Last week, we caught up with one of the team members behind director Francis Ford Coppola’s luxury eco-escape, Blancaneaux Lodge, a collection of cabanas in the majestic jungle-clad mountains. Here you can go on jaguar-tracking treks, spy hummingbirds hovering over rare orchids, explore the extensive Mayan ruins or play spot the Apocalypse Now prop – while you prop up the slate bar with a hibiscus daquiri or two… Which rather begs the question, with so much natural splendour to absorb and so many gorgeous jungle views to enjoy, how does anyone who works there actually manage to get any work done?!
Tell us who you are, where you are, and what you do…
My name is Neil Rogers and I’m based in Stockholm, Sweden. I am Director of Marketing for Francis Ford Coppola’s Blancaneaux Resorts, which include Blancaneaux Lodge and Turtle Inn in Belize, and La Lancha in Guatemala. I’m also in charge of market development for Sweden’s national quality label system for ecotourism – Nature’s Best – and have my own tourism consulting company.
Ah – well being in Sweden explains how you manage to resist the ignore-work-and-relax charms of Blancaneaux Lodge! What do you think makes Blancaneaux so special?
Blancaneaux Lodge is one of the most relaxing places on earth. Tucked away in the Privassion Creek valley, the sound of tumbling waterfalls is ever-present. Sustainable open-plan design is important to Mr Coppola, and the accommodations are designed so that guests feel immersed in the surrounding environment. Thatch, hardwoods and local stone create a rustic yet stylish feel. Interiors feature luxurious bathrooms, antique Guatemalan tapestries, hand-carved artwork and antique colonial furniture.
If you were booked into Blancaneaux, which room would you go for and why?
Blancaneaux is incredibly popular with honeymooners, so I’d have to recommend the Deluxe Cabanas. The secluded location, spectacular views, private plunge pools and walled gardens with outside showers make these cabanas unique.
1) A full-day tour of the magnificent Maya ruins at Caracol. Set deep in the Chiquibul National Park, the site is Belize’s largest and most important Classic-period Maya ruin. On the drive back, we stop at the impressive Rio Frio Cave and the spectacular multi-level waterfalls at Rio On.
2) A half-day jaguar research ‘experience’. Guests gain a unique insight into jaguar through our cooperation with Dr Marcella Kelly. A short introduction is given by powerpoint on her work, and then our guides will take guests on a trek to look for jaguar tracks and to set up an infra-red camera. The following morning, the data is downloaded from the camera to see if any images of jaguar or puma were caught during the night.
3) A full-day or half-day orchid safari. There are approximately 150 orchid species within a 5-mile radius of Blancaneaux Lodge. Our treks take us through varied and spectacular habitat with plenty of time for birding and nature watching. It is easily possible to see over 50 orchid species in one day.
Why was the decision made to serve Italian food at Blancaneaux? And what’s Francis Ford Coppola’s favourite meal when he visits?
Italian cuisine is a passion for Mr Coppola, and he insists that the main restaurants at both our Belize properties focus on Italian cuisine. However, we have now opened additional restaurants that offer a range of cuisines. Mr Coppola loves simple food, so he’d probably choose ‘spaghetti al pomadoro’.
Do you ever get asked to arrange anything special or unusual by guests?
One special request that I can remember was arranging a surprise helicopter trip over the rainforests of the Chiquibul National Park. Over champagne in a jungle clearing, the guest proposed to his girlfriend.
Tell us about the shell-o-phones – what’s the story behind them?
One day, Mr Coppola and his wife Ellie were wading coral flats and Mr Coppola picked up a conch shell. He was impressed with the acoustics and the idea of the ‘shell phone’ was born.
Do you have any big plans for Blancaneaux’s immediate or long-term future you want to share with us?
We feel that there is still substantial growth possible in providing exclusive experiences for our guests, especially in the fields of nature, archaeology and conservation. Our focus will be on providing seamless and luxurious travel experiences that focus on authenticity, educational and enriching experiences that contribute to conservation and community. We want our guests to share Mr Coppola’s passions, and to truly feel they’re somewhere unique.
Aside from the Blancaneaux properties, what’s your favourite hotel, and why?
My favourite hotel is probably Klocka Fjällgård, a small boutique property located on a 350-hectare private estate in Jämtland, Sweden. It’s remote, luxurious and, although it’s just a few hours’ flight from London, it could be on a different planet. Reindeer wander along the lake shore and it’s possible to dog sled, ski, snow mobile or just relax in front of a roaring fire.
If you could work in any destination in the world, where would you choose and why?
I would love to work in Africa due to my passion for nature, fascination with indigenous cultures and interest in wildlife photography. Perhaps Mozambique, Kenya or Tanzania.
Where do you go on holiday and do you find it hard to switch off?
When away from the office I work on our house in the Stockholm archipelago – we are renovating a turn of the century wooden house and it’s a challenge. The house is so green, it’s almost self-sufficient: composting toilet, geo-thermal heating and wood-burning fires, water from our own well, our own on-site waste treatment system.
We tend to stay close to home for holidays as it’s hard to find someone to look after our black labrador, Monty. We have a summer house on the island of Sleneset which is off the coast of Norway on the Arctic Circle. In the summer, it’s paradise – the bird-watching, fishing and sea kayaking is amazing. It’s an ideal base for sea kayaking as we have 26,000 islands on our doorstep.
I do find it hard to switch off as I work from home, and our company has offices in many different time zones. My BlackBerry is currently broken and that has helped me switch off after normal work hours.
What do you never leave home without?
My MacBook Pro.
What’s the first thing you check out when you’ve checked into a hotel?
I tend to choose hotels for where they are as much as what they are. I love exploring and eating out so the first thing I usually do is head out of the door (after checking my e-mail!).
What’s the most romantic place you’ve ever been?
When we first got married, my wife was still working in Sweden for part of the year and I was working in Belize – it was difficult being apart. We used to meet up every few months in New York for long romantic weekends; for that reason I’d have to vote for New York as being especially romantic.