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Eco travel – great green holidays

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By Jeremy Smith
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If you sometimes find yourself feeling a little environmentally guilty on your travels, and would like to do something a little more than reusing your plush towels two days in a row, consider one of these green holidays around the globe.

Ecocabin a new type of holiday let in the Shropshire Hills, England, Al fresco dining

Spend a week at Ecocabin, Shropshire

Nowhere is 100 percent green, but Ecocabin – in the South Shropshire Hills, 25km from Ludlow – comes close. This single-storey lodge is a model of sustainability, from its design and construction to the way it is run. The timber frame is made from local Douglas fir and larch, the flooring is finished with native ash and eco-friendly paints, there’s sheep’s wool for insulation, solar power for hot water and electricity, and wood pellets for the stove. Most of the furnishings are from a community recycling scheme, the 1950s kitchen cabinet was plucked from a junk shop and the kitchen work surface is made from recycled yogurt pots.

The barbecue is stocked with locally made charcoal, there’s an “honesty” shop in a side room with essentials such as Fairtrade chocolate, and – as it’s self-catering – you can order a delivery of local organic food. And on the website, there is a list of “what there is not”, such as a TV, microwave and reliable mobile phone signal.

Further info, including rates and availability, at http://www.ecocabin.co.uk.

Go eco-chic at Strattons Hotel, Norfolk

The market town of Swaffham in Norfolk is hardly cutting-edge, yet its most celebrated hotel, Strattons, sets a worldwide standard for green accommodation. Equally surprising is that this family-run hotel is not your usual socks-and-sandals eco-retreat. It’s a smart country house that’s as much a Bohemian bolthole as it is a green escape.

Strattons’ owners have transformed a Grade II-listed Queen Anne villa into an eclectic mix of ostentatious art and modern living. Behind the scenes, the owners are waging a private war on waste. Once guests have checked out, staff swoop in to rifle through the bins to see what can be recycled, given to charity or composted. Almost everything is given a new home: magazines are sent off to doctors’ waiting rooms, carrier bags are given to local market traders, organic food waste is used to fertilize the vegetable garden. What’s left is then weighed to assess how much rubbish is produced. It may sound obsessive, but it works. According to the owners, just two percent of the hotel’s total waste is sent to landfill.

A country house, a boutique hotel, a green escape. Strattons is all three. It’s surprising how well eco and chic blend together here, and it leaves the lasting impression that being green can be simple and stylish.

Info on rooms, rates, availability and local activities at http://www.strattonshotel.com.

Relaxing at Titanic Spa

Go easy on yourself and the planet at Titanic Spa, Yorkshire

Is it really possible to indulge in a luxury wellness treatment while doing the planet a favour? The masseurs, therapists and beauticians at Titanic Spa certainly think so. They call their health-and-wellbeing retreat in the heart of Yorkshire – complete with steam and ice rooms, a sauna, hammam, mud-chamber and foot-bath – “the UK’s first eco-spa”.

The world of luxury travel is littered with spas that claim they are environmentally friendly, but more often than not they do little more than provide organic products in the treatment rooms and Fairtrade food in the bistro. Titanic Spa, however, genuinely addresses the environmental challenges that are fundamental to running such a resource-intensive business. Based in a converted textile mill, it comprehensively insulates its rooms, supplies its own electricity using solar panelling and heats its water via a biomass-generator that uses woodchips from sustainable forests. Water is provided from its own borehole which provides drinking water and supplies the chlorine-free pool and showers.

Visit http://www.titanicspa.com for more.

Stay in an eco cottage on the Trelowarren Estate, Cornwall

The daily dilemma at Trelowarren is whether to stay within the privacy of the estate (where there are several woodland walks, an award-winning restaurant, a Cornish arts exhibition, tennis court, outdoor heated swimming pool and walled garden) or leave the historic grounds to explore the surrounding Lizard Peninsula, the most southerly tip of the British Isles and an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Eight wooden cottages, available to buy as a timeshare or to rent for self-catering, are designed with an impressive raft of eco-features. The walls and roof are made of timber from sustainable sources, the paints and waxes are non-toxic, the walls are insulated with recycled newspaper and the water comes from the estate’s own source. But Trelowarren’s most substantial eco-initiative is its seven-tonne woodchip Binder boiler, fuelled by wood from the estate’s coppiced forest, which ensures the heat for all the cottages is self-renewable.

If you can drag yourself out of Trelowarren’s comfort zone, there are some fabulous beaches to explore around the coastline of the Lizard, such as Kennack, Pentreath, Polurrian and Mullion. One of the most picturesque is the National Trust-owned Kynance Cove, accessible only by foot, east of the Lizard Point. Just behind the cove there’s a beach café run on solar power, and the waters here are unpolluted thanks to an innovative biological waste-water treatment system.

For more on the estate, timeshare options and details of the self-catering cottages see http://www.trelowarren.co.uk.

Stay on an eco ranch in Bieszczady National Park, Poland

The view from the 12km-long ridge at Polonina Wetlinska in the Bieszczady National Park is an unbroken panorama of ancient forests of pine, beech and oak stretching across lush valleys and hills. The world here looks wild; untouched by man. Some sensitive development has been permitted here though, including the construction of the Eco-Frontiers Ranch, a great place to stay while exploring the area.

Designed by Andrezj Czech and his girlfriend Aga, the ranch combines traditional Carpathian building techniques with a modern environmental philosophy. Located between the villages of Michiniowiec and Lipie in an area of remote wetlands, it is entirely off-grid; power instead comes from wind turbines and solar panels. Inside the main house the timber rooms are cosily decorated, plus there’s a lounge, kitchen and library; a real haven when you come in from the evening cold.

Beavers have been reintroduced to the land surrounding the ranch, and as dusk sets guests can walk out towards their dams, hoping for a rare glimpse of these shy creatures. More often you’ll just get the chance to study their handiwork, while Andrezj explains how it affects the surrounding land (with a doctorate in beaver behaviour, he’s a pretty good authority on the subject).

Details on how to get to Ustrzyki Doine (where the owners will collect you) from Kraków are on the website (http://www.ecofrontiers.net/index.php).

Coffee and biscuit on table

Live the high life at Tsala Treetops, South Africa

As you look round at the balconies and elevated platforms jutting out across the forest, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’ve stumbled upon a palace of a forgotten civilization. Monkeys squabble among the trees or scurry across the raised walkways that connect the ten individual suites to the central lodge. Hidden high in the dense canopy of the Tsitsikamma forest outside Knysna, Tsala Treetops – an architectural extravaganza of rough stone, exposed wood and floor-to-ceiling glass – appears modern yet feels somehow ancient.

So total is the attention to luxury – your suite’s drinks cabinet has its own cocktail shaker, for example – that it’s surprising to discover that Tsala Treetops is also one of the most sustainable hotels on the Cape. Waste water is reused in the vegetable garden, while all the organic waste is composted and every cleaning product is biodegradable. Hardly any indigenous trees were removed to create this treetop paradise built from sustainably harvested forests. Hotel staff continually clear non-indigenous species and reintroduce native ones, returning the area of forest that it owns and protects ever closer to how it once was.

For more on accommodation, dining, booking and rates see http://www.hunterhotels.com.

Experience common sense luxury, Thailand

It’s not often a five-star hotel offers to show guests the rubbish dump. Normally it would be more likely to flaunt its infinity pool, its luxury organic spa or the restaurant with a view out over the sea. And Evason Phuket has got all of those. It’s just that the hotel is more proud of its award-winning ecotrail around its grounds showcasing its many environmental initiatives, of which the compost and recycling centre is just a part.

Of course you could happily stay here and remain completely unaware that the world’s first commercial biomass reactor is powering the air-conditioning system. Most guests are perfectly oblivious, as almost all the initiatives being put in place to make the hotel carbon neutral by 2020 take place behind the scenes. Few visitors leave knowing that much of the food they ate was grown organically on site, or that the water is recycled into the gardens filled with indigenous plants and herbs.

But it’s not all hidden from view. A few metres out from the shore of the hotel’s private island lie some of the best-preserved corals in Thailand. But because they want to keep them that way, staff explain to guests that they can only snorkel there at high tide. So, if you want do more than sip cocktails under an umbrella on the beach, check what time that is.

Evason Phuket runs a volunteer programme that allows visitors to stay for four weeks but pay for two if they participate in various community and environmental projects while there. For directions, accommodation details, rates and booking see http://www.sixsenses.com/Evason-Phuket/index.php.

Go Wwoofing

There’s no such thing as a free lunch, but thanks to WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) there is such a thing as a free stay while you help grow other people’s lunch. WWOOF is an international organization that puts you in touch with organic farms and smallholdings looking for a helping hand in return for board and lodging. Often they’re run by people living alternative lifestyles in some fantastic locations – in the UK you can stay in a croft in the Outer Hebrides, a commune in Pembrokeshire and a small farm in the remote Irish countryside. It’s a great way to travel around on a budget and learn a thing or two about organic living, but be warned – it’s not for slackers.

More information on volunteering opportunities throughout the world at http://www.wwoof.org.

Where’s your favourite place for a green holiday? Let us know below.

 

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