Bouncing along in the back seat of a school bus, reggaeton blasting over the crackly loudspeakers, I bid farewell to Belize's Caribbean coast and headed west, deep into its thickly jungled backcountry.
I had spent three days unwinding at the beach at Caye Caulker and now was bound for San Ignacio and ultimately the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve for a stay at the understatedly swanky Blancaneaux Lodge, owned by filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola.
Blancaneaux Lodge, one of two Coppola hotels in Belize, is an earthy oasis in the midst of a vast protected forest. The weather conditions and landscape are nothing that you would expect from Belize: low humidity, pine trees and oaks, rocky paths, mountain streams. The resort comprises 20 rooms that overlook Privassion Creek, which runs through the property with tumbling waterfalls that create refreshing swimming holes. In the spirit of disconnecting, WiFi is available only in the main lodge and around the pool, but it's unlikely you are going to miss it when there is so much to do on property.
The resort has a swimming pool, horse stables, an organic garden, a Waterfall Spa and hot pool and offers yoga and bird-watching once a week. The open-air spa has a variety of treatments, wraps and massages but is known for its Thai massages and has a team that studied at the Wat Pho Temple in Bangkok. There is a long list of excursions and activities travelers can add onto their stay, everything from spa treatments to a full-day excursion to the Caracol Archaeological Reserve. But guests can also opt for free activities, like mountain biking with the resort's complimentary fleet or hiking to Big Rock Falls (a must for anyone staying at the resort). Order a picnic lunch and set off on your own on the hike along the creek, which culminates at a gorgeous waterfall that cascades over a rocky cliff, creating two natural pools that are primed for swimming.
While I opted for the budget-friendly mode of transport to the resort, guests should know that private, luxury transfers are available from Belize City and the airport, as well, for an additional charge.
Dining is where Blancaneaux really flexes its muscles. To have an authentic Italian meal, complete with imported fresh mozzarella, freshly made pasta and a selection of Coppola wines, is hardly what you'd expect deep in the Belizean forests. Montagna is the main restaurant, featuring pastas, fresh fish, grilled meats and more, all prepared with the organically grown herbs and vegetables from the on-site garden. The Guatemaltecqua Restaurant serves dinner nightly by the pool. It specializes in Guatemalan cooking that draws on Mexican, Caribbean and Mayan flavors. Start or end your evening at the Jaguar Bar, a handcarved slate bar serving a selection of wines and cocktails.
Movie stars, fine Italian food and wine and understated elegance are not likely at the top of your image bank when picturing your Belize vacation, but after a stay at Blancaneaux Lodge it will be nearly impossible to think of anything else.
Nightly rates begin at $289 in off-peak season (from May 1 to Dec. 16), $369 during peak season. See www.thefamilycoppolaresorts.com/en/blancaneaux-lodge.