Thursday, April 10, 2014

Sipping and Swimming in Alexander Valley, Cali.

Having grown up with a weekend home on a lake in northern Michigan, I can attest that one of life's greatest (and simplest) pleasures involves a glass of wine and a steady tide.

So, I would imagine that Francis Ford Coppola's Alexander Valley winery, which has debuted an outdoor pool - surrounded by rentable "cabines," or European-style changing rooms - is like a Disneyland for adults. The park, which sits amid the operation's sustainably farmed vineyards, offers 3,600 feet of swimming space for families. Of course, dining, bocce and winery tours (naturally) are natural punctuation to a day of swimming.

Coppola's vineyards, one of the first to adopt green practices, have been at it for more than 30 years. The property's 24 acres adhere to the California Sustainable Winegrowing Program guidelines, while a long, long list of operational practices support eco-friendly efforts. (Think: a closed-loop waste system that recycles composted grape pomace as fertilizer and reclaimed winery waste water for irrigation.)

So, all of this begs the question... do you start with Disney and recover at Coppola? Or prep for animated anxiety with a day-long chill session? Either way, let's agree that any west coast family trip requires balancing both.

And, as long as you're heading to the wine region, why not check out some of the other sustainable establishments dedicated to our favorite elixir? I've just got my hands on a fabulous book that explores several of the area's greenest wineries. It's on my reading list; can't wait to share it with you soon!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Lonely Planet Names Top 10 Eco Stays in 2014

Costa Rica's Lapa Rios Eco Resort

Are you gearing up for a grand getaway? Luckily, the makers of my favorite guidebooks - Lonely Planet - has named its "Top 10 Eco Stays for 2014." And isn't this a doozy.... one of my former travel clients, Costa Rica's Lapa Rios Eco Resort, tops the list (woo-hoo!).

The winners were selected by Lonely Planet authors and editors; and these folks have seen a resort or two in their day. It goes without saying that they're stamp of approval is a confident one.

Who else made the list?

1. Lapa Rios, Peninsula de Osa, Costa Rica
2. Bulungula Backpackers, Dwesa Nature Reserve, South Africa
3. Chole Mjini, Chole Island, Mafia Archipelago, Tanzania
4. Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel, Aguas Calientes, Peru
5. EcoLodge Chepu Adventures
6. Maison Anglaise, Taroudant, Morocco
7. Earthship Rentals, Taos, New Mexico, U.S.
8. Dana Guest House, King's Highway, Jordan
9. Nuli Sapi, Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea
10. Baikaler Eco-Hostel, Listvyanka, Siberia, Russia

Have you made it to any of these properties? And if so, would it rank in your top 10?

Monday, January 13, 2014

Four Eco Accessories to Tote Today

You know the drill. Taking a green approach to travel is something every traveler should do in order to protect the destinations that they visit. While tourism can have positive effects on an economy, there are also harmful effects on the environment if travelers don’t consider sustainability and the environment when they head off on vacation. One easy way to do this is to tote "green" accessories on the go.

Consider the below eco-friendly travel accessories next time you're packing up:

Portable solar-powered battery charger and solar-powered backpacks
Mobile phones, cameras, laptops and media players are some of the important gadgets brought along on trips. If used often, their batteries require serious charging. Enter solar-powered backpacks, which can easily charge all of your important electronics while inside the pack. While most solar bags only charge handheld devices, Voltaic Systems offers solar bags that are compatible with most laptops too.

Luggage made from recycled materials
Eco-friendly luggage doesn't mean sacrificing style. Company Planet Earth offers bags that are made with low VOC and recycled materials. If you need a bag that's waterproof and sturdy for storing electronic devices, you can check out GreenSmart bags, which offer insulated and waterproof messenger bags and backpacks that are made from 100 percent post-consumer recycled plastic bottles.

Hand-wind or hand-crank flashlights
When you're out in the woods, camping or in an isolated area, a functioning flashlight can be invaluable. You don't need to use battery torches; instead, use a hand-wind or hand-crank flashlight. The batteries will recharge by repeatedly cranking and winding the handle on the side of the flashlight, and you can buy these flashlights online at Quicksales. Some models come with a USB port for juicing up mobile phones.

Reusable water bottles
Staying hydrated is critical. Opt for a reusable water bottle with a built-in filter to reduce plastic bottle waste. Plastic waste currently has a huge detrimental effect on not only the land and oceans, but also wildlife; this is why it’s vital that when we travel, we reduce the amount of plastic bottles we use.

Before heading out on your next trip, quickly audit your current gear. Can you swap out some of your wasteful "stuff" with the above, eco finds? Small tweaks add up, and by investing in even one or two green items, you'll be doing good while you're on the go.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

All Natural Skincare for Guys

I'm typically a bit gender skewed on this blog, but I couldn't pass up the chance to mention this clever brand of men's all-natural grooming products. After all, most of the earth-friendly skincare that's peddled by big box retailers is specifically designed to appeal to women. Makes me wonder, why should guys continue to slather themselves in chemicals?

Here's what I dig about ManCave's line of skincare goods: They're made without parabens, sulphates, synthetic dyes, petrochemicals and ingredients from animal sources; and they're cruelty free. As you might have predicted, they smell great, too. If you're a dude, that is. Pricing runs around $10 per product.

For more options in natural men's skincare, mosey on over to the "green" section of and find brands like Every Man Jack (check out their perfect-for-packing travel kit) and Pacific Shaving Company.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Perfect Tote: Canary Yellow + Cork

I'm a big fan of popping corks. But before toting around Pelcor's punchy canary cork-skin bag, I hadn't thought much about the versatility of the stuff. (Okay, let's be honest, I'm not even sure if I realized cork came from a plant.)

All natural, recyclable and waterproof, it turns out that cork - when used as a "skin" - is the ideal renewable material for tough-love totes. And let's not omit the obvious, the edgy eco vibe it lends is lovely. (Bonus points for being biodegradable, too.)

This cheery option, part of the "sunshine capsule" by Pelcor ($92), lugs books, packs beach essentials, and neatly folds up for easy stowing in a suitcase. Although, admittedly, I'm also drooling over this trendy duffel ($202) and uber cool cork umbrella ($148). 

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

End-of-Summer Eco Picnic Essentials

Tomorrow marks the first day of August, or as the pessimist in me regards it, the official beginning of the end of summer. Sigh.

Before the sun sets at too early an hour, why not take advantage of the balmy evenings for a celebratory picnic? You know, celebrating the fire flies. Or something. Whatever your occasion, these simple summer staples are perfect for picnic-ing, and they've all been crafted with the environment in mind.

From a wine satchel pieced together with reused vinyl billboard, bike tires and car seat belts, to a pour-ready, USDA-certified organic craft cocktail, these green go-tos are ideal for splaying across a grassy knoll.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Urban Glam Earns LEED Gold in Dallas

I'm calling it urban glam, but I'm sure that an interior decorator would have a far better name for the glitz-meets-ghetto style embodying Dallas's new NYLO hotel. Opulent tufted ottomans alongside a grafitti'd grand piano? Get. Me. There. Now.

Open since August 2012, the 102-year-old coffin-factory-turned-hotel has achieved LEED Gold certification through creative reuse of original materials, mixed with high-tech energy saving solutions. In each of its 76 loft style rooms, guests are privy to locally sourced art and ample natural lighting. For the best skyline view, however, amble up to the rooftop pool, which resides next to the SODA bar - where libations like "The Frenchie" and "Ransom Mule" (see SODA bar menu here) make for a perfect post-pool sip.

Weekend room rates start around $200 per night. To see full details on the property, visit the NYLO Dallas South Side website.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

How Hotels are Harnessing the Sun

Not surprisingly, the energy-saving sector is heating up. And on the sweltering sidewalks of Las Vegas, tourists will soon be taking note. Recently, Mandalay Bay Resort announced a solar investment - a steep price that will include 20,000 panels plus O&M cost - that will generate enough electricity to power the equivalent of 1,000 homes. 

Only the Vegas strip, it seems, could pull off a project that needs nearly 20 acres of sunlit roof space. But the arid desert is hardly the only region reaping the rewards of photovoltaic panels. In the colder climate of Colorado, where temps average in the 20-degree Fahrenheit range December through February, hotels in both Boulder and Golden have implemented solar panels to offset their carbon emissions.

So, how can you pin-point a sun-harnessing hotel for your next trip? It's not as easy as you might think (as in, I assumed googling "solar hotels in u.s." would get me the answer). There is no objective, master database of green hotels, let alone those that have ponied up for solar panels, but a good place to start is to search for LEED certified hotels. (Check out our listing here.) While not all LEED properties boast solar investments, many of them have included smaller installations to offset the energy consumption of guests.

Can't find a solid solar solution in your desired destination? Look for these green perks instead: 
  • LEED certification (aim to choose Gold or Platinum properties, when possible)
  • Alternative fuel or electric vehicle transportation (for airport transfers and local jaunts)
  • Eco-friendly cleaning supplies and services (avoid harsh chemicals or excessive washing of sheets and towels on multiple-night stays)
  • Organic on-site gardens (allowing restaurant chefs to use their own produce)
  • Locally sourced menus (regional meats, seafood, fruits and vegetables support local farmers and also emit far less carbon than a cross-country vendor)
  • Green roof (to keep buildings cooler inside, and naturally better looking, too)

Monday, July 22, 2013

Snapshot: High Design in The City of Silk

The new Sheraton Huzhou Hot Spring Resort

Settle your eyes on this striking scene for a moment...

In stark contrast to its 2,300-year-old surroundings on the south shore of China's third-largest lake, Lake Taihu, a delightfully doughnut-shaped hotel has taken up residence. The high design can be attributed to Sheraton, the brand behind the Huzhou Hot Spring Resort, which recently opened to guests.

Here, high design meets history. The Zhejiang Province, birthplace to China's tea culture, is home to the lush green grounds of the Guzhu Tea Culture Scenic Area, as well as the Tea of Tribute Court, where tea producers crafted brews specifically for the Chinese Emperor. 

You can be sure, this 321-room resort serves up a tea of its own. And if you're not lazily sipping some while soaking up views of the 90-island lake, you can keep comfy in a streamlined guestroom or at the spa.

For full details on Starwood Hotels' global citizenship program (and eco initiatives), click here

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Sensibly Solar in St. Maarten

There was a time, on a solo business trip, that I walked out of my hotel room without turning off the TV. Before you judge, I knew that I'd be back within a couple of hours, and the place just plain felt sketchy to me - the kind of establishment and locale where you didn't want to publicize the fact that you were abandoning valuables behind a closed door.

My point (...I'm getting there...) is that it's not uncommon for eco-minded folks to lapse when they're on vacay. After all, someone else is worrying about the utility bill, right?

Well, yes, they are. Hotels like the Westin in St. Maarten are harnessing the sun's rays to counteract the less-than-green habits of its customers, except that they're not blaming it on the customers. That's all me. Truth is, a significant amount of energy goes into operating a 317-room hotel in the Caribbean. And while the hotel has been using solar energy to offset guestroom heat and water since 2007, this new project - which includes the installation of 1,200 solar panels by 2014 - will benefit resort-wide energy consumption.

The energy squeezed from the solar panels will be equivalent to that used to power 111 homes annually, or will save the same amount of CO2 emissions that would be used driving 1.2 million miles in an SUV. When the finishing touches are completed a year from now, the goal is that the hotel will operate in strictly solar mode for six hours per day.

So, if you've been pining for an excuse to escape to St. Maarten, look no further. The Westin's full-service European-style Hibiscus spa should do it, if the island's largest infinity pool doesn't.

Full details at: starting under $200 per night.)

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