Do you dream in green? The pages of Hitesh Mehta’s Authentic Ecolodges sent me into daydreams of extraordinary travel to 36 unique hotels and resorts scattered over the globe, any of which I would be lucky to visit in my lifetime.
Underneath my wanderlust, I actually felt quite at home reading this book after-hours in Amble’s corporate headquarters: I heard our mission echoing around the world at these distinctive properties where creativity and innovation, sustainable design, environmental stewardship, and the local community come together for a travel experience far surpassing anything the word “tourism” can hope to convey.
This latest addition to my home library looks like an innocent coffee table book – one of those big attractive volumes you might set your cup on as soon as you’re caffeinated enough to start performing other morning rituals.
However, crack it open and you’ll find it a rich and hopeful study in sustainable tourism – something to linger over, to learn from, and return to again and again when you need inspiration for your next great journey.
A few new deposits in my bank of travel ideas, courtesy Authentic Ecolodges:
To walk over the Venezuelan savannah until I reach Uruyén Lodge, where I’ll inhabit a cozy churuata as the local indigenous have done for centuries, surrounded by waterfalls and impressive canyons…
To rest in the shade of the casuarina trees after a four-day trek to the Tasmanian Bay of Fires…
And I can scarcely believe it’s possible for modern-day explorers to stay in the timeless cavelike, candlelit dwellings at Adrère Amellal in Egypt.
By the back cover, I was intoxicated with the idea of visiting at least a dozen of the hotels featured in Authentic Ecolodges. Yet they weren’t tempting me in with menus of trendy spa treatments or avowing that my favorite foods would be available any time of day – on the contrary, many of these resorts explain, for example, why my room is not equipped with air conditioning, why all meals are vegetarian, or why the nightlife offerings consist of local music and dance performances.
I kept reading and found such disclaimers to be no deterrent at all — and not just because I have a pretty embracing attitude towards trying new things. No A/C is a non-issue when passive cooling techniques let ocean breezes in to keep you comfortable, and you’re not likely to miss karaoke or whatever it is the kids do these days when confronted with the living heritage of cultures unlike any you’ve encountered before as they instruct you in the art of glassblowing, show you how they peel cinnamon, or perform choreographies meant to draw rain from the sky or a plentiful harvest from the earth.
You might not be sold. “I need to be able to get a good steak, no matter where I go on vacation” or “I won’t sleep a wink in the tropics without A/C” are understandable concerns (and many of the featured hotels have found ways to accommodate these within their overarching goal to provide a low-impact authentic experience.) But I’m keen to persuade you that leaving behind on-demand culture to completely immerse in your destination is what makes for a truly transformative travel experience. So I recommend browsing this book to see some of the incredible places you can go when you accept the travel philosophy of a discerning “geotourist.”
Author Hitesh Mehta is a founding member of The International Ecotourism Society and President of HM Design, a firm specializing in ecotourism planning for landscape and architecture. To produce Authentic Ecolodges, Mehta visited 44 properties around the world and judged them by a set of criteria he devised to evaluate design, operations, and sustainability. Out of the 44, Mehta chose 36 that met his high standards for stewardship of the environment and the local community both in a past, present, and future sense. He is highly qualified as an expert scholar and practitioner of sustainable design, but takes a holistic approach when reviewing a property: “It is impossible for one ecolodge to satisfy every tenet of this system, and failure to do so is not based on intent, but more often than not on physical and cultural limitation.”
Critical evaluation points included:
- Sustainable building materials
- Creativity in design
- Technological innovation
- Community involvement and/or ownership
- Indigenous construction techniques
- Biodiversity conservation
- Culinary excellence
- Holistic wellness
- Recycle & reuse
- Interpretive programs
Organization >> The book is divided into chapters for each of these critical points, and the properties that best exemplify them appear in trios; a final chapter includes in-progress ecolodges worth keeping an eye on as they realize their goals.
Inspiration >> Each chapter is topped by a quote that suits the focus of the section. Here are a few of my favorites:
“There are three forms of visual art: Painting is art to look at, sculpture is art you can walk around, and architecture is art you can walk through.”
– Dan Rice
“You forget that the fruits belong to all and that the land belongs to no one.”
– Jean-Jacques Rousseau
“Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.”
– Charles Mingus