Modesta Fernandes still works in the home where she raised her children. Only now she manages the finances at Casa Modesta, the house-turned-hotel named after her. Her own mother, Carminda, runs the kitchen, while her husband Joaquim maintains the grounds, an almond and olive orchard that borders the Ria Formosa National Park, a lagoon in Portugal’s southernmost Algarve region.
Her children handle the other tasks: Pedro is an onsite masseuse; Carlos, who spearheaded the whole project, runs the office; and Vania, an architect, designed the hotel as a minimalist, white stucco extension of the 1940s family home, using only locally available materials. Casa Modesta boasts natural ventilation, a wastewater reuse system and decor made by local artisans; much of the menu is based on seasonal produce grown in the garden. The sustainability-focused blog Make It Last called Casa Modesta an “oasis of natural splendor,” and other travel blogs have praised its commitment to eco-friendly materials. Though it’s the modesty of the small family operation as much as its infrastructure that makes it conscientious: There are, for instance, no trucks full of “hospitality industry” supplies driving in and out; no key cards requiring a small army of electrical equipment to maintain.
The United Nations named 2017 the “Year of Sustainable Travel,” hoping to encourage the tourism industry to consider its carbon footprint, and the last decade has seen a surge in awareness of travel’s impact on the environment. According to a recent survey, 96% of Conde Nast Traveler readers believe hotels and resorts are responsible for protecting the areas in which they operate. Also in 2017, the International Tourism Partnership and the World Travel & Tourism Council partnered with 23 hotels to establish the Hotel Carbon Measurement Initiative (HCMI), to standardize the ways hotels measure their carbon emissions and encourage a 66% reduction by 2030.
Yet smaller operations, like Casa Modesta, began with a low footprint, and were designed to maintain their minimal impact. Vania Fernandes, who grew up there and redesigned the home, co-founded the women-run, Lisbon-based architecture firm PAr in 2006. At Casa Modesta, she gave each of the nine suites either a patio or a terrace; she submerged bathtubs into the ground; liberally employed terracotta; and designed a shared dining room and two communal gathering places. Other such small hotels boast a similar commitment to modesty and ecology (as Vogue magazine helpfully pointed out in 2017, “sustainability doesn’t mean sacrificing luxury”).
Near the town of Ostuni in Italy, overlooking the Adriatic Sea and nestled amongst old olive trees is Masseria Moroseta, another small hotel built out of a traditional family home. Carlo Lanzini and Andrew Trotter, friends who met at school at Central St. Martin’s, collaborated to make Masseria Moroseta what it is. Lanzini found the stone farmhouse in Italy’s Puglia region — “I always had the dream to work the land to produce food, vegetables or olive oil,” he told the blog Welcome Beyond. At first, he used the 600 olive trees to make his own oil; then, with Trotter’s help, he transformed the home into a small hotel modeled after a traditional masseria, similar to a hacienda, where landowners and farmworkers coexist. Masseria Moroseta relies on solar panels and a passive ventilation system. Trotter and Lanzini furnished the 6-room hotel with local secondhand furniture, a process that required careful scavenging and some time. They serve breakfast using eggs from their own chickens, and encourage guests to wander during the day, around the grounds and beyond.
There remains, of course, the dilemma of reaching these rural, well-appointed destinations. As The New York Times recently reported, “Take one round-trip flight between New York and California and you’ve generated about 20 percent of the greenhouse gases that your car emits over an entire year.” This does not mean you should stop traveling altogether, but minimizing your impact does require making more informed decisions. Researchers and ecology groups generally agree that flying economy and direct is best, and suggest selecting the most fuel-efficient airlines and using tools like MyClimate’s flight emissions calculator to offset your footprint.
But there still remain other factors to consider once you reach your destination: How to choose accommodations in advance that hold to high environmental standards; how to eat at conscientious restaurants and shop at responsible markets in unfamiliar locales. Travel start-ups like Uncovr endeavor to ease travel anxiety by planning eco-friendly trips for its clients. They manage transportation and lodgings, as well as meals, favoring local chefs and sustainably designed hotels or bed and breakfasts. Their Puglia and Basilicata tour includes a stop at Masseria Moroseta, and Uncovr’s founder Jason Wertz leads many of the trips himself. “Each time,” he says, “I return home changed, better.”