Eco-Getaways

Resorts that go the extra “green” mile to protect the environment.

By Allan Richter

July/August 2012


In this annual feature, we profile several resorts that stand out for their commitment to both the environment and their guests.

Mohonk Mountain House
New Paltz, New York

Mohonk Mountain House, an historic Victorian castle resort, resides just 90 miles north of New York City. Yet it might seem like a visit to this idyllic setting in New York’s Hudson Valley transports you to the Swiss Alps during summer or some other faraway and beautifully rural locale.

This 143-year-old National Historic Landmark resort pays tribute to days gone by not just in its grand architecture but in eco-friendly practices that harken to a time when no one had remotely considered juxtaposing the words “global” and “warming.” Indeed, the resort received an award on its 125th anniversary from the United Nations Environment Programme, recognizing the founding Smiley family, still Mohonk’s owners, and the resort for their environmental stewardship.

Mohonk Mountain House is set on 1,200 acres in the midst of a 40,000-acre nature preserve. One of Mohonk’s newer developments, its spa, engages the earth it sits on with a geo­thermal heating and cooling system. A serene “green roof” garden terrace with an 8-inch planting bed helps insulate the building, cut energy use and provide a haven for butterflies and birds that mingle with guests in yoga classes or meditation.

And 600 tons of Shaw­angunk Ridge rock were used to build the spa wing’s interior and facade, while the spa’s Shawangunk Grit Mineral body treatment uses indigenous quartzite rocks crushed to a powder.

Another soothing and invigorating treatment that nature inspires is the Signature Elements of Nature—“Mohonk Red” Massage, which incorporates an array of techniques, including Swedish massage, Hawaiian Lomi Lomi massage, and traditional Thai stretches. The massages begins with the inhalation of calming evergreen and, honoring the “Mohonk Red” Witch Hazel grown on the property, warmed towels infused with witch hazel cocoon your face and feet.

Mohonk’s nod to the earth is evident to dining guests, too. Mohonk supports a century-old farming tradition by providing land for the nearby Brook Farm Project, a community cooperative that supplies farm-to-table seasonal produce to hotel guests.

In rich wood dining rooms with large windows overlooking the mountains, guests can dine on dishes that reflect Mohonk’s early agrarian history, such as Roasted Herb Marinated Half-Chicken with Sweet Onion Stuffing and Spring Vegetables; a Mohonk Signature Tossed Salad with Roasted Root Vegetables; Red Peppers with basil and pistachio oil; or Black Mission Figs with port syrup, mâche and smoked duck breast (See recipes for the latter two below).

There is no shortage of activities that put guests in touch with nature. A staff naturalist leads environmental programs, and a Junior Naturalist Experience puts a magnifying glass and other Eco-Kit goodies in the hands of kids to take home so they can expand on their green skills.

Beginners and more experienced rock climbers alike can climb on-site ridges reachable along hikes. Along the trails, guests can stop and soak up breathtaking views as they sit in rustic gazebos cut from raw tree limbs. The perches put guests among the evergreen treetops, as do the views from the Mohonk spa’s inviting lounges and stone fireplace-equipped solarium.

Energy-efficient lightbulbs, composting and recycling are evident at Mohonk, too, but it’s the timeless glory of nature surrounding and permeating the property that makes this resort’s bear hug to the environment so mighty.

 

Suggestions from Chef Jim Palmeri at Mohonk Mountain House:

Red Peppers with Basil
and Pistachio Oil

“The pistachio oil is unique and simple to make; its bold flavor complements the rich,
sweet taste of the red peppers,” says Palmeri.

Ingredients:
4 Red Peppers
1 bunch basil
1 cup toasted pistachios
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
Fleur de Sel to taste
Cracked black pepper to taste

Directions: Char grill the peppers over flame until blackened. Wash skin off until all blackened skin is removed. Puree pistachio and olive oil in blender until smooth. Cut basil into very thin strips. Place roasted peppers on plate and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Drizzle pistachio oil over and top with basil. Serve immediately. Serves four.

 

Black Mission Figs With Port Syrup, Mâche and Smoked Duck Breast

“Smoked duck especially takes to the sweet, fruity flavor of figs,
which are filled with fiber, calcium and vitamins,” Palmeri says.

Ingredients:
4 large, ripe Black Mission figs
2 cups baby mâche lettuce
1 cup port wine
2 smoked duck breasts, with skin removed*
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Fleur de Sel to taste
Cracked black pepper to taste

Directions: In small pan, reduce port wine until liquid resembles syrup. Remove from heat and let cool at room temperature. Toss baby mâche lettuce in extra virgin olive oil and place in middle of plate. Thinly slice duck breast and arrange over top of mache, using half a breast per plate. Garnish each plate with one fig cut in half. Drizzle port reduction around plate and season lightly with salt and cracked pepper. Serves four.

* Smoked duck breasts can be purchased at most local grocery stores. Sliced, roasted chicken can be substituted for the duck.

 

The Palms Hotel & Spa
Miami Beach, Florida

South Beach in Miami has its share of wild scenes—tourists gawking at sunbathing models by day and dance club revelers bathing in neon marquee lights by night. A few blocks north of this bustle, however, is an oceanfront oasis attuned to the rhythms of its more natural environment.

The Palms Hotel & Spa is Florida Green Lodging-certified and was honored by Sustainable South Florida Awards last year for good reason. It has embarked on an aggressive environmental program, with the fitting tagline “Inspired by Nature,” that reduces its carbon footprint while bolstering the guest experience at, for example, its signature restaurant, Essencia, and its Aveda spa.

Essencia offers seasonal foods, much from local farmers and purveyors who provide it with produce, meat and seafood. Herbs and other greens also come from the hotel’s organic garden of six individual beds totaling 750 square feet of growing space, pictured above right. Garden bounty is used in the restaurant’s tomato salad with basil and ceviche with cilantro, among other dishes.

At the Aveda spa, guests can immerse themselves in an egg-shaped HydroCapsule that reuses water for a skin-softening Aqua Salt Glow. Among spa beauty products for sale is SpaRitual, a vegan luxury nail care line.

A third of The Palms’ toilets use hand wash water to flush; the rest consume only 1.4 GPM. The Palms donates mildly used office materials and toiletries to a local shelter. And pieces of driftwood around hotel public spaces serve as plant holders.

Beyond its borders, The Palms encouraged the Deco Bikes bike-rental company to place its bike racks near the property. And the hotel has “adopted” the stretch of beach between 29th and 32nd streets, where guests can volunteer in a quarterly happy hour beach-cleaning drive called Trash Bash. In-room cards remind guests to tread lightly on the beach by, say, avoiding leaving plastic six-pack rings that could hurt marine life.

 


Stanford Inn by the Sea
Mendocino, California

A canoe ride along the Big River Estuary in Mendocino, California, can make for a pleasant afternoon, during which you can view harbor seals, river otters and a variety of bird life while traversing a scenic redwood canyon. But if the wind picks up and waters get a bit rough, the Stanford Inn by the Sea’s motor-equipped double hull, 33-foot outrigger canoe—powered by the wind, sun and battery—can steer you through them.

The reason for the solar-powered canoe will quickly become apparent to guests of the earth-friendly Stanford Inn. For more than three decades, owners Jeff and Joan Stanford have been embracing sustainable practices at the 41-room Inn, home to an award-winning vegan restaurant, Ravens, where all produce is organic. Much is grown onsite at Big River Nurseries, the Stanfords’ USDA-California Certified Organic farm.

Stanford Inn by the Sea composts all food and organic wastes that are then recycled into its 10 acres of gardens, eliminating the use of outside fertilizers. It recycles all other waste.

In addition to offering vegan fine dining, the Inn’s wine list is culled from certified organic vineyards or those using sustainable, traditional farming.

Guests can leave the four-diamond Stanford Inn well-versed in some of the sustainable cooking concepts the Inn’s chefs are equipped with. The Inn provides classes in cooking, nutrition, Chinese herbal practices, gardening and composting. And the Inn’s Mendocino Center for Living Well means your body can be as healthy as the property’s environs; it offers yoga, tai chi, body work, acupuncture and consultations on Ayurvedic practice.

It all makes for a healthy environment, which guests can soak up with excursions such as “Exploring the Edible Landscape” on land, and sea mammal and bioluminescent tours on the water. And the Inn’s bike and kayak rentals, and, of course, canoes, are all zero-emission options to explore this bucolic area.

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