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Coppola inspired Han Solo’s character in Star Wars. Photo: Charlie Gray
Coppola inspired Han Solo’s character in Star Wars. Photo: Charlie Gray

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Francis Ford Coppola - The godfather of hospitality

At 77, Francis Ford Coppola is as energetic as ever – whether he’s directing films, making wine or launching high-end hotels in exotic locations.

Francis Ford Coppola

Family: Married to Eleanor Jessie Niel since 1963. Three children
Lives: Napa Valley, California
Occupation: Director, screenwriter, ­producer, composer, winemaker, ­restaurateur, hotelier
Career: Coppola trained under Roger Corman who gave him his first shot at directing with Dementia 13 in 1963. Has won five Oscars.

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Francis Ford Coppola: director, producer, screenwriter, winemaker, publisher – and hotelier.

“If you say yes enough times, you end up in the hotel business,” Coppola says, shrugging his massive shoulders.

Back in early 1970s Hollywood, Coppola was the toast of the town, praised for his masterful story­telling skills and keen directorial eye. By 1976, he had more than half a dozen Academy Awards on his shelf. Not being one to rest on his laurels, Coppola headed into the Philippine jungle, his family in tow, and spent the next few years completing Apocalypse Now.

“In the film business, you usually stay in a place for at least six months, maybe a year. You grow attachments – to people you like, to places you like. So when it’s time to go, sometimes you don’t want to leave,” Coppola says.

In the early 1980s, he visited Belize and promptly fell in love with the beauty of the landscape. After announcing that he wanted a place in the jungle where he could write, his wife Eleanor found a remote, run-down lodge on the island, which they kept as a family home for many years. Blancaneaux Lodge eventually became Coppola’s first hotel.

Blancaneaux Lodge began accepting guests in 1993. It was followed by four more luxury resorts: the Turtle Inn, also in Belize, La Lancha in Guatemala, Jardín Escondido in Buenos Aires, and Palazzo Margherita in Italy.

Photo: Charlie Gray

All five Coppola resorts reflect the man himself. Partly because he personally supervised the building and renovations on all of them. And partly because all five served as family homes before opening their doors to the public. Palazzo Margherita, however, is possibly the one closest to Coppola’s heart. The 19th-century palazzo is located in the small southern Italian town of Bernalda, the birthplace of Coppola’s grandfather. Coppola wanted a place that his children would visit again and again. And in keeping with his commitment to the family business, he invited the entire Coppola clan to contribute design ideas.

Family Pavilion at Turtle Inn. Photo: Charlie Gray

“It has magical gardens,” Coppola says. “The family has gathered in the magnificent salon on many occasions – for celebrations, intimate teas and film screenings. The rooms are palatial, with frescos on the ceilings and walls. It has many modern touches, of course, yet the patina of history is preserved.”

The restaurant serves local delicacies, and the hotel runs cooking classes focusing on the region’s culinary traditions. But, Coppola says, what makes the difference is the charm and attitude of the people who work there, most of whom are locals.

“They make such a huge effort and are excellent. Their natural qualities are something that cannot be taught. They have something real, and that is quite beautiful.”

Suite at Palazzo Margherita. Photo: Charlie Gray

For Coppola, success is a very personal thing.

“Whether you want to build a hotel or make a movie, it must come out of that wilderness of things you cannot control. I believe we all are one-in-a-million accidents. Unique concoctions. Education and civilization are designed to make us fit into a bigger group, but at a certain cost. If you reach down to the origin of yourself and find what makes you different, your work will be unusual because it will reflect your personal makeup.”

 

By Petra Dokken

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