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Tourism, done the wrong way, can be especially hard on the planet, which is why some climate conscious consumers choose to limit air travel or avoid hotels that lack respect for their natural surroundings.
However, some resorts go above and beyond in adopting sustainable practices that are in harmony with the planet.
For the third in our series – we’ve already done US hotels and beach resorts worldwide, read on to learn which hotels is Europe have credibility when it comes to truly green travel.
Naturhotel Leitlhof, Italy
Highlights: Naturhotel Leitlhof is a TripAdvisor Green Leaders Platinum member, and the winner of Europe’s Leading Green Hotel award in 2021. The family-owned hotel offers tons of eco amenities, and has produced its own energy and heat since 2015.
Winner of the Europe’s Leading Green Hotel award in 2021 (and 2016) in the World Travel Awards (the travel industry’s Oscars) and a TripAdvisor Green Leaders Platinum member (a program created with the help of the US Green Building Council and UNEP), Naturhotel Leitlhof is a small chalet-style hotel in the Dolomite mountains near the Austrian border in northeast Italy’s Trentino-Alto Adige region, also called the South Tyrol. A blend of German and Italian culture, architecture and food, the region was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until 1919.
The family-owned 60-room hotel has produced its own energy and heat since 2015, after building its own wood-fired combined heat and power plant (CHP), uses a wood gasifier system to convert solid fuel to gas and photovoltaic roof panels to capture sunlight and moonlight, and has its own water source thanks to harvesting rainwater and snow melt. It has its own cattle ranch, whose Angus cows graze mountain pastures in summer, and farm for vegetables and herbs. An outdoor pool offers awe-inspiring views of craggy Dolomite peaks, an outdoor sauna is located in a garden and there’s an indoor pool. The spa offers “hay baths” (you’re wrapped in fresh-smelling hay and lowered into water, a South Tyrol tradition) and wraps or baths that use stone pine, arnica (a yellow daisy-like plant) or fango (a mineral-rich mud). The spa’s organic products are from South Tyrol-based Team Dr. Joseph.
Many guest rooms feature staggering mountain views from floor-to-ceiling glass doors and terraces. All rooms have wood floors and carved wooden furnishings but also a flat-screen TV, and some rooms also have sofa beds. Suites boast spacious terraces or gardens.
Activities range from skiing, snowshoeing, hiking to bicycling. The restaurant serves both Italian and South Tyrol food, including a late-afternoon snack of savory or sweet foods, like cured smoked ham, cheese and strudels. A 10-minute walk from central San Candido, a small town, Leitlhof also has a free shuttle service.
GF Victoria, Spain
Highlights: Another winner of Europe’s Leading Green Hotel award in 2020, GF Victoria is an eco hotel set in a scenic locale that’s blessed with mild temperatures year-round. Biomass boilers provide modest energy savings, and they buy their electricity from 100% renewable energy sources.
Winner of the Europe’s Leading Green Hotel award in 2020 in the World Travel Awards, GF Victoria opened in the Canary Islands, 70 miles off the coast of Morocco and over 600 miles south of Spain, blessed with a mild climate year-round, in 2018. Located on Tenerife, the biggest island, the resort uses biomass boilers that burn wood and highly energy-efficient condensing boilers that reduce smoke emissions by one-third and provide 20% in energy savings, buys electricity from 100% renewable energy sources and has ISO 14001 certification, an international standard for effective environmental management. It’s one of five hotels on Tenerife in GF Hoteles, which is replacing all single-use plastics with aluminum bottles chain-wide.
One of GF Victoria’s most striking design features is its three steeply-sloped roof gardens, filled with colorful drought-tolerant plants, that produce savings of 70% for air conditioning and 20% in heating. The resort, lushly landscaped with palm trees and located 500 feet from a sandy beach, also has several pools: large, small, a surfing wave pool and a dramatic glass-walled and glass-floored pool at its rooftop cocktail bar.
The all-suites resort (242 suites, each with two bathrooms, living area, kitchenette and smart TV; premium suites offer truly spacious terraces and pool views) wins praise for being both family-friendly and having adults-only areas. Besides kids’ and teens’ clubs, a water park and climbing adventure park, guests can watch their kids cavort in the playroom through the main buffet restaurant’s glass windows. Even its glamorous Bio Spa Victoria (winner of Europe’s Best Eco Spa and World’s Best Spa in the 2019 World Luxury Spa Awards), has a separate family area. The spa uses all-natural plant-based products from Aroms Natur, a Spanish company, and offers personalized, holistic treatments.
Sandymount Hotel, Ireland
Highlights: A whopping 95% of Sandymount Hotel’s waste is recycled or recovered while 26% of their overall energy expenditure comes from renewable resources. In addition, they’ve won three consecutive Europe’s Leading Green Hotel awards from the World Travel Awards.
Winner of the Europe’s Leading Green Hotel award in 2019, 2018 and 2017 in the World Travel Awards, Sandymount Hotel is a luxury hotel located midway between the affluent tree-filled Dublin neighborhood of Ballsbridge, and the coastal village of Sandymount, whose long beach is on Dublin Bay. Here, 95% of hotel waste is recycled or recovered , 26% of its energy comes from renewable sources, aerator showerheads reduce water use by about 50%, all takeout coffee cups, straws and lids are compostable, and – any guest who opts out of housekeeping is rewarded with a free drink at the hotel bar.
Since 2012, a “green team” at the hotel, family-owned since 1955 (winner of the 2021 Sustainable Family Business award from Energia, a renewable energy utility in Ireland, and a TripAdvisor GreenLeaders Silver level member), has researched best practices. Old computers are donated to schools in Africa through Camara Education, a Dublin-based nonprofit, while old mattresses are donated to recycle their components. The hotel buys local if possible, picking suppliers who use minimal packaging or will take it back for re-use. An original Victorian fireplace in the lobby burns turf. For years, Sandymount donated lightly-used guest soaps and toiletry bottles to Clean the World, a nonprofit that distributes them to poor countries worldwide to improve hygiene. Recycle bins placed on all floors urge guests to recycle.
The 187-room hotel is in eight Victorian townhouses built in 1866. Rooms come with a smart TV with Netflix, and family-friendly rooms feature three beds. Its restaurant, Whitty’s, has an outdoor terrace.
Highlights: Whitepod was the winner of the World Prize for Sustainable Tourism the very year after it opened. It features geodesic domes with floor-to-ceiling windows made to take advantage of the gorgeous Alps views – all while requiring 30% less energy to heat and cool than standard structures.
Winner of the World Prize for Sustainable Tourism in 2005 the year after it opened, and a TripAdvisor GreenLeaders Bronze member, Whitepod features 18 geodesic domes perched on a slope in the Alps, offering gorgeous mountain and Lake Geneva views through floor-to-ceiling windows. The domes, which require 30% less energy to heat and cool compared to standard structures, sit on wooden platforms with outdoor chairs, feature wood-burning closed fireplaces, top-quality insulation, organic bedding, sheepskin blankets, furnishings made of Swiss wood or recycled materials and full bathrooms, whose water-saving showerheads and faucets use an underground spring-fed water system.
Covered with white canvas in winter and green canvas in summer to blend into nature, each igloo-like pod is different. Whole birch trunks lend a truly rustic feel to one pod, while many pods have extra beds or sofa beds on a mezzanine, and suite pods have several bedrooms. All paper products from brochures to toilet paper, certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, are from responsibly-managed forests and processed chlorine-free. Excess food is composted Motorized transport is limited: It’s a 15-minute walk to your pod from reception (over snow in winter), and staffers walk to work as they live nearby. The restaurant serves seasonal food from regional ingredients. A centrally-located podhouse serves breakfast and daily teatime pastries, fruit and cake.
Activities are highly nature-oriented. In winter, you can ski (Whitepod has its own slopes and private ski lifts), dog-sled or snowshoe. In summer, you can hike or mountain bike with a husky, take a botanist-led hike to learn about wild plants’ kitchen and healing uses, do a forest treasure hunt, rent an e-bike and paraglide, plus play tennis and visit a nearby winery. In the kids’ club, children make gifts from nature materials, create terrariums, track wildlife and build huts. There’s a shared TV and games room. Located a 45-minute drive from Montreux or an hour’s drive from Geneva Airport, Whitepod is in Valais canton. Video here.
Vila Vita Parc, Portugal
Highlights: Equipped with its own armful of eco-awards, Vila Vita Parc is set on 54 acres of tropical gardens. Its pools and gardens are watered by a seawater desalination system, their waste is recycled and composted, and they take part in numerous other sustainable initiatives to make them a top eco-friendly pick.
Winner of the World’s Leading Luxury Green Resort award in 2016 and 2015 and Europe’s Leading Luxury Hotel and Villas award in 2021, both in the World Travel Awards,
Vila Vita Parc is on the Algarve coast in southernmost Portugal, known for mild and sunny weather year-round. Commanding panoramic Atlantic Ocean views from its clifftop setting, studded with palm trees and 54 acres of tropical gardens, the resort is also a TripAdvisor Green Leaders Gold member.
The elegant resort’s multiple pools and gardens are watered by a seawater desalination system, waste is recycled and composted, plastic straws are banned, there’s a free electric car charging station and shuttles transport guests and staff to cut down on one-person trips. Vila Vita Parc also owns a farm to raise cattle and produce olive oil, vegetables and jams in Portugal’s Alentejo region, its own butcher shop in Porches, a town two miles away, and a winery in northern Portugal’s Douro Valley.
All guest rooms, suites and villas offer a sea or garden view and charming Portuguese touches, which can include hand-painted tiles called azulejos. Suites have terraces with sea views, and villas sport private pools, but rooms minus sea views or pools are sea-inspired (think dark and light blue touches). Six blocks of one- and two-bedroom suites, called Oasis Parc, are designed to look like a Portuguese village, featuring cobblestone lanes, fountains and gardens.
The 10 restaurants offer a huge range, from two-Michelin-star Ocean, traditional Portuguese food at Adega, coastal cuisine around the world at Whale, Moorish-designed Aladin Grill for grilled meat and fish, a Japanese restaurant to a Biergarten serving German food and beer. The Biergarten, located in Porches, also features a German-style Christmas market in wooden cabins, and celebrates Oktoberfest with live bands. (A German couple founded the resort in 1992.) The resort’s wine cellar is the biggest private collection in Portugal, and there are six bars. Activities are just as varied, from a spa (whose plant-based products are from Sisley Paris), water sports, gym, tennis courts to a kids’ club.