MOUNTAIN PINE RIDGE RESERVE, BELIZE
BEST FOR: Those needing a serious getaway
NOT FOR: Urbanites. Be prepared for all-out jungle living
Another triumph from film director Francis Ford Coppola – this time, in the form of 20 magical cabanas in South-West Belize. And Coppola deserves every accolade. In 1981, he bought the 70 acres of pine-forested hills, which now plays home to the lodge. There was nothing but a stone home built by Monsieur Blancaneaux. By 1993, Coppola had whipped everything into shape: landscaped the hillside, extended the house, built the cabanas, dammed the river to produce electricity, started a kitchen garden, hired local staff, and opened his patch as a hotel. Coppola’s aim was to create a naturalistic eco-haven whilst keeping the feel of a family home. He and his hands-on wife, Eli, have succeeded. Blanceneaux Lodge is a pretty perfect place.
The 20 cabanas are deliciously snug, ethnic contemporary with hand-woven hangings and palm-thatched roofs. It’s easy to sleep well here, under the cool bed covers, nodding off to the jungle soundscape and the steady burble of the Privassion River just below. But that’s not the only reason for your childlike slumber. Myths and legends abound here – and the smiley staff will regale you with the magic behind your serene sleep: how the palms were cut at the right time of the month, within four days of the full moon, or because the antique-carved jaguar mask hanging over the table will be safeguarding you as it guides the Maya Sun God, Kinich Ahau, on his nightly journey through the underworld, to be born again at dawn in his solar cloak. And the staff don’t stop there: they will also name for you every beast and bird, even those that flash across the horizon in a blur, and identify the origin of every footprint or pile of dung in the sandy soil, and do it with charm, patience and enthusiasm. The staff help make this place special – immaculately drilled and address you by your first name with the prefix Mr or Mrs.
During the day, there’s so much to do you almost can’t believe it’s true. Trek or ride through the forest, against a backdrop of blue skies and fluffy clouds, explore the ancient civilisation of the Maya and spot the multitude of wildlife. You can also go for a bike ride along the dusty tracks to a breathtaking waterfall, where swimming in the perfect clear water soon washes of the grime of the ride. Back at the hotel, flop beside the pool or let yourself be pummelled in the spa.
The main restaurant, Montagna, serves up Italian but better is Guatemaltecqua beside the pool. Tuck into authentic Guatemalan delights cooked on an open fire – Salpicon, shredded beef salad flavoured with sour orange and cilantro is a highlight. The wine list is made up of Coppola’s own wine from his vineyard in Napa, California. Then wind your way back along the jungle path to your candle-lit cabana, serenaded by the panting urgency of a thousand frogs.
Belize is not the easy place to get to with a lack of direct flights but it’s worth it. And you can extend your escape and stay in Coppola’s sister hotel Turtle Inn in the gulf village of Placencia, where Caribbean seaside cool blends with good artisan craft shops. However, it’s Blanceneaux which comes out on top. An Oscar-winner all round.
CONTACT: Tel. +866 356 5881, email:firstname.lastname@example.org
PRICE: From $289 per night, based on two people sharing
NEAREST AIRPORT: Philip S. W. Goldson International Airport in Belize City
TRANSFER TIME: 2.5hrs