If the idea of utter seclusion and being totally cocooned by nature and the elements sounds like an appealing holiday to you, you may want to bookmark early 2024 in your calendar.
Once it’s fully operating, the innovative hotel will consume approximately 85% less energy than traditional hotels and harvesting solar power, it will produce more energy than it uses – thus making it energy-positive.
Pioneering in both its low-impact design and sustainability goals, the hotel aims to be fully off-grid, carbon-neutral and zero waste within the first five years of operation. To add to its eco-credentials, the project is being funded by Green Bond, a sustainable investment fund. Svart’s design, courtesy of Norwegian architect firm Snøhetta is inspired by the Norwegian Fiskehjell (a wooden structure used to dry fish) and Rorbue (a fisherman’s traditional seasonal home). Energy-intensive building materials such as structural steel and concrete were avoided as much as possible throughout the construction.
Architects carried out extensive studies into how solar radiation behaves in the area throughout the year, in order to optimise energy output. They then used the findings to design the hotel rooms, restaurants and terraces strategically within a circular design in order to utilise the sun’s energy consistently despite the changing time of day or seasons. The glass-fronted, circular design also allows for 360-degree views of the glacier, the crystal clear waters which surround it, and the breathtaking Northern Lights. The roof is clad with solar panels which will further reduce the overall carbon footprint.
Six Senses Svart will house 94 rooms, four restaurants, a 1,000 square metre spa, a sustainable farm, a design laboratory and an education centre which will educate guests on topics such as waste management, glacier protection and sustainable farming. There will also be two electric boats to be used by the hotel and its visitors.
The food served across each of Svart’s four restaurants will make use of local, home-grown and foraged produce as much as possible, while the spa will offer holistic treatments using indigenous Nordic elements and 100% sustainable and locally-sourced products. From kayaking straight from the waters just below the bedrooms to ice climbing on the glacier and practising yoga in the midnight sun, the beautiful location of the hotel will allow for many arctic experiences. The surrounding area is home to some of the rarest flora and fauna species in the world too, so there is plenty to explore with foraging, wildlife-spotting, diving and fishing.
In the meantime, while we patiently wait for Svart to open its doors, here are 3 alternative eco-friendly hotels in Europe well worth a visit:
Forsthofalm is an Austrian eco-retreat set within the beautiful Alps. The family-run hotel is built entirely from wood, stone and natural materials, without the use of chemicals and houses a wonderful spa which incorporates homemade products using local ingredients.
The Scarlet is a coastal escape in Cornwall’s Mawgan Porth with an Ayurvedic spa, an outdoor pool that’s naturally filtered by reeds and clifftop hot tubs. The food also champions seasonality and locality.
The Lefay Resort in the mountains of Gargnano, Italy overlooks the stunning Lake Garda. It is built from biocompatible materials and decorated with natural fabrics. Electricity used to power the hotel comes from a renewable source, recycled rainwater is used within the spa and local farms supply the restaurant’s delicious and seasonal menu.
When we consider how to combat climate change, our laundry pile may not be the first thing that comes to mind. Yet as we know from recycling, reducing food waste in our kitchens and making everyday smarter purchasing decisions, it’s often the seemingly mundane lifestyle choices we make which collectively determine our individual impact on the planet.
When we reframe a chore such as laundry in this way, and take into account that the average household uses their washing machine 4.7 times a week, with each wash requiring around 50 litres of water, perhaps it doesn’t seem so trivial after all. Whether washing our clothes at home or taking special care items to be professionally cleaned, creating some impact on the environment is inevitable.
Launched in 2017, Oxwash is a sustainable, ultra-hygienic and on-demand laundry and drycleaning company founded by former NASA engineer Dr Kyle Grant while he was completing a PhD at Oxford University.
“I fell into the laundry space completely by accident after getting frustrated doing my sports teams kit one day and finding all the machines out of order. I started a student laundry service that very quickly grew due to the demand from small businesses. When I took my first look under the hood of a commercial laundry I was horrified at the waste being produced and the inefficiencies that were often plugged by below minimum wage workers.” Kyle was inspired to re-engineer the process, making it more planet friendly. “I have always wanted to build a business that has a positive impact for every single customer from day one” he says.
The commercial laundry industry is both wasteful and pollutive throughout much of the process. Traditional laundries are renowned for high energy usage from their washing and drying machines. There’s also the issue of microfibre pollution, caused by inadequate filtration systems which are unable to prevent microplastics from entering our water systems. Then the type of detergent used, or the packaging it comes in; most laundries use whichever detergent is most cost-effective, and these tend to have high levels of toxicity, such as the chemical PERC which is a known health and environmental hazard. Finally, the effect of transportation; most laundries that offer collections and deliveries use vans as transport, contributing to GHG emissions and CO2 pollution.
From collection through washing and back to delivery, Oxwash aims to maintain net zero carbon emissions – something which has never been done before. Kyle’s career as a scientist for NASA informed the process greatly, by bringing a systems engineering mindset to the problem:
“My time working in the aerospace industry has etched in my mind the importance of viewing a ‘system’ as a whole as well as the sum of the parts and analysing our service completely end-to-end. To that end, Oxwash owns the entire value chain from collection, washing and delivery to the tech development and washing research and development. Like launching a rocket it’s only when you build and launch the whole vehicle can you see how all the parts function together in the most efficient way.”
Cutting down on energy consumption, the company uses solar panels to power their washing machines. They use biodegradable detergents and emulsifiers that are automatically dosed depending on the weight of each wash which prevents up to 25% excess chemistry being used. As for the water, where each 8kg wash cycle typically uses 50 litres of water per wash, Oxwash uses 18 litres. Using ozone technology for disinfection, washes are done at low temperatures while still destroying bacteria, viruses and allergens and more recently, dissolvable laundry bags have been introduced to eliminate coronavirus transmission through fabric and clothing. As for the transportations, Oxwash uses e-cargo bikes which save 6,700 KG of CO2 emissions per year.
Oxwash’s model is simple; customers place an order online, choose a collection and drop off time and place, and have their items collected, washed and delivered, all with zero net carbon emissions. The eco-friendly dry cleaning service isn’t just available for individuals, Oxwash has also partnered with companies including Marriott and Airbnb too; both heavyweights in the hospitality industry which is notorious for its huge impact on the environment through laundering, particularly towels and bedding.
Kyle hopes that disrupting the laundry industry will have a knock-on effect on other adjacent industries. “Laundry is one of the oldest circular economies out there. You don’t sleep in your bed sheets once then throw them away! We believe that this mindset and model can be extrapolated.” Here’s hoping!
Currently brainstorming where to visit in the charming, colourful country of Portugal? Exploring the cobblestone alleyways of Porto and tasting the region’s famed fortified wine sounds wonderful for a late-Spring getaway, as does working our way through the Pasteis de Nata bakeries of Lisbon, but we’ll be skipping the crowds and opting for something a little more secluded.
Overtourism is a real issue, one that affects the planet and people in myriad ways, so staying off the beaten track while supporting an independently owned, sustainably run hotel like Craveiral Farmhouse feels right. It is located in the region of Alentejo, which covers over 30% of Portugal but is home to just 5% of the population. It’s the hottest and driest part of the country and is sparsely populated, rich in history and diverse in landscape.
Spread across 9 acres of land and nestled amidst the rocky terrain of Alentejo, Craveiral is the passion project of Pedro Franca Pinto, a Lisbon lawyer who always had dreams of becoming a farmer. Pinto bought the land – a neglected field of carnations in the hills of Odemira – over 10 years ago, and slowly set about restoring it into the resort that stands today.
Beautifully imperfect in its ruggedness, Craveiral was built with respect and consideration for the surrounding environment, which is awash with pine forests, orchards, olive groves and cork fields. It’s all about simplicity, space and slow living here. A collection of 38 cottages of varying sizes are peppered across the resort, many framed by wooden terraces. The relaxed interiors are a nod to Portuguese design, with hand-crafted wooden furniture from local brands and a pared-back, simplistic feel.
For those craving a reconnection with nature and taste of rural life, Craveiral provides a relaxing and unfussy setting. There are plenty of opportunities for families to be entertained and educated through authentic experiences on-site. Spend time on the farm amongst goats, donkeys and other animals, take in the surrounding area on horseback, meander through an orchard of indigenous trees, learn about the local flora, fauna and produce at the permaculture garden and nature centre, and enjoy al fresco picnics and BBQs amidst unspoilt countryside with soothing views. Set between the countryside and the sea, you get the best of both worlds here. Nearby, there are quaint fishing towns, nature parks and plenty of coastline to explore. The turquoise beaches of Zambujeira do Mar and Carvalhal are also just 15 minutes away and are far less crowded than more popular destinations such as nearby Lagos.
The hotel adopts various eco initiatives. Rainwater is collected, filtered and reused and the resort’s restaurants adopt a seasonal, organic-first, low-waste approach. The farm-to-table concept at both Craveiral FarmTable and Craveiral Pizzeria highlights local ingredients, much of which come from Craveiral’s very own farm and gardens.
Owner Pedro’s driving goals run deeper than providing a unique and inspiring experience for guests; he is driven by a dedication to leaving a positive impact on the world. “I started Craveiral Farmhouse when I knew that I was going to be a father back in 2010,” he says. “Since the beginning, conceptually wise, the aim of the project was to contribute to a better world, one that my children would be proud of.” With this in mind, every decision that is taken regarding
Craveiral is carefully considered with a holistic view on sustainability in an environmental, social and financial sense. “We are aware that we cannot change the world, but we can take small steps that will contribute to the change we want to see in the world and lead by example, contributing to changing the mentalities in our community.”
The local community of Alentejo is diverse and agriculture plays a central role in life here. Pedro sees great value in the community as well as an obligation to support and empower them. “In terms of tourism, we are one the biggest employers of our parish, with 50 workers. We never closed during the pandemic, we kept all jobs and we didn’t apply to lay-off procedures.” At a time when hospitality suffered greatly, Pedro was creative and resourceful in keeping his staff employed, business running and the many local artists and creatives supported. “During the first lockdown, we kept our Craveiral Pizzeria ComVida project open, delivering pizzas to the local community.” The project employs intellectually disabled people that have the capacity to work but have found it difficult to maintain jobs due to discrimination and bias. “In addition, 1€ from each pizza goes to fund the association Vila Com Vida, which promotes the integration of these people into the labour market.” Last month, Pedro invited a Portugeuse band to the farmhouse to record their album and in the evenings, they returned the favour by performing for guests.
Staying at Craveiral, the focus on physical and mental health and wellbeing is ever-present. The resort provides four swimming pools, a wellness centre, spa treatments, and plenty of opportunity for physical activities. Integrating these values into their philanthropic efforts, they also financially support local sports clubs which serve those residing in the region. “This is not just about business, this is about life,” concludes Pedro.
Going somewhere where you can experience a bit of luxury and relaxation is one thing, but also having the chance to ground yourself and reconnect with nature, without the superficial clutters of everyday life feels far more meaningful. The afterglow of this kind of trip is more likely to last once you’ve returned home than your typical beach holiday.
Craveiral Farmhouse is located 15 minutes from the beaches of Zambujeira do Mar and Carvalhal, in the Southwest Alentejo. The nearest airport is Faro. Prices: High season: from €180 to €600 Low season: from €160 to €250
When there’s a holiday on the horizon, we typically spend most of our time figuring out where to stay and what we’ll do. We consider things such as how our pets (or plants!) will be cared for, and how safe our property and possessions will be while we’re gone, but something else that warrants consideration is how energy-efficient our homes will be – even if they’re empty. Whether you’re travelling long-haul or heading out of town for a mini staycation, unnecessary energy consumption can be easily avoided by taking the time to eco-proof your homes with these simple tips.
It’s not just you that needs to unplug when you’re on holiday. Make sure all of your electrical devices and appliances are unplugged, too. This includes everything from your blender, kettle, microwave, oven and coffee machine in the kitchen to your TV and computer. Appliances make up 40% of household electricity consumption and they’ll use up energy even if they’re not in use.
Turn your thermostat to eco-mode
Thermostats are particularly convenient for when you’re not at home. On most models, eco-mode will maintain a steady temperature while using very little fuel. They can sense when no one is at home and turn the temperature down completely too.
Check your fridge
Your fridge is probably one of the only appliances that shouldn’t be switched off while you’re away. Do a sweep of your fridge to ensure anything that won’t get eaten before you leave can be saved. Freeze what you can, make a packed meal or snack for your journey, or cook with the ingredients and freeze the meal so that you’ll have something hearty and homemade to come back to. If you’ll be leaving your fridge virtually empty, consider reducing its power by adjusting the refrigerator and freezer temperature dials – this will minimise its energy consumption.
Consider home automation
Programmable smart home technologies enable you to monitor your energy usage so that you can be more conscious of your consumption habits. Home automation has been found to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions by 13% so it’s definitely worth considering as an investment for yourself and the planet. Home automation includes things like smart thermostats (such as Nest) which allow you to control your heating and hot water from your phone, as well as occupancy sensors and window shading – all helpful tools to make your home more sustainable.
Close doors and windows
This isn’t just for security purposes. It will also prevent draughts and heat loss, as well keeping your home safe and secure, of course. Keep curtains and blinds closed too – they are great insulators and trap the heat in during the winter, while keeping it out in the summer. Pulling them shut will also prevent sun damage to your furniture, wooden floors or art. If you’re worried about your home looking empty for a prolonged period of time, try leaving just a few of the curtains or blinds open, ask a neighbour to check in, or put chosen lights on timers to give the illusion that someone is at home.
Switch off your water
Switching off your water supply at the mains will prevent any leaks or water damage while you’re away. You can do this easily without any professional plumbing experience by just turning the stopcock valve to the closed position. It’s usually found just beneath your kitchen sink, in an airing cupboard or under a staircase if you have one.
Turn down your boiler
If you’re going away during the summer, you probably won’t need your boiler for central heating, and you can turn the water heating setting right down before you leave too. If travelling during colder winter months, ensure that you don’t turn the boiler off completely as this could lead to frozen pipes. In this case, program your central heating to turn on for an hour or two daily – this will still make a considerable difference.
Use a slow-release plant-watering device
Easy to manage plants might tolerate a few days without watering or misting, and if you’re going away for a quick staycation or long weekend, a thorough watering right before you leave should be fine. Any longer though, and you could come home to a few casualties. Clever self-watering devices are a great option. They tend to have built-in reservoir systems and are perfect for plants that need moisture year-round. Moving any indoor potted plants into a cool, shady spot will help them to maintain hydration and prevent them from drying out too much too.
Travelling is a luxury, and conserving the natural environment of the beautiful locations we visit should be part of the experience. We can do so first-hand by taking part in conservation initiatives and volunteer work or simply making eco-friendly choices when selecting our transport, accommodation and activities. Discover our conscious travel guide for Ibiza.
Conservation and sustainability have been at the heart of Zannier Hotels’ DNA since the hotel group’s inception in 2011. Founder Arnaud Zannier has always had the core belief that the surrounding environment, culture and people of a location should always remain protected when developing a hotel or resort.
Over the last decade, Zannier has grown to include five hotels, two residences and two private estates across four continents. Arnaud’s ethos has remained integral to the overarching themes and day-to-day running of the business. As the brand continues to expand its global offering with the recently opened Bai San Ho resort in Vietnam and an imminent launch in Mexico next year, we caught up with the man spearheading everything to discuss his driving goals, industry insights and hopes for the future of sustainable luxury travel.
How did you start out in the travel and hospitality industry and what inspired you to launch Zannier?
I have always had a passion for architecture, interior design, good food and restaurants, so hospitality has always been close to my heart. After working in London for five years with the footwear brand, Kickers and running my own business (N.D.C made by hand, luxury handmade shoes), my father asked me to come back to the family business in fashion, however, I felt I couldn’t really make my mark. I already had in mind some ideas for a new approach to hospitality. I identified a trend – which was niche at the time – which was the view that the future of luxury is more about moments and experiences as opposed to gold taps and marble. In 2011, I had an opportunity to purchase the three-star Michelin restaurant “La Ferme de mon Père” in Megève (France) which I transformed into our first property, Zannier Hotels Le Chalet. This is where my Zannier Hotels adventure started.
How would you describe Zannier’s approach to sustainability?
Our core belief is that the surrounding environment, culture and people should remain protected, with conservation and sustainability playing a major part in Zannier Hotels’ DNA. At each of the Zannier properties, we constantly strive for sustainability in daily operations and work with passionate local teams with the utmost respect for local heritage and surrounding environment.
We strive to conserve energy, limit single plastic use, and reduce waste across our properties. At Zannier Hotels Sonop, 100% of the energy comes from solar panels installed onsite and Zanier Hotels Omaanda has its own beehive to provide guests with honey. At our properties in Vietnam and Cambodia, we grow and cultivate our own rice in partnership with local farmers, and we have our own on-site gardens to supply produce to the kitchens.
We also aim to support the local communities, with the majority of team members at each of the properties employed locally. We organise English lessons for residents of the surrounding villages in Vietnam and Cambodia, plus we are working on launching a more permanent training scheme for young people living in areas surrounding Zannier Hotels Bãi San Hô so we can attract local talent and give back to community In addition, we source all our materials, food and products locally to support farmers, fishermen, artisans and craftsmen.
Our approach to sustainability is evident in the construction of the hotels. To minimise the land impact of our new properties, we carefully consider the number of units developed, even if this means a lower occupation/revenue. We strive to achieve a good balance between maintaining a location’s natural charm and designing new infrastructure and we use local materials and building techniques to ensure our properties blend seamlessly into the landscape. This is reflected in the values of minimalism and authenticity that characterises Zannier Hotels. Our commitment to wildlife conservation is most apparent at Zannier Reserve by N/a’an ku sê in Namibia which was created to ensure the land and wildlife remain protected. The 7,500-hectare reserve, which is financed predominantly through a percentage of revenue made from guests staying at Zannier Hotels Omaanda, celebrated two years at the beginning of the pandemic, during which time it has positively impacted the lives of 39 animals; 19 of which were critically endangered, 18 were near-threatened and two were vulnerable.
How do you strike the balance between luxury and sustainability?
Importantly, at Zannier Hotels we are constantly evolving and improving our sustainability practices. There is always more we can do, and we strive to do more each day. Sustainability is a necessity, not a choice. To us, sustainability and luxury are synonymous. Sustainability does not equal lack of or limitations, nor does our vision of luxury equal opulence or extravagance. Our ethos is less about “things” and more about “experiences”. We prioritise careful craftsmanship, inspiring people, fascinating cultures, and untamed landscapes. These are our luxuries. We aim to offer authentic and delightful experiences to our guests within beautiful environments, alongside a genuine and flawless approach to service and lasting sustainable actions.
What is the biggest sustainability challenge you face as a business?
To think differently in an industry that is very systemized is a challenge, but this is our vision and what we strive to do. In terms of sustainability the big challenge is to design the greenest hotel possible without compromising our experience, and continuing to challenge ourselves every day. We cannot settle for what we already have, we must constantly progress.
How is Zannier Hotels helping guests to embrace sustainability?
I think the best way to help our guests to embrace sustainability is to show them what we do during their stay and highlight the impact those actions have on the environment. For example, last year the Zannier Reserve by N/a’an ku sê launched their unique Rhino Rangers volunteer programme, which was created to offer travellers the opportunity to immerse themselves into the challenging world of anti-poaching in Namibia. The programme gives guests a unique insight into the threat of poaching and educates them on the importance of conservation.
How have you seen travellers’ interest in sustainability enhance since launching in 2011?
Society has woken up to the environmental issues we face, and the pressure and realisation from this is part of the answer. We have also started to wake up to the effects of mass-tourism and the damage it has done to our planet. People still want to travel but they really want to take their time when they’re there and ensure it has a positive impact on the local communities and environment. I think this has accelerated during the pandemic. The time out has made us take stock of the world around us and the damage we’re doing to our planet. People are more mindful. How a resort impacts its surrounding environment, and nearby communities will be a key factor in choosing a destination. They want to travel with a sense of purpose and are increasingly conscious about how their tourism dollars can positively or negatively affect the place they’re visiting.
This will only become more important as we see the impact of climate change on our planet – such as the recent devastating floods and fires. The IPCC Report is a stark warning, and we need urgent collective action to save the planet. I believe this is now at the forefront of the minds of most travellers and sustainability will become a necessity, rather than a choice.
As the effects of climate change and over-tourism become more apparent than ever, how has your personal view on the travel industry changed over the years?
The importance of sustainable tourism has been on the industry’s radar for a number of years, and the pandemic certainly highlighted this further. The effects of climate change and over-tourism confirms the vision that I had a decade ago, to create a brand focusing on a ‘human-scale’ level of tourism. Today more than ever, the hospitality industry has a duty to the environment which has been under threat for decades due to over tourism. Having seen firsthand how communities and cultures have been affected, it is obvious that we need to act together quickly to protect future generations.
Why do you think it’s important for the hospitality industry to work with local communities?
Working with local communities is not just important for Zannier Hotels, it is a core element of our DNA. We operate a diverse and inclusive company culture; 98% of our team are employed locally. We believe that our genuine and warm hospitality is built from an authentic desire to share and celebrate the traditions of the country in which the hotel is located. Community development and education projects at our properties also help to create a positive future for the younger generation.
For travellers seeking culturally rich experiences, what advice would you give them to do so respectfully, ethically and sustainably?
In my opinion, the key is to travel humbly with an open mind, open arms and open heart. Respect the local history and customs and be genuinely curious. It is up to us to adapt ourselves to the culture or the environment, not the other way round.
What are your hopes for the future of the industry?
For me, respect is the most important value one can show in the luxury hospitality sector. Most hotels do not consider the place and people when expanding their brand, they would rather choose a popular tourist destination than consider authentic experiences and cultures. I hope that the industry will return to simpler pleasures that do not impact the environment or the people around them, but rather include them, and thus become a more respectful and active agent of change than it is now.
As passionate hospitality professionals, we have the privilege of discovering and connecting with local communities, providing travellers with the opportunity to experience a destination in the most beautiful and authentic ways possible. For example, wandering through the small markets with a local chef will give insight into the way local people really live. To me, empowering local communities is just as important as choosing a destination. We should be able to help the village or even the country in which we develop our projects and keep that in mind whilst creating it.
2. Support sustainability
Often, sustainability is seen as unreachable and far too complex for a company to apply on a large scale. The truth is, even the biggest companies can put sustainable solutions in place, step by step. Let’s start with aiming to leave — as much as possible — a positive footprint in the places where we operate. This includes sustainable construction, eco-conception, predominance of raw materials, waste management, use of local techniques, and empowerment of the local workforce. Sustainability must be planned ahead of construction and present from start to finish in the creation process.
3. Focus on philanthropy
It has never been more important to help preserve the environment and wildlife. The Amazon rainforest has been burning for months, and that is just one example of our planet under threat.
Each one of us has a responsibility in this catastrophe, and I believe COVID-19 is just another consequence of our carelessness. The effects of the virus have had an enormous impact on tourism, especially in secluded and hard-to-access locations, which rely on tourism to survive. Africa-based conservation schemes for instance, many of which are driven by ecotourism, are struggling to make ends meet.
A final thought…
One idea would be to simply travel to these destinations that make much of their living from tourism to help them recover. In the meantime, we must all continue our hard work of preservation and reintroduction to ensure the land and wildlife remain protected. I would encourage everyone who wishes to make a difference during these challenging times to help their local associations, for example by donating homegrown vegetables, fruits, or any ingredients that can’t be sold for aesthetic reasons, instead of throwing them away. Responsible travel may take place around the world, but these good habits start at home.
Our homes have a huge effect on our carbon footprint. The way they are built, decorated and used can all have an environmental impact – either good or bad – and while some of these things are out of our control, many of them are not.
There are many ways in which we can tweak how we decorate and manage our households in order to lessen the carbon impact our homes have on the environment, it just takes a little (fun!) research and thought. The number of UK households using renewable energy has risen from 1% to 30% since 2015, which means more of us are making the effort. By fusing our sustainability values with our interior design goals, we can create homes we are proud of and that are better for the planet, the economy and our wellbeing.
Many interior brands are using technology to change people’s perceptions around waste through innovation, creating products that look amazing and work efficiently too. Waste materials such as plastic are being reused to make kitchen worktops, tables and even acoustic panelling for walls. You can even find lighting designers making beautiful pendant lights from plant-based fibres such as hemp, tobacco leaves and pomace. Searching for these exciting, eco-friendly brands can be half of the fun when it comes to decorating your home.
There are also many interior designers who take sustainability into account. Brian Woulfe is Managing & Creative Director of Designed by Woulfe, a london based interior design company that works internationally on residential and commercial projects of all scales. Through his work, Brian champions young designers and craftspeople and enjoys using his choices to promote sustainable design while also educating clients in the process. The design studio sticks to their values by addressing sustainability at three levels – while working on interior design projects, by ensuring their operations are as environmentally friendly as possible, and by influencing the wider community.
Brian is a founding signatory of ‘Interior Design Declares’, an influential group of designers who are demanding collective action from the interior design industry to confront climate and biodiversity emergencies. Here, Brian shares his tips for upgrading your home in an eco-friendly way without compromising on beautiful aesthetics…
Blend the old with the new
Invest in long-lasting design that tells a story and adds character to your interiors. Vintage and antique furniture and homewares are often high quality and built to last, so they’ll make great heirloom pieces that can stay with you for a long time. You can have fun blending the old with the new by reclaiming, reusing, repurposing, upcycling and re-upholstering old or second hand items to give them a contemporary touch that will make an impact alongside the rest of your interior design scheme. There are some incredible vintage fairs and antique markets in the UK where you can hunt for one-off pre-loved items from big pieces such as bedroom furniture to decorative items like tableware and vases.
Support small manufacturers and artisans
Prioritise manufacturers that are committed to sustainable interior design through the use of eco-friendly materials and ethical production practices. If possible, support smaller, independent furniture makers and commission bespoke, hand carved or made-to-order pieces. They can be more expensive but are a worthy investment and not only will you have a well made, long-lasting and unique piece of furniture, you’ll know that it’s more environmentally and socially sound.
Use eco-friendly wallpaper and paints
Adding colour and pattern to your home is one of the funnest parts of decorating that can really set the tone for a room and provide the basis for the rest of the design. Having said that, the materials we use to cover our walls are often overlooked. Prolonged or high exposure to paint fumes can cause headaches and trigger allergies, but the VOC’s (volatile organic compounds) that are emitted during the drying process also contribute to the earth’s ozone layer. We’re now seeing more and more organic paint products on the market which are free from VOC’s, carcinogens or toxic substances. They offer an ecological range that even purifies the air we breathe inside our homes. Some paint companies offer stick-on sample patches which are easy to use and far less wasteful than ordering paint samples which often create lots of waste. If you’re planning to incorporate wallpaper, choose one that’s made using eco-friendly inks and be sure not to over-order so that there’s as little wastage as possible.
Bring your space to life with plants
Studies have found that having indoor plants boost your mood, productivity, creativity, concentration and reduce your stress. Aside from these psychological benefits, plants also purify the air in our homes, absorbing toxins and producing oxygen. They add the finishing touches to your home, make great decorative features, add colour, and can really help to bring a space to life. Experiment with different sizes and shapes, and be sure to double-check that you’re selecting the right plant for the right space. For example, some prefer indirect sunlight or more humid environments, making them ideal for bathrooms.
Incorporate elements of biophilic design
Personal wellness is becoming an increasingly important topic when considering home design and improvements too. Our lives have centred around the home far more in the past year and many are eager to carve out dedicated spaces for all aspects of wellbeing. A great way to do this is by incorporating elements of biophilic design, which is essentially the act of increasing your connection to the natural world through design. Embracing natural, fluid shapes, colours and materials are great methods, as well as maximising natural light and including plenty of living plants as mentioned within my other tips.
The average household in the UK emits 2.7 tonnes of CO2 every year from heating their home. If your home isn’t properly insulated, you’re probably losing a lot of the energy used in heating and cooling through your walls, roof, windows and doors. There are plenty of options for insulating, such as simply installing double glazed windows which can reduce draughts and heat losses, draught proofing of floors, windows and doors, and natural fibre insulation which uses eco-friendly materials like cork, cotton, hemp, wood fibre or cellulose. Different areas in your house will need different kinds of insulation, so be sure to keep this in mind.
Upgrade your appliances
Making sure the appliances in your home, from your kettle to your cooking hob are energy efficient too will also have a huge positive impact on the carbon footprint of your home. Energy Star-certified appliances are easy to find and look both modern and stylish, so they certainly won’t ruin the look or feel of your kitchen if they’re visible. Bigger appliances like dishwashers and refrigerators and well worth updating too, as newer models are far more energy-saving than older ones. They’re more likely to have better functionality too.
Switch to LED lights
Switching to energy efficient lighting is one of the easiest ways to make your home more eco friendly. Traditional incandescent light bulbs may be cheaper, but LEDs are far more cost-effective in the long run because they use about 40% – 80% less energy and also reduce heat in the home.
Make the most of natural light
Exposure to daylight is closely linked to our wellbeing and mood, increasing our body’s serotonin levels and keeping our circadian rhythms (internal body clocks) in check. The right lighting can make a world of difference when it comes to interiors too. It influences our mood, sets the tone, and can even alter the way we perceive colour. When it comes to colours, paler hues will reflect more light and expand its impact, while darker ones tend to absorb it, so keep in mind that if a room is darker, it may require more artificial light – this goes for flooring as well as walls. Maximising natural light in your home will cut down on the need for artificial lighting, and you can boost light by using mirrors and other reflective features such as glass. If possible, installing skylights are a very effective way of drawing a steady stream of light into a space which may not have windows.
Choose natural materials
Everyday, mass-produced furniture contains a surprisingly high number of chemicals such as formaldehyde which can be harmful to your health. Choosing furniture and soft furnishings made from natural materials over synthetic ones will have a huge impact. When it comes to soft furnishings such as bedding and blankets, go for premium quality textiles that are woven from natural fibres. As for pillows, feather rather than synthetic pillows can help prevent dust mites and are also better for the environment. If installing or replacing a fireplace, look out for eco-friendly bio-ethanol, which is a renewable energy source that gives off clean emissions that are non-toxic, smokeless and odourless.
Keep it all clean…naturally
The homecare industry generates around 29 billion plastic containers each year, with a considerable chunk of this made up of cleaning products. Keeping your home clean with natural, eco-friendly, non-corrosive homecare products is better for you and the environment. They are just as effective but without the unpleasant and harmful chemical residue.
Here in the UK, we await with bated breath to hear when travel will resume. In the meantime, there’s no shortage of exceptional destinations to daydream about. As we inch closer to post-pandemic life, let’s consider the fact that we don’t have to pause our day-to-day efforts to live more sustainably whilst travelling. It’s possible to make conscious decisions at every step of the journey, from which destinations to visit, to how we can lessen our impact while we’re away.
Found along coastlines around the world from Formentera to Seychelles, ‘ocean meadows’ or ‘sea meadows’ as they are also called are essentially underwater fields of seagrasses. Not to be mistaken for algae, seagrasses are more alike to plants which grow on land as they have roots, stems and leaves, and produce flowers, seeds and fruit. They are the only flowering plants to grow in marine environments and there are around 60 different species of them.
Seagrasses are often referred to as ‘the lungs of the sea’ because of the crucial role they play in generating oxygen for the planet. They photosynthesise and release oxygen in the same way as plants found on land, and do so at an impressive rate – for every one square metre of seagrass, around 10 litres of oxygen is produced on a daily basis. You can find these underwater gardens in shallow waters across every continent except for Antarctica. They usually live around 1-3 metres below sea level, however some can grow at depths of up to 58 metres.
Aside from producing oxygen, sea meadows work in many ways to benefit the planet both above and below sea level. A key factor is their absorption of carbon dioxide, helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions which contributes to lessening the risks associated with climate change. They also help to maintain healthy coral reefs in several ways, such as by reducing the acidity of sea water which in turn protects the reefs from degradation. These productive plants work as filtering systems for coastal waters, helping to keep them clean by soaking up nutrients and bacteria. They also provide coastal defence against rising sea levels and erosion by stabilising sediment and reducing wave and tidal energy.
The meadows also provide a habitat and food for marine life, many of which rely on the dense canopies as their main source of nutrition. Sea turtles are often found grazing among the blades of grass and consume up to 2kg of them per day, and they are the primary habitat for the endangered dugong. Humans benefit from and depend on this ecosystem in so many ways; they keep our coastal waters clean, stabilise the climate, regulate ocean environments and of course, as nursery habitats for a rich diversity of fish, have a large impact on food supply and livelihoods. Seagrasses have even been used by humans as a natural fertiliser for crops, to insulate homes and make woven furniture.
Both climate change and direct human intervention has caused a drastic decline in ocean meadows. These include coastal urban developments, industrial activities that cause water pollution, fishing activities and aquaculture. According to Project Seagrass, a marine conservation charity, we’ve lost over 35% of the world’s seagrass meadows over the last 40 years. While warming sea temperatures have a role to play, human pollution is the biggest culprit in multiple ways. Boating activity, for example, stirs up sediment from the seabed which interferes with light levels and therefore the photosynthesis required for the plants to grow. Boat propellers, trawlers’ nets and dredging can also directly damage the leaves, stems and roots. Destroying them leads to dangerous imbalances in our oceans, threatens marine biodiversity, and disrupts the natural preservation of our underwater environments.
Coastal areas are home to some of the richest and most fragile ecosystems on earth, but they are also some of the most under threat communities in the midst of the climate crisis. Conservation and restoration of the sea meadows is vital in order to improve the health of our planet on local and global scales. Unfortunately, as many do not see or understand the value of these incredible plants, they are inadvertently contributing to their decline.
Runoff pollution from land fertilisers, construction sites and drains as well as harmful fishing practices need to be regulated and monitored. Restoration is also carried out in many parts of the world, where seagrass beds are being repopulated with seedlings or transplanted plants which are in a healthier condition. However for these efforts to be optimised, the root causes of the damage which occurs in the first place needs to be addressed and acted upon. Most preservation methods focus on maintaining their biodiversity, but because there is no overruling international legislation dedicated to the protection of ocean meadows, their future is pretty much dependent on local and regional governing bodies or agencies, which vary around the world.
Agencies such as UK-based Project Seagrass are helping to raise awareness, provide coastal and non-coastal communities alike with vital information and work towards garnering the attention and help of people around the world by partnering with national governments, public and private institutions and NGOs. Other inspiring organisations worth looking into are Dugong & Seagrass Conservation Project and Seagrass Watch. There are several ways you can play an active role in conservation, such as joining a marine conservation programme do advocate for their work within your own community, donate towards field research, take part in awareness campaigns, ‘adopt a patch’ of seagrass and visit these amazing ocean meadows yourself on your next holiday – you’ll probably find one a lot closer than you think.
The concept of wild food is simply food that is grown in the wild, without human intervention. Restaurants and chefs who embrace the concept have become increasingly popular, particularly as sustainably-minded consumers are placing the provenance, locality and seasonality of their foods at higher value.
Old-fashioned or long-forgotten ingredients such as quince, rosehip, medlar and nettle are appearing on menus in restaurants and cocktail bars and according to Soil Association’s 2021 Organic Market Report, we’ve seen “the highest year-on-year growth in 15 years in the organic market, at +12.6% with the market now worth £2.79B”.
Native, a restaurant founded by Ivan Tisdall-Downes and Imogen Davis, is somewhat of a pioneer within the wild food movement in the UK. Their history is somewhat nomadic; after several successful years as market stalls and pop-ups, they launched a permanent site in Covent Garden’s Neal’s Yard in early 2016 to much acclaim. In Autumn 2018, the restaurant relocated to 34 Southwark Street in London’s foodie hotspot Borough and come October of last year, in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic, Ivan and Imogen said goodbye to the city and hello to the shores of Osea Island on the Essex Coast. Here, everything from the menu to dining times are dictated by nature (guests travel to the island via a boat or causeway, so much is dependent on the sea levels). Native food has remained available to Londoners as the company adapted to offer a ‘Native At Home’ à la carte dining kits delivery which changes fortnightly and is available UK wide.
What’s most exciting though (and telling of the times), is that they have now partnered with Browns Fashion to open an urban garden nestled within the luxury fashion retailer’s new flagship site in Mayfair’s Brook Street. This is Browns’ first foray into food and dining, making the pairing all the more exciting. Shoppers will be able to indulge in some al fresco food, natural wine and foraged cocktails amongst ferns and birch trees when the store and restaurant opens in Spring 2021.
Seasonal, ethical and local produce will remain firmly weaved into Native’s food philosophy at Browns, as well as their steadfast zero-waste mentality. While provenance of ingredients is key, there’s much to be said for the dishes themselves. Expect casual sharing plates of typically unpopular offcuts of fruit, vegetables, seasonal game and sustainably-caught fish. The creations are bold and brave, with unexpected combinations and refreshing ways of interpreting nose-to-tail and root-to-fruit cooking principles. Native’s kitchen will be led by Head Chef Joe Knowlden, previously of Hide Mayfair, who will work alongside Ivan and Imogen to bring forth the innovative offering.
The menu will feature starters such as Dorset brown crab with cacklebean duck egg and foraged sea herbs. To follow, plates such as roast cauliflower, nasturtium (a herbaceous flowering plant) and brown butter will be on offer and for dessert, there’s a clever take on millionaire’s shortbread which is seaweed infused and topped with white chocolate and bone marrow caramel.
“We are excited to be embarking on this new chapter of Native in partnership with Browns and it’s been a delight to see our vision for a closed-loop restaurant supported at every step” says Imogen.
“Our ethos is reflected not only through the menu, but also through the thoughtful, sustainable design which reflects our ideals whilst harnessing the talents of innovative producers across the UK.” Adds Ivan.
Foraging is typically more common across Europe but a recent revival here in the UK has spurred an increase in the practice. The pandemic has also seen many of us deepen our connection with nature. Daily walks and exploration of different local green areas, coupled with an increased sense of mindfulness means many have begun taking more notice of what’s growing around them. While you can find wild herbs and fungi growing in parks, woodlands and even roadside in certain places, it’s best to get some guidance from an expert before deciding to consume foods you’ve foraged yourself. This is not only for your own health and safety in order to avoid potentially poisonous and inedible plants, but also because there are some laws around foraging in public areas and the preservation of plant populations – certain rare or endangered plant species are protected by law. Learning from someone who is well-versed on the subject, whether it’s a one-on-one foraging trip, an online course or a group excursion, will enable you to learn about wild food in a safe way.
Here in the UK, hedgerow fruits and berries such as elderberries and crab apples are amongst the most easy to find and forage foods. They’re easily identifiable too. Away from the city, foraging along the coast will also prove fruitful. Samphire, purslane and seaweeds such as dulse and kelp are all highly nutritious and delicious finds. A diet which includes wild foods is naturally more diverse, and eating a variety of foods means your body is receiving a variety of nutrients. Wild foods often have greater health benefits than their cultivated counterparts too. Wild blueberries for example are known to contain around 30% more anthocyanins (the flavonoid which gives them a purplish blue colour) than regular blueberries. These anthocyanins improve blood cholesterol levels and blood sugar metabolism.
If you’re keen to expand your knowledge of wild food and foraging before Native opens, books such as ‘Forage: Wild Plants to Gather, Cook and Eat’ by Liz Knight and ‘The Edible City: A Year of Wild Food’ by John Rensten are great reads.
Native at Browns opens spring 2021. Native at Home is available from Friday 19th February.
With lockdown restrictions easing here in the UK, we’re all watching with bated breath as the world slowly peels back open. The future of travel is still hazy, but one thing appears certain; moving around the world in 2021 and beyond will be different.
Researchers at NASA found that since February 2020, global nitrogen dioxide levels have lowered by almost 20%. The stats on how air pollution has improved due to the plummet of air travel throughout the pandemic indicates what many previously chose to turn a blind eye to; the travel industry is one of this planet’s biggest pollutants.
As last year unfolded, the planet began to heal in many places. We saw air quality improve in cities, water pollution reduced in seas, oceans, rivers and lakes, a reduction in fossil fuel consumption, ecological restoration and a positive response from wildlife to the absence of humanity. The forced halt on travel gave many of us time to reflect on our lifestyles and rethink the purpose for our holidays as well as our chosen modes of transport, accommodation choices and activities.
While many of us search for creative ways to reframe our holiday habits, travelling out of season is something well worth considering. There are several benefits: it’s a way to counter the impact of over tourism in destinations, lesser crowded areas are safer in terms of social distancing and Covid-19 precautionary measures, it allows you to enjoy locations in a more peaceful way and more often than not, it has financial perks too.
Overtourism is when too many people saturate a single destination. The results of this can negatively impact local communities, wildlife and nature, deplete resources reserved for native inhabitants, cause the degradation of historical monuments as well as the environment and lead to gentrification of certain areas. Several factors are to blame for overtourism, including budget airlines, the increase in popularity of private rental services such as Airbnb and of course, a growing population. In Porto, Portugal, you’ll find 183 tourists for every 100 locals – a statistic which is shocking but also not too rare. Some particularly fragile natural habitats such as the Galapagos Islands have imposed restrictions in order to provide some respite from a constant influx of tourists and Peru’s Inca trail allows a limited number of 200 trekking permits per day.
Choosing to travel out of season means visiting places at a time of year when they’re not typically popular destinations. Of course, if you have children who are in school it can be difficult to travel off-season due to school holidays, but you could counter this by exploring destinations which aren’t at peak season during the summer months.
Travelling to places at times of year that aren’t commercially popular means you’ll be able to enjoy surprising and unique experiences. Fewer crowds will allow for a more intimate and authentic exploration of cities that are usually filled with people, and you won’t have to queue as long to visit monuments either.
HERE ARE SOME OUT OF SEASON TRAVEL IDEAS TO INSPIRE YOU
The Alps in the summer
Typical ski destinations such as The Alps are just as beautiful in the spring months and there are plenty of activities to enjoy. Swap snowy peaks and apres-ski for fresh mountain air, Nordic walking, mild-weather hikes, outdoor yoga, spa breaks and picnics.
While most travellers opt to head to Fiji when the weather is cool and dry, travelling during the wet season in February also has its perks. The rain showers are usually fleeting, making way for plenty of sunshine and for scuba divers and snorkelers, less people in the waters means you’re likely to see more fish and vibrant coral reefs.
Greek islands in Spring
Santorini is one of Greece’s most popular destinations but meandering through the small streets of Fira or Oia in the peak summer months can be anything but relaxing and enjoyable when there are huge crowds to contend with. Try visiting in Spring when the weather is mild, hotels have reduced rates, you can enjoy unobstructed sunset views and it’s easier to get the perfect seafront restaurant booking.
Autumn in Czech Republic
Czech Republic’s high season is from June to August because that’s when the weather is at its warmest, but come late October, it’s just as breathtaking and autumn colours turn the trees all sorts of vibrant shades of yellow, orange and red. Views are perfect for practicing your photography skills, small villages tend to put on local music and art events, in main cities like Prague the tour groups tend to be much smaller, and it’s also mushroom season so there’s plenty of foraging to be enjoyed.
Swap cherry blossom for a blanket of snow in Japan
From March through to mid-May, Hanami (cherry blossom) season is the most common time to travel to Japan, followed by Koyo (red maple leaves) season. In winter, however, you’ll encounter the least tourists and a unique winter wonderland. Japan is infamously expensive, but prices drop considerably at this time of year and you’ll be able to visit Mount Fuji and other well-known landscapes under a blanket of snow.
Eva Ramirez speaks to London Grade Coffee and shares what to look out for when purchasing coffee to ensure you’re buying an ethical product.
Exploitation within the coffee industry is nothing new considering its colonialist roots and a global expansion which was bolstered by the slave trade. However, these colonial structures are still present in the industry today. Issues such as unfair wages and poor, hazardous working conditions are rife. On a daily basis, coffee growers work for long hours handling highly toxic chemicals, pesticides and heavy machinery for very little reward.
Much like fast fashion, the problems are environmental too, as farms are forced to satiate the growing appetite for caffeine across the world. Deforestation in lieu of the expansion of coffee farms which is detrimental to the local environment, wildlife and climate change on a wider scale is commonplace. Native trees in forests such as the Amazon are cleared to make way for coffee plantations where the agricultural methods used harm the planet further.
Yet while coffee consumption increases on a global scale, the price of it has dropped due to several factors. A huge surplus of coffee beans, political instability in coffee producing nations such as Brazil and market fluctuations which affect exchange rates have all played a role in the decline. The plummet in prices means coffee farmers, particularly small-scale growers, face increasing pressure as the cost of production surpasses the profit that their harvests yield.
“Coffee is the second largest traded commodity after oil and there is variation of supply” says Alice Owen-Lloyd of London Grade Coffee, a retail and wholesale supplier that is organic, sustainably grown and ethically sourced.
Unfortunately the coffee industry is overwhelmingly dominated by multinational corporations whose MO is to supply a high volume of cheap, generic products into mainstream supermarkets. Specialty coffee roasters like London Grade Coffee, who are involved in the entire cycle of coffee production from harvest to roasting, only account for a minute percentage of the industry.
One of London Grade Coffee’s top priorities is to source their beans ethically “in order to deracinate coffee farming’s oppressive roots”. This means a direct relationship with their growers. “We deal with our estate directly and pay the price they need to keep producing exceptional coffee beans. It is important that we do not deal through an importer, by dealing directly with the estate they get paid the price they deserve. They trust us and we trust them.”
There have been some considerable, positive changes spurred by the specialty coffee industry, Alice says. “The emergence of compostable pods is perhaps the most significant. However there is definitely now more of an emphasis upon paying the producer a fair price and acknowledging their role. We’ve also seen big improvements with regards to packaging – less single use plastic. Recycled and recyclable materials are much more readily available and affordable too.”
When it comes to labels and certificates, Alice advises against getting hung up on the buzzwords and instead looking at the actual facts, asking questions such as “where has your coffee come from? Have the farmers been paid a fair price? Has the planet and its biodiversity been taken into consideration?”
Much like navigating the world of natural wine, understanding the true meaning behind ethically-sourced coffee can be overwhelming. Here’s a quick explanation of the most common labels and terms:
Rainforest Alliance Certified
Environmentally sustainable coffee grown with biodiversity conservation as a priority. There’s a strong focus on reducing deforestation and the destruction of ecosystems. This doesn’t necessarily mean it’s socially ethical or guarantees a minimum price to suppliers.
As with other organic products, this means the coffee is grown in a way that promotes agricultural methods that work in harmony with the earth and reduce the use of synthetic chemicals. This supports biodiversity, builds soil health and is also beneficial for the farmers and producers of the beans as they are around less chemicals. While this is all undeniably positive, the cost to gain an organic certification can price out small-scale farmers unless they are part of a cooperative.
This certification works directly with farmers to guarantee them a minimum price for their coffee and promotes direct trade and community development. Unfortunately land ownership is a requirement for participation in the Fairtrade cooperatives, so many farmers who don’t own their own land are unable to profit from the higher prices that come with selling Fairtrade coffee.
This is when a roaster buys coffee directly from a producer, indicating an honest relationship between both parties whereby quality, pricing and other terms are agreed upon and mutually beneficial. As there is no clear-cut definition, uncertainty surrounds the direct trade model and many question whether it truly tackles institutional poverty and inequality.
This simply means that all of the beans in the packet have come from one estate, grown by the same people.
Shade trees are planted near the coffee plants to protect them from rain and sun, help maintain healthy soil and attract local birds which serve as pest control.
Specialty Coffee like London Grade Coffee is about the quality of the beans and the conditions under which it is produced and distributed. It is more expensive than buying Lavazza coffee for example because of the quality of the bean – it is the highest quality possible. The importer hasn’t then mixed it with an inferior bean. “Specialty coffee tackles the issues the coffee industry presents: it has been ethically sourced and in theory the farmers are paid the price they need to keep on producing very high quality coffee. Speciality coffee commits to making coffee better for everyone in the value chain.”
“When buying your coffee it is important to buy from a company who is devoted to selling high quality coffee, rather than selling commodity coffee” Alice continues. “You want to look for a company who knows their supplier, who has a relationship with the growers. This is important as unethical farming is very prevalent in the coffee industry, and more often than not the farmers do not get paid a fair price for their beans. It is also important to buy organic coffee, as this means the farmers haven’t used pesticides and chemicals which are harmful to the environment.”
So, how can you make sure the way you make your coffee at home is as sustainable as possible? “The key is to use non- bleached filters, and to avoid Nespresso pods at all costs” says Alice. “While we can’t deny the ease and simplicity of a pod machine, we also cannot continue to deny their highly damaging impact on the planet. Every year up to 52 billion capsules end up in landfills or in oceans. It is also important to not waste the coffee grounds after it has been brewed.”
6 million tonnes of used coffee grounds are sent to landfill every year, but there are multiple ways to recycle and reuse them. Here are a few:
Use them as fertiliser or compost.
Combine the grounds with baking soda for a natural cleaning solution which is great for scouring pots.
Mix them with honey or coconut oil for an exfoliating scrub that you can use on your body and lips.
Coffee grounds contain nitrogen and can help neutralise odours, so keep a small bowl or container in the fridge for a week or so to dissipate unwanted smells.
Many insects are repelled by the smell of coffee, so sprinkle them in your garden or keep a bowl or two next to your outdoor seating areas to keep bugs away.
Melissa Hemsley might just be one of the loveliest people in the food business. For over a decade she’s inspired her growing audience to cook from scratch, love the food they eat, and be conscious of its environmental and social impact. She’s a self-taught chef, food columnist, best-selling cookbook author, real food activist and all-round champion for positivity, community and feel-good food. Eva Ramirez chats to Melissa about her views, tips, inspiration and more.
What inspired you to pursue cooking professionally?
About 12 years ago, my sister and I started cooking for bands and actors. Our mission was always to cook food in a relaxed way with easy to source ingredients, for lovely people to bring them energy – and that’s what I’ve always tried to do. Since then, I’ve written four books in total, always with that mission in mind, to just spread a little bit of good stuff through food while shouting out farmers and producers and having fun with it all. Now more than ever, I’m deeply interested in where exactly foods come from, the relationship to the land and earth, how the seasons affect this all, why we should all care for and respect our farmers, and so on. I’m constantly learning and I like to discover ways to make food in the most authentic way possible, as well as putting a modern spin on things.
What are some foods that are commonly thrown away which can actually be used?
From having spent time in people’s kitchens, and I say this in a non judgmental way(!) I’ve seen pretty much every ingredient being thrown away, from meat, fish, eggs, milk, dairy, all the way through to vegetables and chocolate. Yoghurt and hummus are big ones too! I get it, it’s habitual…they’re things you may always have in your fridge and then when you do your weekly shop and you buy them again you might just think “oh throw out the old hummus or yoghurt as we’ve got a new one now”. Also, the last few seeds or raisins in a bag, often people will think “oh there’s just a bit left I’ll throw it away” but they can always be saved and used in desserts, chucked in your porridge or for granola. Milk always gets thrown away and while of course hygiene and food safety is really important, I think use by labels can be a bit of a problem. I’d suggest going back to the old-school way of sniffing and seeing what’s obviously gone off and what hasn’t.
What do you think is an obstacle people face when trying to reduce food waste?
I think a lot of it is just down to mindset, and retraining yourself in regards to your attitude towards food. Once you start thinking about food in a way that doesn’t prioritise one part of the ingredient over the other, you can start really envisaging your meals around that whole ingredient, whatever it is. So for example a cauliflower – instead of thinking about the cauliflower florets as being the good bit and the leaves extra, maybe rethink it. The leaves are just as amazing as the florets, they’re beautiful roasted or stir-fried, you can treat them just like cabbage! That’s why I wrote my book ‘Eat Green: Delicious recipes for planet friendly eating’.
Truly, being more conscious of food waste is good for your pocket, good for the planet, and the feeling of when you haven’t wasted anything is so satisfying. If you flip that on its head, when it’s a rainy day, or it’s cold, you just don’t want to go to the shops, or it’s difficult for you to get to the shops, and you make something from what you’ve already got, it just feels good!
What are some of your favourite restaurants for their ethos and ethics?
What are some of your favourite ingredients and why?
I love eggs for their versatility and the fact that you can eat them at any time of day, chickpeas because they’re great for bulking out dishes, and garlic, because nothing beats the smell of it frying! When it’s in season I love wild garlic too. I’ve got more of a savoury tooth than a sweet tooth but when it comes to sweets, it’s got to be really delicious or I’m not that enthused. I’m not a fan of making a ‘healthier’ version – I’d rather just have the best possible version of it and if not, then I’ll order it from someone who makes it really well and authentically.
You do a lot of charitable work, can you tell us about some initiatives that are close to your heart that you feel are doing inspiring work?
I’m involved with quite a few charities. One of them is The Felix Project which is run mainly on volunteers. They pick up food from about 500 food businesses, be they cafes, food brands, food warehouses or supermarkets and store distribute them across London to those in need. I’ve helped deliver food to community centres, kids clubs, homeless shelters and the like. I’ve also helped cook for them, so that we can show people what to do with the food or just spread a little bit of love and inspiration within the community.
What are some tips you can share with regards to being more sustainable when cooking at home?
Globally and on a community level, we should all care about food waste. There is a hunger crisis and food emergency even here in the UK and ⅓ of food gets wasted, whether that’s in transit, in the shops, or at home. Some of my tips to reduce waste at home are:
Be creative with reusing ingredients, like adding parmesan rind into a tomato sauce that you’re simmering for pasta or to a lovely noodle broth for that gorgeous, salty umami flavour.
If you do eat meat or fish, thinking about how you can add lentils or beans to the dish to make the fish/meat stretch further so that you can buy the best quality you can afford.
Keep a clear bowl or container next to you as you cook instead of running back and forth to the bin. When you’re finished cooking, look at it and be aware of how much you’ve discarded, then ask yourself if there’s anything in there that can actually be salvaged. It might be a broccoli stalk which you can add to a soup, or herb stalks that can be used for pesto.
Also look inside your bin on a weekly basis – you don’t have to get elbow-deep, but have a little rummage and see what foods you repeatedly throw away or don’t get through before having to chuck it away.
Get a compost bin ASAP if you don’t have one!
Use your fridge or freezer to store leftovers.
Who do you feel (other than yourself!) is driving change in the food industry?
People like Anna Jones, Tom Hunt (Poco) and Doug McMaster (Silo) are huge inspirations of mine. Also Max LaManna, a fantastic zero-waste chef and Gizzi Erskine too. There are also some great apps like Olio, which is a free app that lets you connect with your neighbourhood to share things. So if you’ve got anything from a bit of extra lasagna or potatoes, someone not too far away will gratefully receive it.
How would you describe your approach to food and cooking?
Feel-good food – it’s got to hit the spot. We’re all unique and need different things at different times, so it’s about really listening to your body and discovering whatever feels good for you – that to me, is the most important thing. I base how I eat on what’s local and in season or what comes in via my veggie box.
I always come up with recipes based on the most common foods people throw away. So the 13 most common groups of foods are what I base my book Eat Green on. So things like salad bags or just salad heads, herbs, root vegetables like carrots, celeriac and potatoes. I always suggest people make freestyle fritters with things like that – just grate any veggies you’ve got, combine with flour (I love chickpea/gram flour which is great if you’re vegan because you can avoid an egg as it binds really well). And then I use herb stalks or herb stems to whizz up into a gorgeous Indian-style chutney with a bit of coconut milk, lime juice or apple cider vinegar. I really like doing things like that once a week. I make a fridge raid frittata once a week too, which is great if you eat egg.
What are some ways we can get more connected to the food we eat?
I think it’s about connecting with your food consciously by trying (it can be hard!) to have laptop-free lunches or sit at the table and take a bit more time to eat, and then a little bit of time to observe how different foods make you feel. Also to understand our digestion. I love that I’m seeing more doctors and nutritionists speaking about this and educating people through Instagram. I’ve grown up eating fermented and pickled foods, and what’s great about things like kimchi and sauerkraut is that they can sit in your fridge for ages so there’s no chance of you wasting them.
What was the last meal you ate?
Oooh good question. I was really craving ramen, so I made a 20-minute winter veggie noodle broth. I find Japanese food is really multi textured and with many dishes, to do them authentically it takes a lot of time and care. So I was loosely inspired by a Japanese ramen to use up whatever I had in the fridge. I sliced up a bit of cauliflower and cavalo nero and fried some leek with ginger and garlic then added it all to a broth. Then I cooked some noodles and while it was all simmering I made a dressing out of miso, more ginger, a bit of apple cider vinegar and some sesame seeds which I drizzled over it at the end – it was delicious. I just wish I’d made an extra amount of the sauce because I want to have it on some roasted sweet potatoes tomorrow!
MELISSA COCONUT CARROT SOUP WITH CARROT TOP PESTO
This Spiced Coconut Carrot Soup with Carrot Top Pesto is a great way to love your veggies and minimise food waste in your home. A comforting soup for all seasons, feel free to use whatever root veg you’ve got at home like sweet potatoes or squash. If you can’t get carrot tops then use whatever greens need some love instead, such as radish tops, or left over spinach/mixed leaves from salad bags that you don’t know what to do with.
For the soup:
1 onion, roughly chopped 3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped 1 tbsp ground cumin 2 tsp ground coriander pinch of chilli flakes or 1/4 tsp chilli powder, to taste 1 tbsp ghee or coconut oil 8 medium carrots, about 800g 400ml full fat coconut milk 500ml veg stock / organic chicken broth juice of 1/2 lemon or lime sea salt and pepper
For the carrot top pesto:
handful carrot tops handful fresh coriander, stems and leaves 8 tbsp extra virgin olive oil juice of 1/2 a lemon or lime (the other half from above) small handful pumpkin seeds/nuts, roughly chopped sea salt & pepper
1.Fry onion in oil/ghee in a medium sized saucepan, stirring now and then for 10 minutes until softened. Use the time to prep everything else.
2. Add garlic and spices and let fry for another minute, stir halfway.
3. Add the chopped carrots along with the coconut milk and the liquid, stir then put the lid on and let simmer away for about 18-20 mins (until the carrots are tender then add a pinch of sea salt, pepper and lemon juice) and take off the heat.
4. Meanwhile, make the pesto by roughly blitzing or just chopping everything and mixing together in a bowl or jar, season to taste.
5. Blend the soup, seasoning to taste and adding a little more water if you’d like it a bit less thick then serve up with a good dollop of carrot top pesto.
I first met Luis Ronzón back in February 2018 when I visited Chablé Resort in Yucatan, Mexico. An internationally renowned chef who has worked at award-winning restaurants including Copenhagen’s Noma and Quintonil in Mexico City, his experience is vast and varied. With a passion for sustainability, his inventive dishes combine gastronomical innovation and traditional, local ingredients. My most vivid memories from the trip are courtesy of his remarkable culinary talents and I still remember the taste of my final plate of food at Chablé’s Ixi’im restaurant where he is Executive Chef; a cilantro sponge cake with charred pineapple and soursop sorbet which concluded an incredible trip with a tart yet sweet explosion of flavours.
Chablé Resort grows a lot of the food they serve on site through indigenous farming principles similar to biodynamic agriculture. Much of it is grown in Ka’anches, traditional Mayan raised structures used to grow produce, often in accordance with the cosmos, while keeping it away from the reach of animals. As Luis walked me through the farmland one morning, he explained how they harvest seasonal produce every day and pointed out his favourite ingredients – cilantro, for its adaptability to both sweet and savoury dishes and habanero chiles, for their sweet spiciness. We watched one of the farmers pluck a Yucca the size of a lightsaber from the earth, and I was told it would be the main ingredient for my lunch later that day. Signalling towards some lettuce which was growing beside sprigs of mint, he said that by conserving the soil organically and letting things grow naturally, nature often did the taste pairing for us.
What I witnessed from experiencing Luis’s cooking was a beautifully instinctive and almost sanctimonious approach to handling produce and ingredients – respecting their connatural qualities, be it the flavour, texture or aroma – and preparing them in a way which enhanced but never detracted from what nature had provided. Below we discuss how a celebration of culture, respect for our planet, and innate passion for food collectively imbue his work as a chef.
How did you become interested in food and a career as a chef?
Well, being a chef is actually my second profession, my first was an accountant! My father is an accountant so I think he indirectly influenced me. I think my first hands-on introduction to cooking was because of my grandfather who used to be a baker. My first job was at a bakery when I was 12 years old as a baker’s assistant and I still remember learning to make the sugar crust that goes on ‘conchas’ (traditional Mexican sweet bread rolls). I used to love eating it!
How did working at Noma and Quintonil shape your views on food waste and being resourceful in the kitchen?
When I was at Noma, besides learning new cooking techniques, I learned a new way of understanding cooking. It changed my whole perception of what it was. I felt so grateful for being there, and it marked my life as a cook. So, once you understand the philosophy I think it is easier to do it at home, which is what I did, by taking it to my country and applying it to the ingredients I’d grown up with. I’ve continued to do this ever since and also while at Quintonil later on. We used to have a kitchen garden on the rooftop which improved the connection between our cooks and the produce. As we learnt to make our own compost and save the scraps from the kitchen, we soon realized that we, as cooks, had the power to close a cycle and be resourceful.
How would you describe your food philosophy?
I’d simply say it is organic. I’ve learnt to cook with what I have in my surroundings and get the best out of every ingredient, no matter if it is expensive or cheap. Every ingredient has organoleptic characteristics and that’s what we have to appreciate, as well as knowing when they can be improved by cooking. That;’s not always the case though. For example, to me, there is no better way to eat an avocado than just sliced! So, I try to cook or transform ingredients only when I think it’s needed.
What are some of your favourite local ingredients and why?
I love citrus fruits and here in Yucatán you can find them easily. There is a small town called Oxcutzcab, which in Mayan means ox = breadnut, cutz = turkey, cab = honey. That’s where almost all citrus fruits come from. You can find everything from orange, sour orange, lime, lima, china lima (a mix between orange and lime), tangerine, naranjitas de san josé, etc. I love the fresh squeezed juice citrus fruits provide and the aroma that’s in their skins. They are a very noble, fragrant, and versatile ingredient. You can use the juice, the flesh, the skin, etc, and you can use it either raw or cooked, sometimes preserved or fermented too.
What is one of your happiest food memories?
I think my birthdays were the happiest. My mom (RIP) was a great cook, and every year on my birthday she cooked Cochinita pibil for me. Each year we’d have a party and all of my friends loved coming because there was always Cochinita pibil. After she died, for some reason, I moved to Yucatán which is the land of Cochinita pibil, so I feel like she is always present!
Can you share some of the resourceful ways you avoid food waste when cooking/creating recipes?
First, it’s important to think of a smart menu that lets you use the most of each ingredient. So, maybe for one dish you only use a certain part of an ingredient but the scraps can be used for another dish (in the same or in a different restaurant). We do it a lot with citrus fruits – all squeezed citrus fruits for juice are saved. We’ll make the skins candied and incorporate them in desserts or into our sourdough bread which also has pecans in it. The pulp of the citrus fruits will get used as well, to make confitures.
Another example is that we save the pineapple scraps and skin to make a traditional fermented beverage called Tepache. We spice it with cinnamon, black spice and molasses and let it ferment for 3-4 days resulting in a very refreshing drink with a lot of probiotics. We use it for cocktails or cook it until it’s reduced to make a syrup that we serve on a steamed bun stuffed with pork belly – delicious! Corn is another ingredient which we use in varying ways. We save the husks to make ashes, ice creams, infusions, and more. By being creative and resourceful, we can get hundreds of recipes out of a single ingredient!
What are some traditional farming and cooking methods which you feel are important to celebrate and preserve?
I think the pib technique is one of the most important cooking methods or techniques in the Yucatan. I love putting things inside that underground oven! The food at Chablé/Ixi’im definitely wouldn’t be the same without it. Its flavour is present in almost every dish, it’s an instantly recognisable smoked, herbal, soily flavour that you simply cannot create in a conventional oven.
The other main thing that makes food at Chablé so special is the ka’anche’s. These are an ancient Maya technique for growing vegetables and herbs and assure that no animals will eat your produce as they are elevated beds on stilts. The ka’anche’s provide us with almost all the herbs that we use at Chablé, assuring the freshness and therefore the flavour of our dishes. I realised that our freshly picked vegetables taste so different from those that we buy in the supermarket, it makes a huge difference!
Why is using indigenous produce important to you and what are some of the ways you do this at Chable?
The main idea is to promote the consumption of local ingredients. Sadly, even local people have been influenced by foreign ingredients, changing their local ingredients for imported ones. This results in local farmers stopping to grow their ingredients due to no one buying them. As you know, sustainability is more than just ‘grow your own vegetables’, it’s a very complex phenomenon. It may begin with local consumption and growing organic but it encompasses so much more; reducing gas emissions and ecological footprint, promoting the local economy, the wellbeing of local societies, ethical monetary benefits, reducing meat consumption or going vegetarian/vegan, and so on. Every one of these concepts is a huge topic in itself worth talking about, which makes sustainability so complex and interesting. For myself as a Chef, when I cook or look for suppliers, I think of all of the above and try to consider and incorporate the most factors as possible. After a while you start to realise that, that we as decision makers have the power to permeate a team, a clientele, a town (like the one I reside in – Chocholá), suppliers and maybe influence or inspire others beyond that too, because after all I was (and still am) influenced and inspired by many others. This is the most exciting thing to me.
What would you say is one of the biggest misconceptions around Mexican cuisine?
Well, besides so many people thinking that Mexican cuisine is only about tacos and chilies, (it is not!) I would say Mexican cuisine is actually a mix of many different cuisines. For example, food in the state of Oaxaca is very rich and even broader than the food of other countries – it is a whole cuisine in itself. Then, the food here in the Yucatan peninsula is so different from the Oaxacan as we use different cooking techniques, different ingredients and so on. The food in the north (Monterrey, for example) is totally different. Ensenada, in Baja California has the most amazing seafood, some of which is actually exported to japan, which indicates how high quality it is! The state of Michoacan is home to one of the richest and most ancient cuisines in Mexico and I think it is still very much undiscovered. So, as you can see, Mexico is a huge country and that is why we have so many different cuisines within the same territory.
Another misconception that is common is that Mexican cuisine can’t be sophisticated or refined. People are amazed when we explain what we do here at Chable, particularly Ixi’im, what we cook and the ingredients we use across my restaurants, because they have never tried them in that way before, or didn’t even know a certain ingredient or part of a fruit/vegetable/flower was edible. But that’s another story, that we as cooks, are taking charge of…
Here in London, Lockdown 2.0 has ended and the majority of us are bundled up at home, a place which has now become our office, workout studio, and school for those with children. As we slowly meander through the final days of this tumultuous albeit memorable year, there’s one main topic on a lot of our minds…a holiday.
The dates may still be a little unclear and the destination yet to be decided on, but while you hash out the details, we are sharing some achievable ways to make your escape – when it eventually comes – one which is as low-waste as possible.
An upcoming holiday often makes us want to buy shiny new things to take with us. Then there’s the airport duty-free lounge, where ‘travel minis’ and ‘handbag-sized’ beauty products and toiletries seem convenient and attractive, but the vast majority of these products are made from single-use plastic and are non-recyclable.
Around 150 million tons of disposable plastics are produced each year yet less than 12% actually gets recycled. The rest of it ends up in landfill, eventually breaking down into microplastics which make their way to our oceans and leach toxic chemicals. The most efficient way to prevent this on a personal scale is to limit or completely avoid the use of single use plastics. So the next time you’re packing a suitcase for a trip, you may want to consider these simple solutions to not-so-sustainable travel essentials and try out reusable items which are hardwearing and more cost-efficient in the long run. Whether you’re an over-packer or a less is more explorer, the simple swaps below will help you adopt sustainable travel habits and many can be applied to everyday life too.
Aside from what you pack, there are many ways to make the way you travel more sustainable and planet-friendly. From choosing your destination and accommodation to your mode of transport and offsetting your carbon footprint once you’re back home, some habits may take a little extra work, but it’s a worthwhile endeavour. Keep a look out for future articles sharing our insights on this!
One thing’s for sure as we move into 2021; we want the trips we take to leave more of an impact on us than we do on the planet. The way I see it, if we don’t travel consciously now, our future generations may not be afforded the luxury of travelling at all, because the beauty and nature of this planet will not have been preserved.
IN YOUR TOILETRY BAG
Look after your oral health while caring for the planet by swapping a plastic toothbrush for The Humble Co’s 100% biodegradable, sustainably-grown bamboo one and plastic-encased dental floss and interdental brushes for their floss picks made from corn starch and plastic-free floss. Switch out regular toothpaste for a recyclable metal tube of David’s toothpaste and plastic bottles of mouthwash for Georganics mouthwash tablets.
Ditch the travel minis and use good old fashioned bars of soap that would make your grandmother proud. Aesop’s body cleansing slab is great for everyday use and Chrisophe Robin has a great shampoo bar. Not only do these products help the environment, but they also save you a lot of hassle when you’re travelling with hand-luggage only as you needn’t worry about your liquid allowance.
Another option is to decant your preferred body wash, shampoo and conditioner from home into portable containers, like these stackable magnetic ones by Cadence. They’re also great for storing other essentials like supplements and jewellery.
Regular suncream often has chemicals in it that harms coral reefs. The main culprits are two ingredients which act as preservatives and block UV rays, oxybenzone and octinoxate. Oxybenzone in particular has been shown to cause coral bleaching, disrupt coral reproduction and damage its DNA. Instead, try a tanning lotion that’s reef-friendly as well as good for your skin such as the sport stick from Coola or any of the Green People range.
Face wipes are often non-biodegradable making them as bad for the planet as they are for your skin (just ask a dermatologist!). Reusable cotton pads on the other hand, are kinder on the skin and cleanse far better than disposable ones.
IN YOUR HANG LUGGAGE
The majority of these everyday essentials are things you may already utilise regularly, but don’t leave them behind when you go on holiday. Stay sustainable while you travel and always have a reusable water bottle and hot drinks cup to hand, like the sustainable steel bottle from Drink Big and a handily collapsible coffee cup by Stojo.
A reusable cutlery set which includes a straw and straw cleaner will always come in handy, especially on long journeys when you need snacks to keep you going. Having a tupperware container like this one by Wearth in your bag is also useful for when you’re picking up a bite on the go, or if you want to keep restaurant leftovers in a spill-free container as opposed to using their single-use packaging. Beeswrap reusable food wraps are also great for storing food.
A reusable tote bag to avoid using plastic bags is a no-brainer and essential for wherever you are, home or abroad. We love this one by Turtle Bags.
As far as gastronomy goes, certain subjects will always be contentious. Is foie gras immoral? Should you always order your steak rare? Does gluten intolerance really exist? These are all common topics which tend to spark debate around a dinner table, and while we may have to agree to disagree on some, a more recent subject which I’ve found myself conferring with friends is our mutual increased interest in natural wines.
Thus far, our conversations have included various inquiries such as: ‘Why is there a cloudy sediment at the bottom of my glass?’ ‘Does this smell funky to you?’ and ‘What is pet-nat anyway?’. These questions inspired me to do some research into the subject, which as it turns out, is rather…cloudy.
Unlike organic or biodynamic wines, the term ‘natural wine’ has no exact definition and there is no certifying body or hallmark to look out for on bottles. In fact, it’s more of a concept than a category with clear-cut characteristics. Really, it’s just a stripped-back form of wine making which takes the process right back to its most rudimentary and traditional roots. From vine to bottle, there’s as little intervention as possible. These types of wines are also often referred to as ‘low-intervention’, ‘raw’ or ‘naked’.
Natural wine tends to come from either organic or biodynamic grapes, meaning the vineyards are not sprayed with herbicides or fungicides which are used extensively in conventional agriculture. Biodynamic farming principles go a step further, deeply respecting the earth and holistic outlook on agriculture while taking into consideration many interdependent elements such as plants, animals, nearby soils, people and lunar cycles.
It’s safe to say that the process of natural wine making is environmentally-friendly in many ways. Even once the grapes have been harvested and transported to the cellars, this type of wine is produced with little to no additives. It is fermented naturally with native yeast that comes from the air instead of adding large quantities of sulfites (which some people believe is the main culprit of hangovers) and impurities are not filtered out after fermentation, leading to the cloudy sediment that can often be seen at the bottom of the bottle. There is minimal use of machinery too and overall, the labour intensive process results in small batch production.
The concept of natural wine is nothing new, nor is it a wellness fad; people have been fermenting grape juice without additives for thousands of years. However, in the modern world, natural winemaking heralds from France (surprise, surprise) and in particular the Loire Valley, where many producers apply the principles of minimum-intervention throughout the vinification process. The unique bottlings are becoming increasingly popular across the globe, making their way onto bar menus and wine lists in even the most mainstream places. As more of us show greater interest in the provenance of our food and become increasingly aware of the ethical and environmental impact of what we consume, the demand for raw wine also continues to increase. The consumption of natural wines and any other natural ingredient or product for that matter, is linked to an affinity for healthy living, environmental consciousness, and the preservation of culture and tradition – which we can all agree are positive things which the planet needs more of.
The adjective most often used to describe natural wines is ‘funky’. A slight tartness in terms of flavour, with an unexpected effervescence that leaves a little tingle on your tongue as you sip it. In both taste and texture, natural wine is vibrant, aromatic and alive. If you’re into kombucha or water kefir, you’re likely to love the complexity and unpredictability of it. As for pet-nat, that’s just short for petillant naturel, which is a naturally sparkling wine that’s like a more rustic version of Champagne. As it’s unfiltered, pet-nat is cloudier than champagne, but the delicate fizz makes it a great choice for the approaching Christmas and New Years’ season.
See below for a handful of the best spots for sipping some natural wine in Paris and London.
Racines, Paris Occupying an old printing factory, with a menu that celebrates good quality produce, slow cooking methods and of course, ‘vins vivants’.
Vantre, Paris This wine-focused bistro from Marco Pelletier, former sommelier at Le Bristol, is a natural wine mecca with over 2,000 eclectic labels.
40 Maltby Street, London The wine at 40 Maltby Street is produced by a handful of wine-makers who eschew the use of chemical fertilisers and can be enjoyed at home or by the glass or bottle at the bar.
Terroirs, London Terroirs opened in 2018 and was one of London’s first natural wine bars. They have two outposts, East Dulwich and Charing Cross, and serve British/French cuisine alongside their vibrant wines.
There’s no denying that this year has forced us all to slow down in one way or another, retreating inwards, shrinking our footprints and living more localised lives. 2020 has also seen travel and tourism come to a near-standstill.
Many of us are keen to quash our impact on overtourism by searching for lesser-known, off the beaten track destinations. Upskilling holidays where visitors learn or hone a craft, retreats with a focus on health and wellness, and immersive cultural experiences are becoming increasingly popular and mainstream. There’s a hunger for unique and meaningful experiences over super-luxe resort holidays and this is only set to grow as travellers take a more environmentally and socially conscious approach. One tourism sector which is seeing increased interest is agritourism.
Blending nature, tradition, culture and lifestyle, the concept of agritourism is nothing new; in short, it’s the integration of both tourism and agriculture. People visit rural environments where the working land such as vineyards or ranches have become travel destinations in their own right, offering both accommodation and leisure activities. In comparison to mass tourism, it’s a great alternative for those who yearn for a little respite from their urban existences.
Agritourism is a meaningful and effective way for the hospitality industry to educate and entertain tourists while supporting a wholesome, thriving economy. For visitors, it’s a unique, experiential learning opportunity to understand agriculture. For farmers, it’s a way to supplement income during off-seasons, gain recognition for their agricultural produce and protect their land’s natural resources and amenities. For smaller rural communities, it improves the incomes for those who would otherwise rely solely on subsistence farming. In terms of wider economic development, bringing tourists into the destination who may then shop, eat and socialise locally is also a huge benefit.
Many travel operators collaborate with small communities to curate unique offerings, while even the larger hoteliers are also introducing agricultural experiences within a luxury setting, through chef’s table-style cooking classes and tours of the grounds where their produce is grown. It’s an opportunity to explore local gastronomy and learn about the ecology and customs pertaining to a destination, all while connecting with the food we eat.
São Lourenço do Barrocal – Portugal
Agritourism offerings vary across the world. In Portugal, São Lourenço do Barrocal is a farmstead, hotel, winery and spa which produces its own olive oil and wine. Owner José Antonio Uva has opened up his 15 hectares of vineyards and vast organic garden which provides almost all of the fruit, vegetables and herbs for the kitchens. Guests can delve into agricultural activities, from olive and grape picking harvest to foraging and cooking classes where they’ll learn to create traditional Portuguese dishes.
“It’s always been so important to us that Barrocal not only acts as a hospitality project but a preservation initiative, celebrating local culture, fostering a true sense of community and preserving as much as we could the estate’s original 19th century principles of self-sufficiency” says José. The region is easily accessible from Lisbon, yet relatively undiscovered. José sees São Lourenço do Barrocal’s offering as a way for visitors to “foster a deep and meaningful connection with the land and its people” while valuing the region and preserving its heritage. “This is really the only way to truly get under the skin of the Alentejo and understand what makes the region so special.”