logistics to the staff.

Turtle Inn shares a few noticeable features with Blancaneaux – the beautifully appointed rooms (including shell phones), the wine selection and the exceptional, warm service – but it has its own character. Perched on the white sand of the Placencia peninsula, Turtle Inn is where adventure, relaxation and luxury find a home together. I always take a moment to greet the turtles living in the pond at the entrance.

They are easy to miss, especially with such an impressive sight ahead. The front desk opens up to one of the hotel’s restaurants, a gathering point for travellers after a long day of adventure or relaxation. The sparkling Caribbean Sea lies just beyond. It’s tempting to linger for a taste of a menu that matches the quality of Blancaneaux’s, but it’s worth getting settled into your private beach cabana first.

These 25 lofty cottages are excellent at mitigating the Belizean heat, although there are plenty of pools and, of course, the sea to dip in if the temperature is particularly high. I find the hand-carved, dark wood decor and intricate artworks stimulate my creativity – like Francis Ford Coppola himself, writing comes more easily to me in this environment. It’s tempting to stay on site and listen to the gentle waves lapping the sand while sipping on a healthy amount of rum punch, but it would be a crime to be this close to so many beautiful sights and not go exploring. The only limiting factor is how much time you have.

Helping hands

Venturing into Placencia village is essential, from walking up and down the boardwalk to sipping a drink at one of the beachfront bars. There are numerous shops and restaurants to sample, including stunning handmade jewellery at Kaj Expressions and delicious smoked meat at Doyle’s Smoke Yaad. The local people are very friendly and will point you in the right direction or make suggestions if you don’t know what to look for.

Turtle Inn’s in-house guides are some of the best in Belize. In the winter months, don’t miss the chance to see flocks of scarlet macaws in nearby Red Bank with the hotel’s own ornithologist. And if you’re craving island time, book a journey out to one of the nearby cays off the coast. Boat trips come in all shapes and sizes, so if you want to go fishing, birdwatching or even cruising in the resort’s vintage Chris-Craft wooden boat, it’s entirely up to you.

Belize is a country known for its boutique hotel properties, which means there is a match for every type of traveller. For those who choose Coppola’s Blancaneaux Lodge and Turtle Inn, a creative approach to luxurious adventure awaits.

Book it: A night at Turtle Inn leads in at $419. Rates at Blancaneaux Lodge start from $359.