Francis Ford Coppola makes insanely brilliant movies. He’s done wonders for the economy of his adopted country of Belize, building two five-star resorts that are every bit as wonderful as The Godfather and Apocalypse Now. But here’s why, when traveling to Placencia, the 16-mile strip of beautiful off the southern coast, the Belizean Nirvana (the envelope, please) deserves the Oscar:
1.Location, location, location. Both Turtle Inn and Nirvana are “pan da beach,” as they say in Belize, a gorgeous beach with white sand, diving pelicans and gentle lapping waves. But Nirvana, that just opened September 2011, is also within strolling distance of the quaint and colorful fishing village where Evan and Barbara Hall, the Belizean owners, personally introduce their guests to Tiziana and Lorenzo, the Italian transplants who own Tutti Frutti and serve gelato some rave is better than its counterpart on the other side of the Atlantic, and to John and Pamela Solomon, Americans who honeymooned there five years ago and never left, instead opening the amazing Rumfish..y vino that serves my nomination for the world’s best cerviche.
2. Hand’s on owners. Sure, it’s fun to think you’re sleeping near Hollywood greatness, but your chances of hobnobbing with Coppola are about as good as your chances of spotting one of the 200 jaguars in the nearby Cockscomb Jaguar Preserve which is to say “it ain’t likely to happen.” The Halls and their friend, Carolyn, greet each of their guests upon arrival, drink coffee with them each morning (one morning, Evan even cracked open a bottle of champagne for delightful breakfast mimosas) on the rooftop deck and treat them like one of the family.
3. It’s who you know. Coppola may knows DeNiro, Pacino and Reese Witherspoon who honeymooned at Turtle Inn in 2011 with her new hubby and kids. But Hall knows Tuca and Karen, Steve and Sherel and other locals and he’ll gladly introduce you, opening the curtain to a precious part of Belizean culture that most travelers miss. Belizeans are warm, friendly and throw parties that put Martha Stewart to shame. Hall’s mother was the first nurse in the Belizean Health Service and even though he spent much of his life in New Jersey, he summered in Belize and knows everybody in town.
4. Improptu fun. The Friday night I was there, underdog Belize miraculously made it to the semifinals of the Copa Centroamericana soccer tournament against Honduras, the first time the tiny nation qualified to play for the CONCACAF gold cup. Hall invited me to watch the game with the above forementioned locals who were cheering the home team by the light of a TV hooked up outside under a coconut tree. Whenever I needed another drink, they’d reach up, pluck a coconut off the tree and mix a little coconut water with Jack Daniels (American bartenders, take heed). The grill was piled high with fresh shrimp and lobster that Tuca had caught earlier that morning. Suffice it to say, the food made by that outdoor cheering squad far surpassed anything listed on the menu at Turtle Inn’s three restaurants.
5. Classy appointments. Like the Coppolas who built their 25 thatched cottages on reclaimed land from Hurricane Iris, the Halls built their five-suite B&B from scratch. It has beautiful wood floors, spacious verandas, gorgeous furnishings, local artwork (again, Evan might even introduce you to some of the artists), comfy beds and unlike Coppola’s place, air-conditioning that comes in mighty handy in the humid climate and free phone calls to the U.S. and Canada.
6.The real deal. Far be it from me to dis Turtle Inn. I’m sure it’s spectacular in every way. But for travelers who want an authentic Belizean experience and new friends to add to the Christmas card list, book one of the beautiful suites at Belizean Nirvana Inn.