Even the most inveterate traveler needs to find a place to do absolutely nothing. For Sofia Coppola, that place is a tiny seaside village in Belize, where the most exciting adventure she’ll have all day is a bike ride to the gelato stand and back (and that’s just perfect).
Sofia Coppola understands the transformative power of a hotel better than most. The filmmaker and style icon grew up as a sort of real-life Eloise, traveling the world with her father, director cum hotelier Francis Ford Coppola, who over the years has built a small empire of luxury retreats. She set two of her movies in hotels, mining the serene dislocation of the Park Hyatt Tokyo in Lost in Translation and the languorous debauchery of Chateau Marmont in Somewhere. And when Coppola wants to fully check out, it’s at her family’s Turtle Inn resort in Placencia, Belize, that she checks in.
With a permanent population of just 800, the tiny fishing village of Placencia sits on a slim spit of land on the far western edge of the Caribbean, where the water is that textbook turquoise blue but dense rain forest is just a mile inland. It’s remote, serene, and slow-paced, which is just the way Coppola likes it. Coppola, who splits her time between New York and Paris with her children and husband, Thomas Mars, of the French pop band Phoenix, says, “In Paris you have to be more put together, or at least try to be. You get real privacy in Placencia. It’s nice to be able to be a bit of a slob and feel fully relaxed in a place so removed from busy, modern life.”
Coppola first visited Belize when she was ten years old, after her father had finished shooting Apocalypse Now in the Philippines. He was looking for an equally lush and tropical getaway closer to their home in Los Angeles. “Even compared with the Philippines, Belize felt far away from the rest of the world,” says Coppola. “There were Mennonite farmers living nearby, and we’d watch them go by in their horse-drawn carriages.” Today, little has changed. “It’s unlike any place I know,” she says. “It feels like an undiscovered small town—authentic and not at all touristy. When my brothers and I first came here, it was as if we were camping. This was in the days before the Internet, so we’d just play poker and swim. We still do pretty much the same thing.”
In cinematic terms, if the family’s Palazzo Margherita in Bernalda, Italy, is the opulent costume drama, and their Jardín Escondido, in Buenos Aires’s Palermo Soho district, is the urban character study, the 25-room Turtle Inn is the indie ensemble effort that succeeds because of the talents of the extended Coppola clan. Coppola describes her parents, Eleanor and Francis, as “basically bohemian artist hippies,” and it shows—the resort is an ever-evolving collection of eclectic yet cosseting bungalows and pavilions by the sea. “My mom’s into textiles, so she picked out the fabrics in Guatemala,” she says. “The whole Bali vibe is my dad.” Her brother Roman designed the nautically themed Lagoon Bungalow on the property and uses it as his vacation home when in town. He also keeps a fully restored mahogany runabout, which the family uses for sunset cruises.
Coppola’s own contribution is an oasis of chic yet comfortable minimalism. When a lot next to the hotel became available, she hired Laurent Deroo, a French architect she’d met while shooting Lost in Translation. His stripped-down, wood-based designs have become a hallmark of the A.P.C. clothing line’s retail spaces, and in Belize the simple two-story house he built has a modern, organic, weathered, indoor/outdoor feel, with sliding glass doors that open onto the pool, a barbecue area, and a space dedicated to Ping-Pong. It’s to this retreat that Coppola and her family come to recharge each winter and spring.
Coppola’s crash course in seeing the tiny town of Placencia like an insider is an appropriately short and simple one. It begins at the airport in Belize City, where she suggests starting the decompression process by going to Jet’s bar for a hot dog and a local Belikin beer. Turtle Inn’s primary activities are swimming, snorkeling, and lazing in a hammock, but the restless can take a short ride into town on a beach cruiser bike. There’s a sort of pop-up taco stand in Placencia,” says Coppola. “It’s there one day, but you look for it the next and it’s bound to have moved. You’ll eventually find it.” Then there’s Yoli’s, a hangout for weathered expats. “There’s no official communication, yet somehow everybody just knows there’s a barbecue every Sunday with grilled pork chops and potato salad.” A fancy night on the town is at the restaurant Rumfish y Vino, owned by an expat New York couple, which uses only local ingredients and has a city-quality wine list. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can get on a little plane and fly half an hour to a cocoa farm. “But really, the big activity for the day is to ride bikes into town for gelato,” she says. And not just any gelato: This gelato is made by a transplanted Milanese couple who make yearly trips to Italy to source top-quality nocciolo and other ingredients. (Coppola’s favorite is the silky and naturally sweet flavor made from just-picked bananas.)