Eight miles offshore from Turtle Inn, the loveliest hotel on the Placencia peninsula in southern Belize, lies Coral Caye, a two-acre jungle-cloaked Caribbean islet protected by a vast reef, where whale sharks congregate at full moon between April and June and you have a better chance than almost anywhere in the world of spotting a manatee. It belongs to Francis Ford Coppola. As of last month, you can rent it.
Half a mile from the nearest island – a further four cayes named Lark, Long, Bird and Mojo are visible in the distance – and once a place where fishermen would camp out for the night, it is now home to three rustic structures. The largest, known as the Great House is essentially a thatched, sand-floored living space, furnished with daybeds (on which extra guests can stay), comfortable chairs, a large dining table and a full bar, and equipped with a kitchen, WC and various games, even a dartboard, drum kit and guitar, lest you’re unlucky with the weather.
Otherwise guests – the island can accommodate parties of up to 10 people or 12 if one couple doesn’t mind sleeping in a tent on the beach – sleep in one of two little dwellings. Typically Caribbean in style, Coral Cottage, the newer of the two, has sea-green clapboard walls, a zinc roof, a large veranda and, with a kingsize bed, sofa bed, proper bathroom with hot and cold running water and indoor and outdoor showers, is the more luxuriously appointed of the two. It overlooks the beach, which is shaded by coconut palms, between which hammocks are strung.
On the other side of the island, smaller, simpler Seahorse Cottage has a queen-size as well as twin beds and is located in a cove by a mangrove, where you will almost certainly spot seahorses. Just be warned that there is no hot water here and the bathroom is not ensuite. Rather there’s a cold shower in the outhouse. And don’t expect televisions, air-con or phones anywhere on the island. There may be solar-powered electricity, Wi-Fi and a patchy mobile signal, but really the idea is to get away from it all. Three days is the recommended length of a stay.
Unless you count Thunder the dog, the island has just one member of staff, Alberto, who skippers the eight-seat boat, Gia (named after Coppola’s eldest granddaughter) that links guests with the mainland, a trip of 20 to 25 minutes. He also does basic housekeeping (though not turndown or laundry); fixes breakfast (eggs, refried beans, tortillas, fresh fruit, juices, coffee or tea), a simple lunch and, come sunset, sets up the barbecue for dinner. He will also organise whatever you fancy in the way of open-air spa treatments, fishing and snorkelling trips and sailing charters.
If, however, you desire something more akin to butler service or a chef, this can be arranged for a further $180 a day per additional staff member, but that means relinquishing the second cottage as the staff will need somewhere to sleep.
If Coral Caye sounds a little too like roughing it, you can instead opt to stay at Turtle Inn itself, a cluster of cottages and villas, dotted along a palm-sheltered shore, the most spectacular of which is Sofia’s Beach House (sleeps six to eight), and which is the preferred choice of Sofia Coppola when she visits. It was designed by the French architect Laurent Deroo, whose work she’d encountered when she shot a scene in Lost in Translation in the APC store he designed in Tokyo’s Harajuku district. The result is as beautiful as you’d expect: a classic modernist beach house with two discrete guest bungalows and its own swimming pool, and subtly Balinese influences in its materials.
And should the experience impress sufficiently, it might also provide motivation to explore the other properties in the Coppola resorts portfolio. Though he will forever be associated with film, the director and screenwriter is growing in stature as a hotelier and also operates another Belize property, Blancaneaux Lodge, alongside Guatemalan resort La Lancha; Jardin Escondido in Buenos Aires; and Palazzo Margherita, a nine-suite property in Basilicata in southern Italy that has a deeply personal connection to the family. It was from here that Coppola's grandfather emigrated to America, and it would be in the newly acquired palazzo that his daughter Sofia would marry in 2011.
Source: telegraph.co.uk Author: Claire Wrathall