Can you travel responsibly? How can you become a conscious traveller? Here we think about the way we engage with the planet through travel. You will also meet some of the pioneers in sustainable travel and discover their journey.
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.
Portugal has been added to the UK’s ‘green list’ for post-pandemic travel, which means plenty of us are currently brainstorming where to visit in this charming, colourful country. 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
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.