9 sustainable hotels for responsible travellers (and hedonists) lifestyle
High-end design and services don’t need to be at odds with the environment. Here’s our selection of the best hotels for lovers of architecture, interior design – and the planet!
Travelling responsibly – and exclusively – is easier than it first seems. These days you don’t need to give up any of your comforts or high-end services to keep your environmental conscience clean. Staying at a hotel, resort or glamping site that has a minimal impact on the environment is no longer the exception, it’s the rule.
The eco-resort, located 1,400 metres above sea level in the village of Les Cerniers in the heart of the Swiss Alps describes itself as luxury glamping. But this unique resort is so much more than that. There are two reasons why you can relax so utterly in peace: on the one hand, because you’ll be far away from everything (and everyone), nestled in a stunning natural and rugged setting; and on the other, because you can keep your environmental conscience intact. This is where their eco-friendly geodesic domes come in (available in cosy, family and deluxe models). The spherical pod structures are made up of a network of triangles, and use approximately 30% less energy than a conventional building to heat or cool the dome.
Connected to a spring water source and heated by pellet stoves, the transparent pods adapt to the colour of the changing seasons – white in winter and green in summer – creating less of a visual impact and blending into their surroundings. Not to mention the breath-taking views and all the comforts you’d expect from a conventional hotel.
If you prefer your accommodation in a traditional four-wall format, the resort has a number of suite style chalets located in the village of Les Giettes (Valais). Constructed with an eco-friendly ethos by local artisans and companies, they are fully self-sufficient, and the space is dominated by larch wood from the Swiss forests.
Me Dubai by Meliá, United Arab Emirates
The volumetric and deconstructivist building the Opus by Omniyat, in the Burj Khalifa district of Dubai, is the architectural shell that houses the new Me Dubai by Meliá hotel. It’s as futuristic in form as it is sustainable in its foundations, constructed in line with the hotel group’s (and country’s) responsible stance: The United Arab Emirates set itself the goal of being among the most environmentally-friendly countries in 2021.
This project – the last of the late Zaha Hadid (Pritzker Prize 2004) – uses drinking water filtration systems and sensor-controlled lighting in each of its 74 bedrooms and 19 suites. In the bathrooms we see a faithful expression of the Iranian architect’s winding, organic and functional forms with the Vitae collection – designed exclusively for Noken of PORCELANOSA Group – with a futuristic style that recreates the movement of water in each piece whilst minimising the water and energy waste.
Soneva Fushi, Maldives
The fact that Soneva, a hotels and resorts company, assesses (and publishes) its total social and environmental impact each year is testament to its active and credible commitment to the planet. Generally speaking, its resorts are built in line with international sustainability standards (using sustainable wood or bamboo in some cases) and its eco-friendly practices come with official certifications. But there’s more to it: specifically, they implement sustainability and conservation measures in tune with the environment closest to them.
At the Soneva Fushi resort (63 villas and eight water retreats anchored to a private island in the Maldives, in the Baa Atoll, designated Biosphere Reserve status by UNESCO) they use eco-friendly traps to control insects rather than chemical insecticides – which not only pollute the environment, but indiscriminately affect all wildlife. And the catch of the day served in their restaurants is brought daily by a local fisherman from the neighbouring island of Maalhos (nothing frozen here).
Borgo Pignano, Italy
The elegant Borgo Pignano de La Toscana is one of 24 hotels in the Beyond Green portfolio – the new sustainable brand of establishments in the Preferred Hotels group. The enchanting country estate has been fully renovated, and there you can experience not just Italian comfort and hospitality at its finest – but sustainability too. The country houses and apartments have been renovated and decorated using eco-friendly products and materials (local stone, reclaimed slate, organic gypsum and eco-friendly paint); as much as possible, they use farming techniques that don’t damage the environment (such as a natural rainwater retention system that prevents soil erosion); and solar panels power the heating and hot water systems, along with pellet boilers that feed on wood from their own forests.
Art, nature and creativity come together at this eco-resort in the Tuscan countryside that “promotes a sense of place” as well as heritage and cultural authenticity, reflecting the region’s unique rural lifestyle. As well as being a gallery for the artists who exhibit their work there, it has become a residence for students of the London Royal Drawing School, dedicated to the teaching and practice of observational drawing.
Tivoli Ecoresort Praia do Forte Bahia, Brazil
Almost a decade ago, the Tivoli Ecoresort Praia do Forte Bahia was picked as the best family resort in Latin America by World Travel News. The accolade shows how ahead of its time it was in demonstrating how high-end services and the environment don’t have to be at odds with each other. There you can see how they can work in harmony: its principles of sustainability and social responsibility run through every inch of this resort – and it couldn’t be any other way in this setting, deep in the midst of the lush landscape of the north coast of Bahia.
The buildings of this Brazilian complex, integrated into the vegetation of the land covering 30 hectares, were built using natural materials, and the decorative features have all been crafted by local artists. This gives guests the feeling of being fully ensconced in the natural and ethnographic paradise they find themselves in. Not to mention being surrounded by gardens, palm trees and white sand beaches (where Projeto Tamar works on sea turtle conservation projects) and your room neighbours being marmosets, birds and lizards. This is without a doubt the dream destination for eco-tourism enthusiasts.
Six Senses Douro Valley, Portugal
The Six Sense Duero Valley hotel had us captivated from the start: its location (on a hill next to the Douro River with breath-taking panoramic views), its architecture (a 19th century manor house in a century manor house that’s undergone an outstanding renovation) and its setting (surrounded by vineyards, gardens and forests). But once we discovered all the measures the hotel takes in terms of social and environmental responsibility, we were won over completely. It has protected a four-hectare forest (and its ancient trees); it’s responsible for monitoring and creating the right habitats for the flora and fauna on this stretch of the river bank; it sponsors a refuge for Miranda donkeys (in danger of extinction); and it helps, through a charity, to ensure that 200 families with children at risk of exclusion receive a school-age and higher education.
Wilderness Safaris Hoanib Skeleton Coast, Namibia
The Wilderness Wildlife Trust non-profit foundation supports a wide variety of projects in Africa with a focus on three key areas: research and conservation; empowerment and community education; and the fight against poaching. These are three compelling reasons to choose any one of its luxury camps or safaris on the African continent. We chose Hoanib Skeleton Coast on the Namibian Skeleton Coast. It may be located in a completely inhospitable place, but it’s brimming with wildlife in motion (and survival).
The hotel’s made up of a total of eight vast tents with bathrooms (including a family one). It’s a member of Beyond Green and is fully powered by solar energy, with a large common area and a small swimming pool with a view of the precipitous valley reaching down to the (ephemeral and seasonal) Hoanib River.
As well as being a research and conservation centre for lions and brown hyenas (both adapted to this desert environment), the hotel is part of its neighbouring communities and is very much involved with them, so eco-tourism can be of benefit to all the region’s people.
The Brando Resort, Polynesia
It was the first resort in French Polynesia to obtain LEED Platinum certification (the organisation’s highest accolade) and one of the first five-star resorts in the world to be 100% environmentally-friendly: enough in itself to give it a place on our list. With its pioneering initiatives, The Brando Resort has shown that it’s possible to be fully self-sufficient in terms of energy, and has managed to reduce its carbon footprint to almost zero. All this in spite of being one of the 12 ‘lost’ islands in the atoll of Tetiaroa, in the middle of the Pacific.
Beyond its more common and widespread measures such as using solar energy, the complex (a legacy of actor Marlon Brando, who bought the atoll in the 1960s and subsequently converted it into a luxury establishment) never ceases to amaze us with its sustainable initiatives, implemented via its scientific research laboratory, Tetiaroa Society: the seawater-driven air conditioning takes advantage of the cold stored naturally in the deep ocean waters, and it uses coconut oil biofuel for its electrics. What’s more, the 35 villas with private swimming pools and lagoon views (integrated with the surrounding trees to avoid obstructing the view of the beach) – were built using local, renewable and recycled materials in a design that reflects traditional Polynesian culture.
Everything about this Design Hotel located in the sacred valley of the Incas is perfectly imperfect. Pamela Remy and Estefanía Chacón were behind the wabi-sabi concept for the architecture and interior design based on natural materials. It can be seen, for example, in the walls of the three country houses, made in adobe – a highly sustainable material produced with as little environmental impact as possible – which, best of all, returns to earth without a trace when it’s disposed of.
We also must mention the furniture and decorative pieces, for the most part crafted made-to-measure (and by hand) by local artisans, so no two pieces are the same. The textiles and ceramics are the finishing touch to this contemporary design which is imbued with the soul of Peruvian traditions whilst staying very much aligned with global interior design trends.
- 1 Whitepod, Switzerland
- 2 Me Dubai by Meliá, United Arab Emirates
- 3 Soneva Fushi, Maldives
- 4 Borgo Pignano, Italy
- 5 Tivoli Ecoresort Praia do Forte Bahia, Brazil
- 6 Six Senses Douro Valley, Portugal
- 7 Wilderness Safaris Hoanib Skeleton Coast, Namibia
- 8 The Brando Resort, Polynesia
- 9 Andenia, Peru