Tourism is a product of the Victorian era. Several converging factors were pre-eminent in the evolution of tourism: the introduction of statutory holidays, the increasing wealth of the middle class, expanding railway and steamship networks, and the invention of photography, all played a role in developing the mass-market industry. As newly minted tourists, flush with money and mobility, the Victorians sought to escape the hustle and bustle of city life. Sound familiar?
Britain’s population boomed from 10 million at the beginning of the century to 26 million by 1870. Most people lived and worked in the cities. In an age of industry, commerce, and revolutionary inventions, nature became a symbol of authenticity – the railways and steamships became the means in which wealthy Victorians could experience that authenticity. It was not uncommon to see men in top hats and women with parasols trekking through the European countryside in search of stunning Arcadian vistas, and one of the first Thomas Cooke package holiday tours involved a group of 19th century Irish tourists who ventured to Giza and the Pyramids.
For some tourists the pursuit of an “authentic” travel experience is as much a part of the 21st century as it was the Victorian era. There is just one difference. The world has been combed and explored -pole to pole, stern to bow, no rock has been left unturned, no view or vista left unseen. Today, where does one go and what does one do to have an authentic travel experience? Despite the overarching reach of globalization, the travel industry has splintered into niche markets. From extreme sport holidays and spiritual retreat resorts to space tourism, sex tourism, and “scalpel” safari, a vacation can be as personalized as a monogram on a set of Luis Vuitton luggage.
Since the 1990s, ecotourism has been one of the fastest growing markets in the travel industry. The Center for Responsible Travel (CREST) defines ecotourism as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the welfare of local people.” Proponents of ecotourism claim that it is more than simply a niche market, but a set of practices and principles that are aligned with the idea of sustainable development.
Today, just as it was during the Victorian era, nature is a symbol of authenticity. By staying at a hotel or resort that utilizes solar heating or wind turbines, prepares food from locally sourced products, and uses energy-saving LED lights, tourists are closer to nature than if they booked a stay at a traditional accommodation. Whether it is an Eco-Vila or a communal “Moss Cabin,” these 10 eco-friendly hotels take a unique, holistic approach to getting away from it all.
10. Tenuta di Spannocchia, Italy: $150 per night, B&B Villa
Agritourism is an offshoot of ecotourism, and although it means different things in different regions of the world, agritourism generally involves a stay at a farm or ranch. Local agriculture is showcased and culinary activities like wine or cheese tasting take center stage. Located in Sienna, deep in the heart of the Tuscan countryside, Tuenta di Spannocchia is an organic farm, rustic farmhouse, and historic bed and breakfast.
Guests won’t find towering wind turbines or solar panels at this B and B, but they will be able to explore local olive orchards, sample honey, learn about cheese making, and taste some of the world’s best Chianti. All meals at Tenuta di Spannocchia feature organic ingredients and house vintages.
9. Concordia Eco Resort, St. John -USVI: $215 per night, Eco-Tent
Philanthropist and conservationist Lawrence Rockefeller first visited St. John in the 1950s. He later bought up large swaths of land that eventually became the Virgin Islands National Park. Today, the park covers more than half the island, including 5,650 under water acres. Rugged, unpolished, and protected, St. John will never be cluttered with wall-to-wall condos and tacky shopping centers.
However, the island will continue to be a premier destination for eco-tourists. Perched on a pristine hillside overlooking Salt Pond Bay, Concordia’s Eco-Tents and Eco Studios feature a solar heating shower, composting toilet, 2-burner propane stove, and electricity powered by a 12-volt photovoltaic system.
8. Orchard Garden Hotel, San Francisco: $229 per night, Standard Room
Orchard Garden is the first hotel in San Francisco to be awarded “The Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design” certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. Built in 2006, the Orchard Garden Hotel is made from eco-friendly materials, including wood that has been certified by the Forest Stewardship Council as having been harvested in a sustainable manner. The property features a guestroom key card energy system, which saves 20% in energy consumption, energy efficient roofing, “low flow” toilets and faucets, recycling programs, halogen and LED lights, recycled fabrics, and organic products. The Orchard Garden Hotel plants a tree for every review it receives on TripAdvisor, whether the review is favorable or not.
7. Hotel Punta Islita, Costa Rica: $230 per night, Standard Room
Costa Rica is a pioneer in ecological preservation, and the country is considered the leader in the ecotourism movement. The “Rich Coast” produces 90% of its electricity through renewable resources. In 2007, the government announced it wants Costa Rica to be 100% carbon neutral by 2021.
Since opening in 1994, the Hotel Punta Islita has been dedicated to protecting the environment, upholding ecological principles, and promoting wildlife conservation. The hotel has won multiple awards from Costa Rica’s Sustainable Tourism department for its reforestation initiatives. The 300-acre property is a globally recognized destination that showcases the country’s natural and cultural treasures.
6. Urnatur, Sweden: $236 per night
Located three hours from Stockholm in the Holaved forest, Urnatur (the name means “ancient nature” or “made of nature” in Swedish) feels as if it belongs in a Nordic fairytale. The sustainable hermitage has six hand-crafted cabins -each one made from wood from storm-fallen trees – a communal “Moss Cabin,” kerosene lamps for light, and heat from solar and wood power. In 2012, Grand Travel Awards presented Urnatur with the Swedish Eco Tourism prize. But here is what sets Urnatur apart from the other eco-friendly hotels. Urnatur doesn’t just practice sustainability; it encourages its guests to practice self-sustainability. If you want a cup of tea at Urnatur, staff will help you forage in the woods for usable herbs. Now that’s taking back-to-the-land romanticism to the next level.
5. Eco Beach Resort, Australia: $550 per night, Beach House rental
Located in Western Australia, in a pristine wilderness known as the Kimberley region, Eco Beach Resort is comprised of 25 Eco Villas and 30 luxurious safari-style tents. The accommodations are linked to an oceanfront restaurant and infinity pool via elevated boardwalks devised of recycled materials. The resort features solar power, a water-recycling plant that provides irrigation to the surrounding landscape, and state-of-the-art in-room monitors that enable guests to see how much energy they’re consuming. The restaurant features specialty dishes made with homegrown produce and locally caught seafood.
4. Spice Island Beach Resort, Grenada: $914 per night (All Inclusive)
Despite offering a traditional all-inclusive rate, the Spice Island Beach Resort is anything but a traditional Caribbean package deal. From solar heating and desalination plants to daily recycling and composting programs, the Spice Island Beach Resort earned a Green Globe certification while still maintaining an unpretentious, family-run attitude. While the property lacks the “green” amenities of some of the more upscale eco-friendly hotels, the Spice Island Beach Resort earned a place on the list because it’s one of the only “all-inclusive” accommodations to have a dedicated commitment to the environment. Only time will tell if more of the Caribbean’s mega-resorts follow in Spice Island’s footstep.
3. Tierra Patagonia Hotel and Spa, Chile: $930 per night
The Tierra Patagonia Hotel and Spa is perched on a bluff overlooking the Torres del Paine National Park, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve since 1978. The award winning architecture is designed to blend into the landscape and compliment the geological flow of the surroundings. Inside, the hotel’s furnishings and textiles are handmade by Chilean craftspeople, using natural materials from the region. The Tierra Patagonia Hotel and Spa supports the “Reforest Patagonia” initiative, a citizen campaign that aims to plant 1,000,000 trees in the Patagonia region of Chile.
2. Song Saa Private Island, Cambodia: $1,969 per night, Jungle Villa
Billed as “Luxury that Treads Lightly,” Song Saa is comprised of two Cambodian Islands in the Gulf of Thailand. A footbridge connects the islands over a marine reserve that was established by the resort. The 27 jungle and water view villas are built with sustainable materials, and there’s a spa nestled in the rainforest. Sunrise yoga and kayaking amongst the mangroves are the type of leisure activities guests will find at the resort. Song Saa employs a full-time marine biologist and conservation staff to preserve the authenticity of the area’s natural environment.
1. Hotel Sezz Saint-Tropez, France: Villa with 2 private pools, $2,975 per night
Rainwater recycling , locally sourced produce, and carbon absorbent eucalyptus trees surrounding a car park -those are the green-inspired touches at the Hotel Sezz Saint-Tropez. There’s no reason a glamorous, jetset-style hotel can’t take ecological principles and energy saving seriously, and the Hotel Sezz Saint-Tropez has taken the first step in going green and decreasing its carbon footprint. The 5-star, 35 room hotel is specifically designed to blend and integrate into the landscape. Extra thick walls and window filters that absorb ultraviolent light enhance the property’s energy saving capabilities.
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