Villaggi La Francesca – an Italian eco stay

La Francesca is situated in the La Spezia area of Italy and is the natural doorway to the Cinque Terre National Park. Perched on the Ligurian Eastern Rivervia in Italy, near Bonassola and Levanto, the owners of this 50-year old resort are making the most of the beautiful natural surroundings. Visitors are lured with the promise of wild, rugged coastlines, beaches, woodland, medieval villages, olive groves, farms and an abundance of flowers in the Spring/Summer months. The resort clings to the steep coastline and leads down to a bay – the surrounding marine area is protected (whales and dolphins often pass by).

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Accommodation: La Francesca consists of 55 villas and apartments – which all face the sea – dotted around 15 hectares of protected area rich in pine trees and Mediterranean plants. Choose from one bedroom apartments or family cottages – all have bedrooms, living areas and basic kitchenettes.

Food: The on-site restaurant offers magnificent sea views from the terrace, plus a menu based on Mediterranean and Ligurian traditions and food and wines from the region. There’s also a bar on site.

Activities: The resort itself has all the usual sports facilities (swimming pool, tennis courts, bowling, table tennis etc) but surely most enjoyment comes from exploring the surrounding area with a number of treks (easy and slightly harder) available straight from La Francesca. There are plenty of outdoor activites for nature lovers and adventure seekers available through the nearby National Parks including cave and wreck diving; snorkeling; surfing; horse-riding; cycling; hiking; plus tightropes and zipwires at ‘Tree Adventures’ (Parco Avventura Val di Vara). As a family-friendly resort, a 10,000 sqm play area is a dream for children. There is also a small mini-market on site.

The National Parks: Alongside Cinque Terre you will also find –

  • Regional Natural Park of Portovenere, which besides Portus Veneris, the ancient port of Roman triremes, includes the islands of Palmaria, Tino and Tinetto. The park still keeps traces of the prehistoric people who inhabited the Grotta dei Colombi.
  • Regional Natural Park of Montemarcello-Magra, an area of 4,320 hectares. Not only a set of wonderful landscapes, but also home to organisations such as the Centro Regionale Fauna Minore and the Orto Botanico of Montemarcello.
  • Regional Natural Park of Portofino, situated on Portofino headland, 1,800 hectares and 13 kms of coasts. The headland summit is accessibile only through the paths network.

Recommended for… Those who love nature and outdoor activities. Also very family-friendly.

Be aware that… This is not a self-catering holiday to escape from it all: the basic kitchen facilities mean you will have to eat in the (albeit lovely) resort restaurant or drive further afield.

‘Good’ credentials:

  • La Francesca has installed solar panels and uses solar-generated power whenver possible
  • Management of the site is respectful of the natural surroundings and encourages guests to consume less power
  • Situated in an area of outstanding natural beauty, and next to several protected areas and National Parks
  • The owners promote traditional Ligurian culture, food and history (through cookery courses, wine tasting and more)

 

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New Greek sea turtle project launched

Volunteering NGO Frontier has added a new conservation project to its volunteering trip roster. The Greece Sea Turtle Conservation project gives volunteers hands-on opportunities to help monitor and relocate endangered loggerhead turtle hachlings.

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Frontier works with a local Greek partner organisation that has been conducting vital research in the Kalamata area of Greece since 1983. The Peloponnese coastline here is an important breeding area for the loggerhead sea turtle in the Mediterranean and the projects aims to protect them through monitoring and research, developing and implementing management plans, habitat restoration, raising public awareness and rehabilitating sick and injured turtles. Protecting loggerhead sea turtle nests against predation by mammals, and inundation by incoming tides ensures that as many hatchlings as possible are added to the global population each year. Alongside this, public awareness activities and environmental education days help educate the local people to adopt friendlier attitudes towards the natural environment and gain a deeper understanding into the importance of conserving loggerhead turtles.

Activity: Work will vary depending on the current needs of the project but you could expect to be involved in turtle egg collection, nest excavation, scientific monitoring and tagging of hatchlings and turtles, and educating visitors about the project. You could also get the opportunity to learn about marine flora. During the first two weeks volunteers prepare for the oncoming nesting season and carry out beach clean ups. During peak nesting season (mid May-mid August) tasks may include morning surveys to look for adult turtle tracks and locate nests, ‘caging’ or relocating threatened nests and night surveys to observe and tag nesting females. During hatching season (mid July- late October) volunteers look for baby turtle tracks, monitor hatching nests and tag adult female turtles during nesting.

When not at work, everyone has a chance to relax on the beach, or explore the surrounding area to get a flavour of Greekhatchling emerges from the nest culture.

Accommodation: All volunteers stay in beautifully scenic surroundings on a campsite right on the beach. You need to bring your own tent, camping equipment, bedding etc, but cooking facilities, showers and toilets are provided – the campsite also has a small restaurant, telephone and internet facilities. There’s a strong communal atmosphere with everyone pitching in with cooking and cleaning.

For further details, including dates and prices, visit Greece Sea Turtle Conservation – Frontier

Recommended for… People who love wildlife (and the sea) and want to help protect an endangered species

Be aware that… Life on the project is communal (except for your own private tent) with a shared food kitty, cooking and cleaning duties. It may not suit you if you’d rather spend time on your own or in very small groups.

‘Good’ credentials:

  • Helping to protect an endangered species
  • Aiding an established conservation organisation that has been operating in the area since 1983
  • Low-impact living on site

 

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Six of the best romantic eco retreats

What could be more romantic than seclusion, tranquility and being close to nature? Luckily, those qualities are often in abundance when it comes to eco accommodation. From luxury eco resorts to cosy lodges for two, here are six of the best retreats for romantic getaways…

Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort, FijiJean-Michel Cousteau Resort, Fiji

Frequently named as one of the best eco resorts in the world, this Fijian gem is luxurious to the hilt. Dedicated to sustainability, the resort owners respect the beautiful natural surroundings and take advantage of sensitve and traditional Fijian farming principles in its organic garden and surrounding land. Alongside the expected recycling, composting, solar power and water preservation, the resort runs a conservation programme looking after the reef on the edge of the resort, a designated marine reserve.

Romance factor: 25 individual bures (Fijian bungalows) are set in 17 acres of old coconut plantation – and each offer lots of South Pacific style. Go for the Honeymoon Point Reef Bure with its private hot tub overlooking the ocean. If you want to really ramp up the romance factor, you can book a day’s stay on the resort’s private island – packed off with a champagne picnic it’s the ultimate paradise for two!

Visit: www.fijiresort.com

Ecopod Boutique Retreat, Scotland

Ecopod, ScotlandThe first of its kind in the UK, the new Ecopod Boutique Retreat is luxury self-catering in a modern geodesic dome, and a fantastic piece of low-carbon living. The pod, built with sustainable timber and minimal concrete, blends into the surrounding birch trees in this beautiful part of west Scotland. Heating is provided by a highly-efficient wood pellet stove; fresh water comes from a hill stream filtering through the forest; waste water is treated with the Biorock system; and the pod is equipped with energy-efficient appliances and locally-sourced produce and toiletries. Guests are offered a 10% discount if they arrive by train or bicycle.

Romance factor: The light-filled dome offers spectacular views of Castle Stalker (which appeared in the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail!) and Loch Linnhe. The interiors are uber-stylish (think 1970s Eames chairs and other durable design classics); and the wood burner adds extra cosiness.

Visit: www.domesweetdome.co.uk

Boroka Downs, Australia

Boroka Downs offers secluded luxury in the majestic Grampians. As a nature based retreat it has been designed, built and is operated with environmental sustainability at its heart. The modern individual residences are low carbon – double-glazed, fully insulated, run on solar power, and each with their own rain water tank. Recycling takes place throughout and free range chickens take care of food scraps. Around 15,000 native trees and shrubs have been planted on the site in the past five years.

Romance factor: They promise seclusion and discretion throughout your stay… The bungalows are kitted out with all the latest mod cons plus sleek and stylish handmade furniture. You can relax in your private spa while enjoying the view through your glass walls. For serious romantics, Boroka Downs also offer ‘Elopement Packages’!

Visit: www.borokadowns.com.au

Golden Buddha Beach Resort, Thailandsunset on Koh Phra Thong, Thailand

Arriving by long boat you’re bound to be greeted by smiles from the friendly staff of Golden Buddha Beach Resort. Everyone will make you feel welcome on this island, but you’ll have plenty of opportunities for time alone. The luxury beach bungalows, all with a sea view, were built using sustainable materials with sensitive land management and minimal energy usage in place throughout the resort.

Romance factor: You can fall asleep to the sounds of the local wildlife and nearby waves if you keep your bedroom wall open (but still enjoy privacy as each bungalow is placed well away from neighbours). Excellent, freshly prepared local food can be enjoyed in the candle-lit restaurant every night.

Visit: www.goldenbuddharesort.com or read our full review here

Kanopi House, Jamaica

The resort owners know how to marry laid-back Jamaican style with environmentally-friendly tourism. Eco-friendly, low impact, organic, and green: Kanopi House treads gently upon the earth. The resort operates a ‘grey water’ system, processed along a lined reed bed, and uses sustainable, regionally sourced hardwoods.  Furnishings, decor and artworks are produced from renewable Jamaican materials, and designed and handcrafted by local artisans.

Romance factor: You can gaze at the Caribbean sea from your chic tree house, before taking a stroll through a jungle of Banyan trees and flowering ginger lily down to a secluded, white sand cove. The resort’s private shoreline and coral reef is a haven for purple manta rays.

Visit: www.kanopihouse.com

Hotelito Desconocido, MexicoHotelido Desconodio

The rooms, restaurants and facilities of this paradise getaway are surrounded by more than 60km of white sandy beaches, a lagoon, crystal clear waterways, gardens, palm trees and fruit trees. In this magical setting, declared by UNESCO aquifer paradise for birds, live pelicans, herons, frigates and hundreds of species of animals that the resort is helping to preserve.

Romance factor: Enjoy delicious organic food in the restaurant, relax with specialised treatments in the spa, sunbathe on the beach, or take a boat for two out onto the lagoon to spot local wildlife. They also specialise in those fantasy-style beach weddings…

 

 

 

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A Beginner’s Guide to Eco Stays

(This article was originally published in Ethics Girls magazine)

A decade ago, the concept of eco-friendly travel was, in many people’s minds, limited only to camping – roughing it under canvas whilst chopping your own firewood, communing with nature and truly ‘getting away from it all’. That will never lose its appeal for many, but 21st century ‘eco accommodation’ comes in many more guises.

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From glampsites to luxury resorts, we are now spoilt for choice when it comes to eco (or green/sustainable/responsible – call it what you will!) places to stay on holiday. Here’s the Goodtrippers guide to selecting the right eco stay for you…

The Luxury Eco Resort: For those who love some indulgence on holiday… Usually found somewhere exotic like Thailand or Australia, luxury eco resorts offer beautiful rooms plus high-end facilities and services (massages, spas, room service) but are run on renewable energy, built from sustainable materials, and employ local people on good wages. Try Longitude 131 an award-winning eco-sensitive resort in the Australian outback near Ayres Rock run entirely on solar energy; or Golden Buddha Beach Resort on the Andaman Coast of Thailand which is built from sustainable materials, minimises power usage and provides good jobs for local people.

The Eco ‘Lodge’: Without the ‘bling’ of a luxury eco resort, the eco lodge is no less special. Often more rustic, an eco lodge could consist of a collection of separate ‘bungalows’ or huts in a style unique to its location – whether that be jungle, snowy mountain range, beach or lakeside. For outdoors enthusiasts, eco-conscious Nimmo Bay Wilderness Resort in British Columbia, Canada, offers six cosy cabins situated lakeside; or Our Jungle House in Thailand is an eco-friendly cluster of romantic treehouses.

The Ethical Hotel: Many hotels around the world boast environmental standards (reducing, recycling and reusing where possible) but some are going the extra mile to do something above and beyond what the average person would do at home. Bardessono is a LEED platinum-certified hotel in California’s Napa Valley, with a tonne of energy-saving technology, sustainable materials and recycling plans for a high-tech green stay; or try the 4-star Lancaster Hotel in London with its strong environmental and community policies, and its own Rooftop Honey Farm!

The Sustainable B&B: Cosier and more down-to-earth than your grand hotel, a sustainable ‘bed and breakfast’ will often keep it local with its own kitchen garden produce, handmade organic toiletries and low energy usage. One of only four officially certified organic B&Bs in the UK, the Orchard Farmhouse Organic B&B in the Dorset countryside offers an exclusively organic breakfast amongst the peace, quiet and picturesque views; for a chic city B&B The Zetter Townhouse in London sources water from its own borehole and uses eco-friendly paint throughout.

The Glampsite: If you can’t bear to be without home comforts, a ‘glampsite’ (glamorous camping site) is a million miles away from a leaky tent. Whether it be sleeping under the stars in a glass pod near the Arctic or snoozing under canvas on the African plains, these more unusual choices are hard to beat. Eco-conscious Campi Ya Kanzi in Kenya is a safari dream that is solar-powered and works in partnership with the local Maasai community; the cluster of geodesic domes of EcoCamp in Patagonia is packed with green technology allowing you to fall asleep under the stars; or try the Barefoot Yurts in East Sussex, UK, which are 90% built from reclaimed materials with solar lighting and a composting loo.

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Naturetrek launches 14 new tours for 2013

European bee-eater in Sicily
European bee-eater in Sicily (picture by Naturetrek)

Wildlife specialist Naturetrek’s new 2013 brochure contains 14 new tours, including four new UK options.

Those 14 new offerings (see factsheet below for details) include a spring birdwatching trip to Sicily, a ‘Killer Whales & Northern Lights’ tour of Iceland, puma-watching in Chile, a visit to India’s little-known Satpura National Park and an exploration of Baffin Island in Canada.

Wildlife watching around the world

Elsewhere, the vast array of existing trips includes butterfly-viewing trips to Hungary and Greece; birding tours from Sri Lanka to Florida; jaguar-watching tours in Brazil; flora-themed visits to Kazakhstan, Norway and Ecuador; whale-watching in West Greenland and Monterey Bay; tours observing bears in Spain and Finland; and other itineraries themed around snakes, snow leopards, wolves, dragonflies, red pandas and much more.

In total, Naturetrek now offers around 350 tours to nearly every corner of the world.  That includes the ever-expanding range of UK trips, which takes in the Shetland Isles, the Scillies and the famous Somerset Levels starling murmurations.

Most tours are open to enthusiasts of all levels, although some will suit a more experienced and knowledgeable traveller.  New for 2013, Naturetrek is launching a range of Beginners’ Birdwatching Tours, aimed at those who are keen to go birding, but fear looking foolish amid seasoned veterans sporting well-used binoculars!

Small groups and solo travellers

The majority of Naturetrek trips operate in small groups (average 10-12 people; maximum 16); because these groups include many solo travellers, there’s usually a room-sharing option for those who don’t wish to pay a single supplement.  Each group is guided by a leading, experienced ornithologist or botanist (often both), and each tour departs at a carefully-chosen time when the widlife-viewing experience will be at its most rewarding. Nearly all trips are also available (at a different cost) on a tailormade basis too, for clients who cannot make the set departure dates, or who prefer to travel privately.

For more information on any of Naturetrek’s wildlife itineraries or to request a copy of the new 2013 brochure, call them on 01962 733051 or visit www.naturetrek.co.uk. (If you’re in the UK, they’re based in rural Hampshire in a beautiful converted mill with a Site of Special Scientific Interest nearby!).

‘Good’ credentials:

  • Run by wildlife enthusiasts with 25 years’ of experience – the founders are naturalists and conservationists turned tour operators
  • A commitment to sustainable tourism has been at the company’s heart since its inception
  • Tours involve small groups using local accommodation and facilities to help support the local communities
  • Naturetrek develops partnerships with local communities and naturalists, such as financing the regeneration of land in Nepal to create two ecotourism camps – Koshi and Suklaphanta
  • Some tours include charity donations to organisations such as Butterfly Conservation, International Animal Rescue and the Environmental Investigation Agency
  • They are currently developing other conservation and sustainable tourism projects around the world
  • They are expanding their range of UK-based (flightless) tours

 

Satpura National Park, India
Satpura National Park, India (picture by Naturetrek)

NEW tours for 2013

UK

Islay & Mull… In Style!: Your first stop is a four-night stay on Islay, popular with birdwatchers due to its numerous species of visiting Arctic wildfowl. Then there are two days spent on the smaller island of Mull, with its mountains, moorlands and vast sea-lochs, home to otters, birds of prey, rutting red deer and much more.  Accommodation is on each island’s best hotel; that includes Mull’s wonderful Tiroran House Hotel.

Departing 31 October & 1 November; prices from £1,195 pp**

Wild Flowers of Cornwall’s Lizard Peninsula: Enjoy coastal and inland walks during this three-night break in search of Cornwall’s botanical wonders. The Lizard Peninsula is one of the UK’s top sites for plant-life thanks to its diverse landscapes and geology. The trip includes Gew Graze Valley, known for unique outcrops of mineral-rich serpentine rock.

Departing 31 May; prices from £395 pp**
The Yorkshire Coast & Moors

This long-weekend birdwatching holiday starts at the chalk cliffs of Flamborough and Bempton, home to over 200,000 seabirds. Then follows a stop at Filey Dams Nature Reserve, a botanical hub for well known British birds such as the tree sparrow, before time on those classic North Yorkshire Moors.

Departing 25 & 28 June and 2 July; prices from £450 pp**

The Wild Flowers of Upper Teesdale
Upper Teesdale sits in the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. This four-day expedition covers a variety of environments, from low-lying hay meadows to rough grazing pastures and summit heaths on high fells. Discover which species make up the ‘Teesdale Assemblage’ while admiring the breeding birds of these remote moors.

Departing 21 June; prices from £450 pp**


EUROPE

Iceland – Killer Whales & Northern Lights: This five-day break centres on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula where, in winter, killer whale pods and seabirds congregate as large shoals of herring pass by. Watch the spectacle on land and out at sea, and then, after dark, look skywards to (hopefully) see the Northern Lights.

Departing 3 & 18 February; prices from £1,295 pp*

Lesbos in Autumn: Lesbos lies just a few kilometres from the coast of Turkey, and has a magnificent coastline that supports a diverse bird population. From a secluded-village base, this eight-day trip offers an opportunity to explore the island’s many migratory hotspots whilst enjoying some Aegean sunshine.

Departing 28& 29 September; prices from £1,295 pp*

Fjords, Arctic Birds & Northern Lights!… A Norwegian Coastal Voyage: Including a three-night cruise during which the Northern Lights will hopefully be seen, this six-day trip to the Arctic Circle observes the seabirds which occupy this most extreme – and scenic – region.

Departing 26 February; prices from £1,795 pp*

Spring Birding in Sicily: Within the beautiful setting of eastern Sicily, this seven-day adventure focuses on the spring migration of native birds such as the nightjar and hoopoe. From the 800-year-old converted farmhouse base, daily excursions are made to watch the birds amid the spectacular Sicilian landscape.

Departing 1 May; prices from £1,295 pp*

 

AMERICAS

Inuit Adventure: Narwhals & Other Wildlife of Baffin Island: On a ten-day trip around Canada’s largest island, expert guides will lead daily expeditions on Inuit sleds to discover the Arctic’s most elusive wildlife. Baffin Island is the only place in the world consistently inhabited by the Narwhal, with its distinctive long, narrow tusk, while other sightings regularly include polar bears.

Departing 2 June; prices from £8,995 pp*

Eastern Canada – Whales, Bears & Fall Migration: Ranking among Canada’s most stunning landscapes, Quebec is home to large populations of wildlife such as beluga whales and black bears. This 12-day holiday features walks and cruises through the beautiful creeks and forests where these creatures are regularly seen.

Departing 9 September; prices from £4,395 pp*

Chile – Just Pumas!: This 11-day trip starts off in the Chilean capital, Santiago, before heading into the heart of the Andes. The route passes flamingo-lined lakes to reach Torres del Paine National Park and its glaciers and mountains – which provide a perfect habitat for the puma. Days will be spent devoted to exploring, and seeking out this iconic cat.

Departing 14 March & 4 April; prices from £3,995 pp*

Peru – Mountain Lodges Trek to Machu Picchu: The classic landmark of Machu Picchu is appreciated fully on this 12-day trip, with six days allocated to trekking slowly towards it across the Peruvian Andes. The route offers unique insight into the landscape and wildlife of the area while plotting a slightly different course to the classic Inca Trail.

Departing 10 November; prices from £3,695 pp*


ASIA

Not Just Tigers! Satpura – Best of Central India: This is a ten-day exploration of one of India’s most scenic – and least-known – tiger reserves. While tigers are shy in Satpura National Park and thus rarely-seen, there’s a good chance of encountering other iconic animals, such as leopard, sloth bear, gaur and Asian wild dog, in the 1,500km² grounds. The park’s equally empty of tourists, despite its beauty and sheer remoteness being so stunning.

Departing 9 November, 21 December, 8 February, 15 March & 5 April; prices from £2,395 pp*

 

Wild Sri Lanka… In Style!: This 14-day holiday provides the chance to encounter Sri Lanka’s diverse wildlife – blue whales, leopards, crocodiles, wild boar, warblers and parrots included. You’ll also get to stay in luxury accommodation and admire some of the tropical country’s most impressive archaeological sites, including ancient Polonnaruwa.

Departing 19 November & 14 January; prices from £3,595*

* Prices include flights (London), transport, comfortable accommodation with all or most meals and guiding from an expert naturalist.

** Price includes transport whilst on tour, comfortable accommodation with meals (breakfast and evening meals as a minimum) and guiding from an expert naturalist.

Cley Marshes Visitor Centre Cafe, Norfolk

Norfolk Wildlife Trust (NWT) Cley Marshes, Coast Road, Cley-next-the-Sea, Norfolk NR25 7SA

T: 01263 740008 / www.norfolkwildlifetrust.org.uk/cley

Cley Marshes Visitor Centre

This gleaming piece of modernist sustainable design sits on one of the UK’s oldest nature reserves. Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s Cley Marshes Visitor Centre reopened in 2007 as this eco-friendly powerhouse – and I’m putting it here in ‘Good Eats’ as the cafe is a great way to experience it!

Cley Marshes is a mecca for birdwatchers because it’s one of the best places in the country to view huge numbers of wintering and migrating wildfowl and waders, plus the rare bittern and marsh harrier. But you don’t have to be an ornothologist to enjoy a visit here – the North Norfolk coast is rugged and expansive so you can experience exhilerating walks along a truly wild and natural beaches. And when you’ve come back from the beach (or a stroll through the official Cley Marshes Nature Reserve – entry fee applies if you’re not a Wildlife Trust member), head to the visitor centre’s cafe.

The menu is basic (don’t expect large lunches, this is meant as a bird-watcher’s pit-stop) but there’s plenty of fresh and wholesome choices in the sandwiches, jacket potatoes and cakes. There are often daily specials involving soups, quiches, ‘Norfolk ploughmans’, locally made pork pies and sausage rolls (grab the onion marmalade ones if you can), and local crab sandwiches or salads (which is what we chose on our visit – nothing like eating seafood minutes from where it was caught). Coffee is good, as is the hot chocolate if you’re visiting on a cold day.Cley Marshes Nature Reserve

The great thing about the cafe is the building which was awarded Best Sustainable Development by Emirates Glass LEAF Awards for its innovative use of sustainable technology. The centre has a stunning sedum-covered green roof to attract butterflies, ease water drainage and blend into the landscape. Power by a wind turbine, solar panels and ground source heat pump, the centre has also been built to minimise energy wastage.

Enjoying a coffee and a fresh crab sandwich indoors you can sit along the cafe-wide window and gaze out across the windswept marshes and endless skies of Norfolk. Visitors can also take turns to use the binoculars provided (most visitors have their own high-tech pairs!) and watch the comings and goings of various birdlife. If you need help, the extensive bookshop (and gift shop) behind you will have a wildlife book for you.

Recommended for… Bird-watchers and nature-lovers (but also anyone who appreciates the wild, natural surroundings of the Norfolk coast)

Be aware that… The menu is small and only meant for quick snacks and light lunches (it closes at 4.30pm, or 3.30pm in winter).

‘Good’ credentials:

  • Award-winning sustainable building
  • Energy use and waste is minimise
  • Recycling, reusing wherever possible
  • Small wildlife garden to the rear, and green roof attract wildlife
  • Locally-sourced and produced food
  • Wheelchair accessible
  • ‘Wildlife Detective’ bumbags available for kids for free
  • Proceeds from the cafe (and gift shop) go to the Norfolk Wildlife Trust conservation charity

 

 

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The Goodtrippers Guide to Olympic London

If you’re coming to London for the 2012 Olympics, here are a few ‘Goodtrippers-style’ ideas to fill in the time between track ‘n’ field for any responsible city tourist…

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1. Take a walk in a green space: London is one of the greenest capitals in the world. Seen from above over half of it is green (parkland, allotments, gardens, green roofs and other green spaces) and blue (lakes, rivers, canals and ponds). The Royal Parks (many of which are hosting Olympic and Paralympic events) of Hyde Park, Green Park and St James’s Park are a mix of open space, tree-lined avenues, herbaceous borders and wildlife areas which attract a range of birds, butterflies and insects. But do seek out the green spaces in Zones 2, 3 and beyond – you would struggle to believe you’re in a major capital city when standing in the huge Hampstead Heath or Richmond Park. If you want to explore areas within easy distance of the Olympic site visit Victoria Park in Hackney, Highgate Woods in Haringey or Epping Forest on the London/Essex border for great walks and picnic areas away from the well-trodden tourist path.

2. Visit a food market: London may not be able to rival the streets of SE Asia for street food – but it’s getting close! The city is teeming with food markets, farmers markets, food carts and pop-ups supplying some of the best in organic, sustainable, local produce that you can purchase direct from independent producers. Bahn mi or jerk chicken? Seafood or pie ‘n’ mash? BBQ or veggie? The world is already here in London’s food markets… Borough Market has been going in some form or another for 1,000 years! It’s world-class for seasonal, organic and local produce and is open every day during the Olympics and Paralympics (visit the website for more details). Try Eat.St near Kings Cross station (open Mon-Fri) or catch some of the Eat.St traders on SW7’s Exhibition Road for a special Olympic showing 28 July – 5 August. If you’re venturing out of Zone 1 (and we recommend you do!), visit the Alexandra Palace Farmers’ Market (Sundays 10am – 3pm) for fresh meats, seafood, fruit and veg plus speciality cheeses, sauces, cakes, bread and street food. Or for one of our favourites, read our post on the Real Food Market on London’s Southbank.

3. Always take an umbrella with you. Even if it’s sunny when you leave your hotel…

4. Buy a copy of the the Big Issue: Since hitting the streets in 1991, the Big Issue magazine has been helping some of society’s most excluded people by giving the homeless a chance to take control of their lives and earn a legitimate income. So if you see a Big Issue seller (they are recognisable by their official ID badges) take a moment to stop, smile, chat and buy a copy – it’s only £2 (and that won’t even get you a coffee in most of London…)

5. Choose eco accommodation: A rather optimistic entry (if you haven’t sorted your accommodation yet…good luck!) but if you do still have a choice, make it an eco-friendly one. The Cavendish is one of London’s leading eco hotels and has been awarded the Green Tourism for London Gold Award amongst others; The Lancaster is committed to supporting sustainability and local charities (and the urban bee population with their Rooftop Honey Farm!); or for something extremely cool and quirky The Zetter Hotel and Townhouse in Clerkenwell is one of the best boutique hotels around, let alone in the eco sphere – they source their own water from an internal borehole, use enviro-friendly paint throughout, and have special ‘occupancy detection’ technology which means little energy is used in vacant rooms.

6. Please stand on the right (walk on the left) when on the tube escalator (you will impress the locals)

7. Step away from the mainstream supermarket: At some point on your holiday you’ll need to stock up on supplies. Steer yourself away from the high street chains and mainstream supermarkets and spend your money more smartly. Buy your goodies from small independent stores or, if you’re in the Holborn area, The People’s Supermarket. Opened in 2010, this social enterprise was inspired by a similar scheme in New York with the community becoming members of the business by buying shares and volunteering some hours per month to working in the store. You don’t have to be a member to browse and buy from the household goods, bakery and florist on offer. The business has strong eco credentials and is committed to environmental and sustainable best practice. Open everyday 8am – 10pm (except Sun 10am – 9pm) – find them at 72-78 Lamb’s Conduit St, Holborn, London WC1N 3LP.

8. Have a traditional British pint: If you’re an overseas visitor you’ll no doubt be seeking out those proper ‘English experiences’ and having a pint in a pub fits the bill perfectly (and if you’re a Brit visiting London you’ll need to know the best pubs anyway!). The Duke of Cambridge in Islington, north London, is the UK’s first and only pub to be certified by organic body the  Soil Association. Their ethical business ideals remain strong today and the delicious menu is full of organic, local (80% sourced within the Home Counties) and seasonal ingredients. They also recycle and reuse wherever possible, and their electricity is wind and solar generated. Find them at 30 St Peter’s Street, Islington, London N1. Read our review of The Duke of Cambridge here.

9. Volunteer your time: Take a break from sightseeing and shopping and volunteer a day of your holiday to helping a local charity. Like many big cities, London has its fair share of challenges – those problems won’t be solved in a day but some charities and projects will welcome an extra pair of hands if you’ve just a few hours or day or two to spare. You could be planting trees and maintaining wildflower meadows; providing an elderly person with some conversation and company; serving food in a homeless shelter; or helping out at a youth or community centre. It could be a real eye-opener and will certainly reveal another side of the city far from the guidebook itineries. Look for opportunities via volunteering directories Time Bank, Do-It or Greater London Volunteering.

If you’ve visited any of these places, we’d love to hear about it. Why not write a recommendation for Goodtrippers? Read the guest blogger guidelines and get in touch.

The Kings Head, Norfolk, England

The King’s Head

Holt Road, Letheringsett, Norfolk NR25 7AR

T: 01263 712691 / E: kingshead@flyingkiwiinns.co.uk

www.kingsheadnorfolk.co.uk

The Kings Head, Letheringsett, Norfolk

I love this pub – plain and simple. It could be the award-winning food; it could be its own brewed ‘Kiwi Ale’; it could be the beautiful rural location (maybe I’m biased – it is my home turf). But I’m not the only one – The King’s Head was awarded ‘Norfolk Dining Pub of the Year 2011’ by the Good Pub Guide. The King’s Head is one of five ‘Flying Kiwi Inns’ across Norfolk run by Master Chef and New Zealander Chris Courough. His passion for local, seasonal food dictates the brilliant menus.

Food: The menu makes the most of the North Norfolk location with fresh seasonal produce direct from local fishermen and farmers dominating the dishes (Chris’ ‘Food Heroes’ who specialise in some of the finest quality produce in the country). Naturally, the menu changes daily but expect dishes like caramelised pork belly with scallops, fillet of seabas with crab risotto, pan fried pigeon breast with beetroot, followed by homemade gooseberry fool or Kel’s chocolate brownie with pistacio semi-freddo. The pub rears its own herd of cows for the menu (best not to look at them in the adjacent field if you’re planning on ordering the beef…).

Drink: The pub offers an extensive wine list (specially selected by Norfolk Kiwi ale at The Kings HeadChris and UK Master of Wines John Atkinson) but as with all good country pubs, the real winners for me are the beers. Norfolk grows some of the best malting barley and local microbrewer ‘Jo C’ brews two ales for The King’s Head, ‘Norfolk Kiwi’ (my favourite) and ‘Bitter old Bustard’.

Additional information: The pub was extensively renovated in 2007 and is at the smart end of gastropub decor – leather club chairs, Farrow and Ball paint, cosy snugs and the ‘Shoot Room’ (available for private hire). It has a very large beer garden (with big play ‘castle’ for kids). Alongside lunch and dinner, the pub also serves morning and afternoon cakes and coffee, and ‘kid’s high tea’ midweek during term time.

Recommended for… A pint of the ‘Norfolk Kiwi’ local ale with your Sunday lunch

Be aware that… Vegetarians are well catered for with the lunch menu but less so for dinner with maybe only one or two dishes suitable (but an early word with the kitchen on booking could result in some dishes being adapted).

‘Good’ credentials:

  • Emphasis on local, seasonal produce direct from farmers, fishermen and producers
  • Specialist microbrewed ales
  • Own herd of cows reared for menu in adjacent field (zero food miles!)
  • Menu ingredients include produce such as ethically-reared quail

 

Date of visit: April 2012

 

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The Duke of Cambridge, London

The Duke of Cambridge

30 St Peter’s Street, Islington, London N1

T: +44 (0)20 7359 3066

www.dukeorganic.co.uk

The Duke of Cambridge organic pubThis wonderful pub is tucked away from the busy thoroughfare of Islington’s Upper Street and Essex Road, located on a quiet corner, quietly getting on with being the UK’s first (and still only) officially certified organic pub. But don’t let the quietness deceive you – this is an incredibly popular gastropub thanks to its fantastic menu created around seasonal, local and organic produce.And with a bar full of organic drinks on offer, there’s less chance of any ‘morning after’ feelings if you overdo it (what’s not to love?)!

Food: 80% of their ingredients(all organic)  come from the Home Counties, their fish is Marine Stewardship Council certified wherever possible, their meat comes from small farms with the highest animal welfare standards, and everything is seasonal so if it’s not in season, you won’t see it on the menu which changes regularly. A sample of summer dishes that could be on offer when you visit, include starters such as pan-fried cuttlefish with gremolata, beef carpacio with radish or house pickled herring with potato caper. Mains may include asparagus and confit summer garlic risotto with ewe’s cheese, sardines with lentils and braised radicchio, or hearty rack of lamb with jersey royals and salsa verde. Puddings include lavendar creme brulee, apricot cheesecake or a mouth-watering British cheese board.

Drink: When the Duke first opened in 1998, there were no organic brewers in London – so they persuaded two brewers to make them some! Freedom and Pitfield Breweries have been supplying them ever since and the pub now has four real ales, two lagers and one cider on tap with plenty of bottled drinks to choose from (all organic, of course). The wine list includes organic and biodynamic wines from both Europe and the New Worlds – with bottles from South Africa and New Zealand being shipped over (never air freighted) to reduce the carbon footprint. Organic spirits and liqueurs are also on offer.Lamb & green bean casserole

Recommended for… A relaxed lunch on a Sunday afternoon for delicious food and local beers

Be aware that… A Sunday can also be very busy – try and visit on a weekday afternoon for a quieter time

‘Good’ credentials:

  • UK’s first (and only) organic pub (officially certified by the Soil Association)
  • Organic, seasonal and local food and drink
  • Beers brewed by small, independent, artisan brewers in or close to London
  • Fish buying policy approved by the MSC (Marine Stewardship Council)
  • Meat from small farms maintaining high animal welfare standards
  • Nothing is ever air-freighted
  • Re-use and recycle wherever possible
  • Electricity generated by wind and solar power

 

Date of visit: June 2012

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Real Food Market, Southbank, London

Real Food Market

Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, London SE1 8XX

www.realfoodfestival.co.uk

Free and weekly at Southbank (Fri 12-8pm, Sat 11am – 8pm, Sun 12-6pm)

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I’m so pleased that this food market is now on every weekend over summer! This little collection of some of the best independent, artisan food and drink producers offers the tastiest fast and affordable food on the Southbank – no need for a visit to the chain restaurants of Giraffe, Wagamama’s et al if you just want to grab a bite to eat, and want a little more choice than the (albeit very nice) English fare at nearby Canteen.

The Real Food Market features food from all corners of the globe (English, Spanish, Polish, Thai, North African, South American…) with a bias towards locally and sustainably produced food – think saltmarsh lamb burgers, fresh mussels and artisan cheeses. Stall holders can vary slightly week to week but you’ll probably find producers such as Jamon Jamon (with their huge dishes of paella), The Borough Cheese Company (selling French Mountain cheese), On Patisserie (with their pretty and innovative macaroons), The Polish Deli (selling smoked sausages and grilled chicken), The Thoroughly Wild Meat Company (serving delicious saltmarsh lamb and mutton), and Meantime Brewery (try their fab London Pale Ale). A previous trip over Jubilee weekend also found cream teas, crepes and Camden Town Brewery in action.

On this visit, we tried the North African lamb wraps from the Community Kitchen which were so tasty and filling (and only £6 each) that we didn’t have room for dinner later that evening!

Several stalls sell packaged or bottled food and drink to take home (they can make great gifts – a good opportunity to buy direct from the producer instead of seeking out a stockist). I find it best for grabbing a bite to eat then sitting near the Hayward Gallery (preferably in the sun!) overlooking the river. Tip: Go when you’re hungry and persuade whoever you’re with to order from a different stall to you – you’ll want to try as many different offerings as possible!

Recommended for… A more original alternative to the chain restaurants of Southbank

Be aware that… Stall holders can change each week so don’t rely on your favourite always being there!

‘Good’ credentials:

  • Promoting sustainable, environmentally and socially-responsible and ethically-produced food (e.g. organically-reared meats, handmade products, traditional beers, ales and cider)
  • Emphasis on locally produced, sourced and artisanal food
  • Supporting independent producers directly

 

Date of visit: June 2012

 

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