London’s fashionable jet set share their favourite sustainable travel eco retreats
Photographer, model and writer Laura Bailey, designer Alice Temperley, and model and nutritionist Rosemary Ferguson on the locations championing a more planet-conscious wanderlust. From sustainable surfing to zero-waste goals, the new bucket-list destinations are changing the criteria of luxury travel. For those looking to lighten their footprint, the capital’s most discerning travellers reveal their go-to eco retreats.
Perched majestically on a cliff, with a bird’s eye view of the pristine Costa Alegre and the sparkling Pacific Ocean beyond, Casa Cuixmala certainly has location on its side. Owned by Alix Goldsmith Marcaccini, daughter of billionaire Sir James Goldsmith, this dreamy Mexican hideaway – originally built as Goldsmith’s own private eco retreat – sits in a 30,000-acre biosphere reserve, an intoxicating mix of lush jungle, coconut plantations, sweeping savannah and grasslands.
The main Casa – formerly Goldsmith’s residence – is Mexican meets European meets Moorish in design with an overall feeling of comfort luxe (the emphasis is on feeling like you are on a ranch rather than in a hotel). Guests can either stay in the main house or its adjoining bungalows, or one of the three private villas – aka Casas – or the Casitas, a group of suites which share a resort pool and clubhouse.
Knighted for his services to ecology, Goldsmith’s love and respect of nature lives on throughout Cuixmala. Zebras and eland antelope roam the sprawling estate, while the elusive jaguar, freshwater crocodiles and 270-plus species of bird can also be spotted, whether by foot, bicycle, horseback or boat – there’s even a sea turtle sanctuary here.
Three beaches offer tranquil little coves for swimming, snorkelling or paddleboarding and rugged cliffs for perching on to watch the whales off the wild Pacific coast. There are also soccer pitches, basketball and tennis courts – and a yoga pavilion built from bamboo (the sustainable crop is used for everything here, with 60 different species grown on the estate).
Hungry from their healthy exertions, guests can feast on seasonal farm-to-fork dishes, many of them authentically Mexican, safe in the knowledge that most of the food has been grown in the sprawling organic and biodynamic gardens (anyone is welcome to drop by and talk to the head gardener about the composting system or the flower nurseries) or on the estate, where no pesticides are used and crop rotation is practiced to avoid soil erosion.
Meanwhile all the dairy and cattle comes from the hotel’s sister property Hacienda de San Antonio, a former coffee plantation in the foothills of the Volcano of Colima, and lovingly restored by Sir James Goldsmith in the 80s. This is a magical place, offering that unique combination of being completely connected to nature, while also being in the lap of luxury. Albeit, a very eco-conscious luxury.
“Environmentalism and sustainability are at the core of this amazing estate. They have a sprawling organic and biodynamic farm, which provides 90 per cent of everything served there. Bamboo is also grown on the property and used wherever possible, from building the yoga studio to the straws in drinks. There are beautiful flower farms, wild animals roam freely, and even a sea turtle sanctuary. It’s heaven.”
Soneva Fushi, Maldives
Book a surf lesson at Soneva Fushi and you’ll be riding the waves on boards made from recycled waste, in what is the first fully-sustainable surfing programme in the world – just one example of the eco-conscious ethos which prevails at this laid-back-luxe resort in the Maldives.
Located in the Baa Atoll on the private Kunfunadhoo Island, just half an hour by seaplane from the capital of Malé, Soneva Fushi is set within a protected biosphere reserve, so pristine white sands, sparkling sea and an abundance of native wildlife come as standard. Designed to be in total harmony with its natural surroundings, the resort’s palm-thatched villas are hidden amongst the verdant jungle (Soneva Fushi does not do over-water villas due to their potentially-damaging effects on the coral), though each comes with its own slice of beach, as well as open-air bathrooms, private gardens – and a personal butler, of course.
The Soneva “no news, no shoes” policy is indicative of the rhythm of life here, where hammocks swing gently from palm trees, and often the only signs of activity are scuttling hermit crabs or the much-loved community of wild rabbits. Guests can navigate the sandy lanes on bicycles, visiting the So Glasscycle studio, a state-of-the-art glass factory, which recycles Soneva’s own waste; the Dive Centre, the jumping off point to swim with sea turtles and manta rays; and the celebrated Six Senses Spa, which is set in the heart of the forest. As dusk falls, there are movies to be watched al fresco at Cinema Paradiso, or a galaxy to be admired with the resident astronomer at The Observatory.
Dining here is another memory maker. The options are many, from So Hands On, a sushi counter with five seats where you might find Michelin-starred chef Kenji Gyoten, and Sobah’s, located on an uninhabited island and serving uniquely Maldivian dishes, to family favourites So Guilty and So Cool – a chocolate parlour and an ice cream bar, offering over 60 homemade flavours. All the menus use quality organic ingredients – many of which are grown in the sustainable vegetable gardens. Even the cocktails are organic, best sipped at Bar(a)bara, an overwater bar perfectly placed for dolphin-spotting.
As custodians of such a pristine environment, founders Sonu Shivdasani and Eva Malmstrom take eco responsibility very seriously – they’re on a mission for the resort to become zero-waste. No single-use plastics are imported and 90 per cent of solid waste is recycled; much of this takes place at the island’s Eco Centro, a “waste-to-wealth” centre which transforms used articles and materials into colourful and useful treasures.
On a wider scale, the Soneva Foundation supports the development of projects that have a positive environmental, social and economic impact and, importantly, offset carbon emissions from resort activities and guest flights. The message here? Style, substance and sustainability are not – and never should be – mutually exclusive.
“Whilst Soneva Fushi does not officially call itself an eco-resort, it most definitely is. Founder creators Sonu and Eva applied their eco-philosophy and passion for community and conservation to every element of their island dream. Their SLOWLIFE (“no news, no shoes”) mantra informs their vision, and the loyalty of returning families is testament to the magic and authenticity of the Soneva experience. Yes, you can laze around in paradise or mix it up with action adventure, but the real dream is to change lives via experience – and not just the guests’.
The Soneva hotel family work on a local and a global scale, shaping environmental policy by rejecting all single-use plastic, fundraising via their Foundation, and teaching Maldivian children to swim and us all to care more, to think deeper.”
Sublime Comporta, Portugal
What’s in a name? If Sublime Comporta is anything to go by, plenty. The boutique hotel, found amongst the unspoilt sand dunes, rice fields and wineries of Comporta in southwest Portugal, exceeds expectation. Set on a 17-acre wildflower-strewn estate, nature is at the heart of this rural retreat.
The public spaces and guest rooms – designed by José Alberto Charrua and Miguel Câncio Martins (of Buddha Bar and Man Ray fame) – are minimalist, emphasising the outdoors through the use of natural materials, muted tones and floor-to-ceiling windows. For the ultimate low-key vibe, stay in one of the cabana villas, each with its own pool. Or book one of the brand new pool suites, which have private terraces built on stilts over a huge natural pool (the largest in the Iberian peninsula) where the cool, clear water is treated through aquatic plants rather than chemicals.
Days here are dreamy; the pool is a popular spot for lying horizontal, staring up at the region’s famous umbrella pines and cork trees, or, for the more active, the swathe of deserted beach offers up idyllic opportunity for long, lazy walks and horseback riding in the shallow surf. But Sublime Comporta isn’t just a pretty face.
Husband-and-wife creators Gonçalo and Patricia Pessoa are passionate about sustainability. Solar panels are used throughout the property and everything possible is recycled – even the cooking oil. Vegetables, herbs and fruits grow in abundance in the organic garden, many of which end up on the fresh, local menu devised by chef Tiago Santos and served in the airy main restaurant Sem Porta (meaning “without a door”). Or in the Food Circle, an outdoor organic restaurant where up to 12 guests sit around a counter for plates of sautéed wild mushrooms with fresh pasta and perfectly-grilled octopus served alongside smoked potatoes.
After, the outdoor fire pit and Com Brasa pool bar are well situated to curl up with a post-dinner cocktail and marvel at the stars. The small, yet seductive spa also taps into the surroundings, using the garden’s sustainably-cultivated plants in its treatments, alongside Amala Organic Skincare – a brand much revered in green circles. For the committed, weekly wellness programmes include hatha and vinyasa yoga and meditation, all of which take place on a pavilion surrounded by pines. For those looking to reconnect with nature and enjoy slow living, this is the place.
“Sublime Comporta not only has a striking setting – it is nestled amongst the cork trees and umbrella pines so typical of the Alentejo, minutes from Portugal’s protected coastline – but sustainability is key here. Everywhere you look, nature plays a role – villas are built on stilts to lower the impact of the build and the garden, designed on the principles of permaculture, is home to more than 300 species of herbs and spices. In the midst is a favourite spot of mine – the Food Circle, an outdoor restaurant, with an emphasis on home-grown and local produce, as well as organic wines. I had an amazing time there.”