Nine Eco-Friendly Winter Vacation Ideas
From a geodesic dome in the Swiss Alps to a glass cabin in the woods of upstate New York, here are nine of our favorite eco-luxurious winter retreats around the world.
It’s never too soon to start planning holiday travel, and winter vacations can go from drab to dreamy by choosing the right accommodations. Hotels, campsites, and even Airbnb properties around the world are increasing their efforts to be eco-friendly, with carbon-neutral heating, sustainable dining programs, and the use of recycled building materials. We rounded up nine winter vacation spots where you can indulge in luxurious amenities while supporting an eco-conscious ethos.
Whitepod in Valais, Switzerland
Waking up in a geodesic dome with a crackling wood burning stove and panoramic views of the frosted Chablais Alps is the stuff of winter dreams. A little over an hour’s drive from Geneva, Whitepod is a real departure from the typical bustling ski resort, which is what makes it so appealing. Imagine a modern day home for John Snow, complete with fur trimming and sled-pulling dire wolves. At 5,000 feet, the 15 super energy-efficient pods blend into the mountainside like snowballs, and guests have access to 16 miles of snowshoeing trails, four miles of ski slopes with private lifts, as well as paragliding from mid-December to mid-April. Among Whitepod’s many eco acts is its use of local spring water, a locally sourced menu, 100% biodegradable cleaning products, and a blissfully quiet car-free setting. Winter discovery package from $1,400. Standard Cosy Pod from $390.
Vigilius Mountain Resort in South Tyrol, Italy
There is nothing normal about Vigilius, yet this is what a normal vacation should look like when you’re trying to get away from it all. Architect Matteo Thun’s “Eco, not Ego” philosophy is felt in every element of the five-star 41-room property, which fuses wood and glass so seamlessly that it seems to bring the natural world indoors. The result of this deep connection to the environment—the woods, the Dolomites, the larch tree-scented air—is intended to remind guests that “nature and not man is understood as the ‘creator.’”
After taking a seven-minute cable car ride up 4,000 feet, it’ll feel like Vigilius is the farthest you’ve ever been from civilization, but time can pass too easily around the grounds—especially come winter. After hiking up to a Romanesque stone church at the 6,235-foot summit of St. Vigilius Mountain, cozy up to one of many fireplaces—with a glass from Manicor, a nearby biodynamic vineyard—soak in a hydrotherapy bath, and revel in the locavore spirit at Restaurant 1500, where delicious-if-eccentric South Tyrolean dishes feature things like tree bark essence and eggplants with parmesan cheese inspired by clouds. As a self-described Climate House, Vigilius is committed to having the lightest carbon footprint possible, which means only using renewable resources, a grass-covered roof, internally heated clay walls, no cars, and fresh drinking water from a nearby spring. From $520 per night.
Glass Cabin in the Woods in Hillsdale, New York
This six-acre hideaway is one example of why hotels will likely never be able to overthrow Airbnb. Built by INC Architecture & Design’s Adam Rolston, who owns the home with his partner Martin McElhiney, the 1,350-square-foot Cabin in the Woods is filled with intimate little discoveries that succeed in drawing you in to the story of the place. “The form of 16 Doors, my affectionate nickname for the house, is rooted in my fascination with structural and spatial clarity of the traditional loft-like cow barns that populate the local farmland,” says Rolston, whose various other design inspirations range from childhood, surrounded by the modernist tradition of Los Angeles, to his years living in Florence, studying the region’s antiquities, to his professional travels to the Far East.
While you’ll find it easy to become enamored by the soulful property—which also happens to be exceptionally green, from the recycled roofing materials to the Forest Stewardship Council-approved windows—the cabin is located near Catamount Ski Resort, Taconic State Park (best explored with the cabin’s two pairs of snow shoes) and quaint towns like Hudson and Great Barrington in the Berkshires that are worth a visit. However you spend the chilly days, make sure to end them roasting s’mores around the outdoor fire pit or snuggling up by the Danish wood-burning stove. From $300 per night.
Maine Huts & Trails in Kingfield, Maine
The Maine Huts & Trails system has been operating for eight years, but upon arrival at one of four lodges, you’ll feel like the universe has pulled one over on you. There are 80 pristine miles of beautiful backcountry trails, home-cooked locally-sourced meals paired with beers like Peak Brewery’s organic Fresh Cut pilsner, roaring fires in a cozy den, outdoor fire pits, and knowledgeable guides just waiting to whisk you away on a snowshoeing or cross-country skiing adventure. Whether you book a stay at Stratton Brook, the newest hut offering access to the Appalachian Trail in Bigelow Preserve, or opt for the Flagstaff Lake locale, the nonprofit’s off-the-grid lodges in Western Maine are affordable, uber-green—with composting toilets, radiant heat and lighting, and photovoltaic panels—and easily accessible by train, bus or 2.5 hour drive from Portland. Other perks include yurts along the trails for when you want to warm up or have a lunch break, a gear shuttle if you’d rather not carry your packs from the trailhead to the lodges, and regular festivities like BBQ feasts and guided photo tours hosted by Ciclismo Classico. From $90 per person. Walk-ins are welcome, but private rooms are best reserved in advance.
The Envoy Hotel in Boston, Massachusetts
When the Autograph Collection by Marriott opened The Envoy Hotel this fall, it felt like another win for eco travelers; a big chain proving a hotel can be sleek and swanky while harmonizing the needs of the environment with the needs of guests. Taking cues from its new home in Boston’s Seaport Innovation District, where technology and a sustainable ethos reign, the 138-room property doesn’t hide the fact that it’s millennial-focused, proudly displaying cool factors like flat-screen TVs mounted on bicycles, local art pieces crafted out of re-purposed VHS tapes, light bulbs and books, a lobby chandelier adorned with old phone cords, and a general aesthetic that wants the world to know the interior has plenty of reclaimed elements. Add a dash of Tree Hugger Hash for breakfast, farm-centric dishes à la New England, mix in some local spirits—like Berkshire Mountain Distillers and an exclusive house brew by neighboring Harpoon Brewery—along with Fresh products, eco-friendly power sources, and design-oriented waterfront suites and you’ve got a recipe for a cozy carbon-conscious urban retreat. From $349 per night.
Field Guide in Stowe, Vermont
Whether it’s the nautical spirit of Nantucket or Newport’s Gilded Age, Lark Hotels are adept at quietly slipping in and capturing the essence of a place. And so with the brand’s October opening of Field Guide, guests seeking cozy modern digs inspired by the Green Mountain State along with hot tubs, fireplaces, and a fresh take on the best local adventures will discover they’ve come to the right place. Designed as a base camp for exploration in the great outdoors—from ski slopes to hiking trails—Field Guide’s intrinsic eco sensibilities represent a mindful renovation of Ye Olde England Inn. The property has replaced oil heat with new energy efficient gas furnaces, salvaged barn wood for beams, used dead tree stumps as side tables, and even employs organic cleaning products. When the Picnic Social restaurant opens later this winter with locally sourced fare (and an herb garden this spring), it will salvage the grease to be reused by a biodiesel company. In the meantime, Field Guide recommends dining at sustainable spot Hen of the Wood, helmed by James Beard finalist chef Eric Warnstedt. From $139 per night.
The Little Nell in Aspen, Colorado
While Aspen is hardly a hidden gem—it mastered that come-hither look back in 1950 when The Aspen Institute opened—the town’s founding principles of entrepreneurship, environmentalism, and exploration make it an incubator for continuous discovery. From the new Aspen Art Museum to its 2015 accolade as the third city in the country to run on 100% renewable energy, to The Little Nell’s new Skiing & Winter Adventures program, Aspen is a reliable winter retreat for intellectual ski bums. Among the hotel’s latest offerings is a guided snowmobile tour to the Maroon Bells followed by a food and wine soiree at Klondike Cabin at T-Lazy-7 Ranch. The Little Nell is full of cozy nooks, like the outdoor heated pool, plush suites with fireplaces and patios, and the après ski lounge Chair 9. The hotel’s myriad eco initiatives will impart warm fuzzies, too. It cuts CO2 emissions by 300 tons a year by using more energy-efficient boilers, its Eco-Luxe Program benefits the Environment Foundation, it locally sources food, has a strict recycling system, complimentary bikes and reusable water bottles, and provides free transportation from the airport, to the slopes, and around town, so no car is needed. From $1,050 per night.
The Wickaninnish Inn in Tofino, Canada
Storms usually ruin vacations, not enhance them. But on Vancouver Island’s rugged West Coast, storm watching at The Wickaninnish Inn is a phenomenon that lures guests back every winter. Its 100-acre oceanfront perch in a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve is prime real estate for experiencing the wild yet somehow pacifying maelstrom—which was the McDiarmid family’s big idea from the beginning. British Columbia is a breeding ground for conservationists (it created Greenpeace and the 100 Mile Diet), so it should come as no surprise that the hotel’s proprietors were green before there was even a tree-hugger movement. Still, their passion for preserving the environment is uplifting. There’s everything from a giant composter to walls of reclaimed Western Red Cedars to guided nature hikes through the lush rainforest to electric car chargers and a stringent locavore philosophy that brings in BC-sourced seafood, game, and produce. The Wickaninnish Inn is also active in the community, leading Earth Day cleanups and supporting high school athletics programs. While drinking a hot toddy in your fire-warmed suite or watching the waves crash against the rocks from a private balcony, you’ll realize this isn’t showing off; this is just the way it should be. From $300 per night, Storm Watchers package from $774.50, November 1-February 28.
The Scarlet in Cornwall, England
When London or life says it’s time for a much-needed break, find yourself on a five-hour train ride heading from the city to a shiny glass box atop a cliff in north Cornwall. The trip might seem long for a weekend jaunt, but The Scarlet is the kind of place that’s worth flying half way around the world to reach. No matter how you spend your days here—doing yoga or soaking in the wood-fired hot tub where the bluff meets the sea—this is one of those rare retreats that won’t get lost in the blurred vortex of vacations. The cooler months turn the hotel into a cocoon that seems to slow time; it’s likely something to do with the indoor pool overlooking Mawgan Porth Beach, the spicy hot chocolate best sipped fireside in the foyer, and the season-driven dishes—think wild sea bass with violet potatoes, caramelized shallot puree, and warm potted shrimps—that remind you good food should be lingered over. The Scarlet’s myriad green initiatives include a Guest Gifting Scheme that enables guests to donate to environmental charities on the North Coast like Surfers Against Sewage. From $353 per night.