Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Monterey Bay Hotel Boasts LEED Silver

In California, the Portola Hotel and Spa, from a bird's eye view, consists of a several buildings tidily arranged alongside Monterey Bay. What it doesn't look like, on first glance, is a stuffy resort touting green initiatives with a nose in the air. It appears modest, affordable and authentic. These are all really good things, especially for a traveler who's in town on business or visiting family.

The hotel and spa, which recently announced LEED Silver certification for an existing building, is one very few independent hotels to take such great strides without the backing of a larger, corporate brand. That's an impressive feat, because as any hotel management will tell you, LEED certification is a thorough - and often pricey - investment that takes a while to pay for itself in energy savings.

What I like most about Portola are some of the softer eco touches they've applied here, including "Green from Natura" bath amenities in biodegradable packaging, earth-friendly mattresses from local Monterey Mattress Co., and a cleaning process that uses H203 ionized water to go above and beyond the effectiveness of bleach - minus the harsh chemicals. And those efforts extend beyond the hotel walls, too. Portola takes part in community eco initiatives like the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch program, and for 17 years in a row has been honored by local waste management for its innovative and proactive recycling initiatives, which work toward diverting 70 percent of all waste from landfills.

The hotel offers guests the opportunity to negate their stay with the purchase of Renewable Energy Credits, and they've walked the walk by already offsetting two year's worth of their own carbon emissions. (That level of emissions equates to driving roughly 9 million miles in a car... um, yeah. That's a lot.)

So, why stay at Portola? A quick hike from Cannery Row and the aquarium (check out the a-d-o-r-a-b-l-e newly hatched penguin chick), Portola is near Fisherman's Wharf and the Marina, and a short drive from popular Carmel and Pebble Beaches. Really, need I say more?

If you're a foodie at heart, visit some of these stellar farmer's markets during your stay in Monterey.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Ethical Destinations Ranked for 2011

The folks over at Ethical Traveler do a great job of pulling together a list of top developing nations to visit annually, and this year is no exception. The compilation, spanning the global gamut, takes into account several factors critical to the continued economic viability and growth of these countries and includes environmental protection, social welfare and human rights.

If their prediction rings true, ethically minded globetrotters will be traversing Costa Rica once again in 2011 (I'm curious about this. While I've actually never stepped foot on Costa Rica, I feel like it's overrun with greenwash, despite its deep roots in ecotourism), and also popping up on the tropical islands of Barbados, Dominica and Palau, each of which are committed to serious eco efforts.
Are any of these destinations on your list of wanna/gotta/need-to-go for 2011? I have to admit, some of these locales don't fall anywhere near the top of my list (hello, Latvia), but I'd happily traipse through most.

Monday, January 3, 2011

A New Year of Experiences Awaiting

A stunning church door I found in Germany
For me, 2010 was an enlightening year. I didn't do even half of the globetrotting that I would have liked to, but I did indulge in some pretty stellar escapes, and along the way, I stumbled on the reaffirmation of a concept I don't touch on nearly enough. 

It all came reeling back toward me when I was breezing through a magazine this past weekend, spending the New Year weekend in northern Michigan, tucked snugly into a blanketed ball on the couch at our family cottage. Flicking through pages, I came across this compilation of world marvels, that left me equally ravenous for a visit to Croatia's Dinaric Mountains or Scotland's siren-esque Isle of Eigg. The article, short in length but mated with stunning visuals, highlighted the intense ability some of Earth's spaces have to instantly humble us as humans. Fill us, consume us, with awe.

It's a rarity, really. The kind of out-of-body experience that is so grand it takes your breath away and causes you to contemplate the smallness of your being. This past July, I experienced it; not for the first time, but in a way that stands out in my mind. It was late at night, and me and my companions were strolling the deserted streets of a small village in Germany, Schwabisch Gmund, after the bar had closed. The air was warm, and we had no reason to rush back to our hotel, a few blocks away. In the city's center, a few of us stopped with our off-duty, unofficial tour guide to stare wide-eyed at the massive cathedral that anchored the marketplace, which would surely be abuzz come dawn.

There was something about seeing that large, looming church in the moonlight, pressing my hand against the solid stone walls, and peering through the stained glass windows, dimly lit from inside. What I would have paid to have someone unlock the doors in that moment. I learned, that night, that the church, the Holy Cross Cathedral, was financed--and built--by the village residents in the 14th Century. Here, now, there is no way that I can attach to these words the emotion that I felt that evening. But that's the best part. That moment in time will never be recreated, but it will forever be holed up inside that part of me that houses the simple, but life-changing, experiences that shape the person I am.

Travel changes us. That's all there is to it. And so, in 2011, I wish you the most awe-inducing experiences that life can throw at you. Soak it up. Relish in it. And then, try your best to share it with the people you love.
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