Many people are focussing on ways to have a more sustainable lifestyle - and holidays are coming under the same scrutiny. There are three main components to making a holiday sustainable:
1. Where to stay: Why villa holidays are a green choice.
Slow living “Slow travel” is a travel trend for 2020, and Villa holidays fit the idea perfectly. Travelling at a slower pace usually involves a more quality experience, giving yourself more time to take everything in. If you only have a week or two for a vacation, then stay in a villa in Tuscany or Provence and really get to know the area. Trips like these will save you money, are more eco-friendly, and you can make a more authentic connection with the destinations you're staying in.
Staying in a villa means you can cook in your own kitchen - more on that later but there is another ingredient that can help you have a sustainable holiday: find a villa near a village so that, when you want to eat in a restaurant, you can just stroll into town and leave the car parked up.
See our list of Villas from which you can walk to a restaurant
While we've all heard of the Renaissance masterpieces, many small churches and museums have some fabulous art in them - and you might even be able to walk to them. Our local museum in Casole d'Elsa has some great Etruscan sculptures as well as some beautiful paintings by the local artist, Alessandro Casolani, from the 16th century. Or walk from Montestigliano, on its hill close to Siena, to the nearby village of Torri to see the fabulous cloister there.
You control your energy use.
If you're staying in a villa you control your laundry costs, your energy use and in addition you can choose whether to eat in a restaurant or cook for yourself at home.
Our villas come with clean sheets and towels but they are not automatically changed daily like in hotels - you control how often you feel they need to be cleaned and changed.
In summer air-conditioning will be by far the highest energy cost of any house, but there's any easy way to knock that carbon footprint right down: rent a villa without A/C or simply use it sparingly:
Here's how to stay cool without air-conditioning
Old stone farmhouses in Southern Europe were designed to cope with the climate without electricity - this makes them perfect for those seeking to minimise electricity use. Some of our villas have air-conditioning, others don't, but in both cases knowing how the houses were designed to work can help keep them cool during summer.
The science bit - you can skip this
Any building has what's called Thermal Mass - this is its ability to absorb and store heat energy. A lot of heat energy is required to change the temperature of buildings built with heavy materials like stone, bricks, concrete, and tiles. They are therefore said to have high thermal mass. Lightweight materials such as timber have low thermal mass.
Back in the room Many of the old stone farmhouses have very heavy, very thick walls - this means they take a long time to change in temperature; if you close the shutters during the day, and keep the sunlight (and heat) out - then open the windows at night to let the night breeze in - the overall temperature of the house will stay low without air-conditioning.
Add to that the outdoor shaded spaces like pergolas and covered porticoes and you have a recipe for relaxed summer living with minimal energy use.
2. The greenest way to travel across Europe
If you're coming from the US then you're going to have to fly - so this next section is really for Europeans travelling across the continent: what's the greenest option?
The options are flying vs train vs car. Trains have the lowest carbon footprint, but a car with 4 people is a match for the train, particularly if your car has good MPG to start with.
|Type of Travel||Emissions in Kgs of CO2|
|Flying (per person)||266|
|Driving (per car).||178|
|Driving (per person with 4 in car )||45|
|By Train (per person)||45|
For more information see ecopassenger
Carbon offsetting your flights
With tight school schedules some of us just have to fly - it's the least environmentally friendly way to travel but we all lead busy lives. If you're stuck with flying, perhaps consider offsetting your carbon footprint.
Clear Offset offers a carbon offset service - offsetting a return flight from London to Pisa for one person costs around £ 4 a head. But as Clear themselves say in their FAQ: "Carbon offsetting should never be the first response to climate change. We all have a responsibility to measure our carbon footprint and reduce it as best we can. However this will always leave us with some kind of footprint. That’s why offsetting plays a vital role.
After reducing your carbon footprint as much as possible, carbon offsetting invests in projects which reduce emissions even further elsewhere. Because emissions disperse throughout the atmosphere, your net carbon footprint becomes smaller even if the reduction happens somewhere else."
Driving is greener than we thought
For a single passenger there is no doubt that travelling by train is the greenest option. But when you're taking the whole family down to Italy or France so there are 4 in the car, the balance swings right over; travelling by car becomes as green as by train.
Add to this the fact that you will often need a car while at your villa and it becomes a great choice - provided you have the time!
We have a page about Driving down to Italy with some routes and comparative costs.
Train is green - and suits some destinations better than others.
In summer there is a direct TGV service from London to Avignon. If you were staying in, for example, Maison de Timolé in the Luberon village of Cabrieres d'Avignon, you could set off from London St.Pancras at 7:30 in the morning and be in Avignon around 3:30 pm and poolside before 5pm.
For full green points it is possible to do the whole thing with a folding Brompton bicycle: I once cycled to the tube, got to St. Pancras, took the train to Avignon and then cycled into the Luberon in time for an afternoon aperitif with friends at the delicious restaurant La Ferme de la Huppe.
But the cycling option is trickier with a family. The fact remains that, from the UK Provence is an easy option on the train. Italy can be more complicated but is still eminently possible.
Getting to Italy by Train
There is really only one true train expert for European train travel and that is The man in seat 61. This is his page on travel from London to Italy by train and it packed full of good advice.
We have tested the London - Paris - Turin route with a one year old baby in tow. Getting across Paris from the Gare du Nord to the Gare de Lyon is the trickiest part and best done by taxi, though you can also take the Metro.
In Turin we hired a car and then drove down the coast which was beautiful.
In June 2020 the Frecciarossa superfast train will start travelling from Paris to Milan in 6 hours - this is a great new connection and means that in theory you could get from London to Milan by train in around 9 hours.
3 Going local - eating great sustainably sourced food
Villages and towns in Italy and France have local markets with wonderful fresh, locally grown food. What can be better than to shop local, cook local, eat local? Well, why not add a cookery course to your holiday - many chefs will accompany you to the market and show you how to choose the best fruit and vegetables - then show you how to cook them too.
One of our favourites is grilled courgettes - a simple yet delicious dish that goes with many things and can be prepared in advance too.
If you're eating in restaurants, most places in Tuscany and Provence cook and serve locally sourced food too, keeping the miles from field to plate to a minimum. There's a term: "Chilometro Zero" (zero kms) that has been coined to denote local food - you can always ask your restaurant if they are "Chilometro Zero".
For Vegan and Vegetarian restaurants in Tuscany, have a look at our list: "A guide to vegan and vegetarian restaurants in Tuscany". We will be updating it as we find and test more.