As sustainability editor, I'm always up for championing the destinations that are showing a whole lot of love for the wellbeing of the world. Whether powering their nations on renewables, or addressing specific environmental or community issues, these nations are making the planet a better place while inviting us to explore them in an eco-friendly way, with the widest-flung of open arms.
Weighing up what makes an entire country sustainable is a daunting task, and these countries are in our sights for lots of different reasons. Yes, hopping on long-haul flights might not feel like a fast-track to tackling the climate emergency, but if you are planning on travelling anyway, then why not become a more conscious traveller? Here, we steer you to hosts with a conscience, too.
12 sustainable destinations for 2022
The Scottish wilderness
We’re wild about their rewilding
Scotland was already in our heads and hearts for being the country that was first to sign up to Tourism Declares a Climate Emergency – an initiative launched in 2020 to encourage the tourism sector to reduce carbon emissions. With COP26 having seen Glasgow host the most significant changemakers and conversations around the climate emergency, we are even prouder of this nation for leading by example. As biologist and naturalist Edward O Wilson outlines in his book, Half-Earth, we must strive to conserve half the Earth’s land and sea if we’re to get things back on track; there’s no doubt the more of our planet that we can rewild the better. Wilderness Scotland has been showcasing sustainable tourism for two decades, and the European Nature Trust has our attention for their conservation of tens of thousands of acres of the Scottish Highlands at Alladale Wilderness Reserve. To find the eco-friendliest accommodation providers, Scotland's Green Tourism certification scheme badges the best options.
Bhutan’s green valleys
Light-touch, high-value tourism
If being a more sustainable traveller is to think more deeply about why we travel, as well as ensuring we're taking a trip somewhere that will do more good than harm, the last remaining Buddhist kingdom is as compelling a destination as can be. A model of sensitive tourism in the Himalayas, Bhutan is the world’s only carbon-negative country and offers a less-is-more approach to hosting visitors by carefully regulating tourism and including the protection of its forests in its constitution. Since the country has a minimum daily package rate, there is a sensible targeted approach to inbound tourism, meaning less visitors, with a higher spend, so that foreign guests are welcomed into this compassionate, inclusive community, with few barriers between them and the Bhutanese. Amid emerald-green forests and glacial valleys, there's no straying from the country’s authentic, epoch-old way of living, and you have the comfort of knowing your environmental impact is minimal. Sustainable high-end hotels include Gangtey Lodge, Bhutan Spirit Sanctuary, Six Senses, with a Habitas outpost opening here soon. MyBhutan from His Royal Highness Jigyel Ugyen Wangchuck and Matthew DeSantis has introduced long-term farmhouse rentals for longer durations to allow a select group of guests to explore deeper into Bhutan. One of the 23 founding signatories of the Future of Tourism, Bhutan is also one of the best-vaccinated societies in the world.
The nourishing mountains of Slovenia
Peaks to climb and plates piled high with organic excellence
This compact Central European country with its fairytale mountain scenes of Baroque-spired churches and wooden hayracks has long since punched above its size as a hero of green tourism. More than a 10th of the rolling countryside is formally protected, spanning Alpine peaks, ancient forests, Karst plateau, the Pannonian plains' vineyards and thermal waters down to the dinky 29-mile stretch of Adriatic coast betwixt Croatia and Italy. We love the tourist board's Green Scheme of Slovenian Tourism, which navigates you to the greenest hosts and camping sites. But let’s be honest – it’s the chic and delicious eats that really woo us. And there's nowhere better to follow a climavore diet: rather than cutting out all animal products to minimise the environmental impacts as vegans might, these are more flexible climate-conscious eaters who savour nature-sensitive suppliers and dishes with low food miles.
Slovenians consistently work wonders with local and seasonal ingredients, as commended in a recent wave of Michelin plaudits such as its inclusion of Vila Planinka, a seductive boutique bolthole little more than half an hour’s drive north of Ljubljana. In the capital itself, Zlata Ladjica is a restored 400-year-old property riverside in the cobbled centre known also for its organic restaurant. For time away that leaves an especially good taste in the mouth, we're confidently nudging you towards Vipava Valley, which is a world-class winner at showcasing small wine producers and biodynamic deliciousness. Be sure to visit Cejkotova Domacija, a tiny homestead in Goče, the oldest village in Slovenia, a unique time capsule of eras past. Big up Lake Bohinj for getting us excited about its new boutique cuties Sunrose7 and the new-look Alpina Bohinj hotels. And why fly, when you can get there or back by train on an overland adventure via Austria, Germany and France.
Voluntourism in Madagascar
Transformational travel adventures tackling the climate emergency
Showing support for a nation in need of tourism revenue and booking a nature-saving holiday is what sustainability travel is all about. With these criteria in mind, Madagascar qualifies to the max. Unexplored primaeval rainforests await on this giant African island which is host to a compelling cast of wildlife characters that can’t be witnessed elsewhere. It may have been made famous recently by the animated movie of the same name, but this Indian Ocean island country has sadly gained news coverage most recently due to the fact it has been hit by the world’s first climate-induced famine in the south. SEED Madagascar is an NGO which has been working hard to raise awareness and sustainable tourism company Earth-Changers.com has been organising volunteerism trips. Near SEED's conservation base is Manafiafy Beach and Rainforest Lodge, while Eden Lodge, half an hour from Nosy Be island, is the first Green Globe in Mada and the Tamboho Boutik Hotel is the first property to get a Green Key seal of approval.
Costa Rica’s wildlife-rich reserves
An eclectic UNESCO-protected mega-ecosystem
Boosting biodiversity is regularly cited as one of the biggest priorities in restoring equilibrium for our land, sea and atmosphere. Home to almost six per cent of the world’s species, Costa Rica is a world-leading cultivator of this essential complexity of life on Earth and one of the first countries to promote responsible ecotourism. Go for virgin rainforest and first-class accommodation from Monteverde Cloud Forest to the Osa Peninsula. Here, between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, more than a quarter of this Central American nation is set aside as protected parks and reserves, which are a precious safeguard against deforestation and logging and help guarantee that visitors encounter a dazzling cast of wildlife at every turn. Three of the country’s national conservation areas and parks are UNESCO-protected, and much of its electricity is renewably sourced. Lapa Ríos was the original eco-lodge, and its ocean-view cabins in a 1,000-acre private nature reserve are as appealing for 2022 as ever.
Fresh air in Finland
Fantasy forest adventures
You’d do well to get a lungful of ‘living’ in a nation where 80 per cent of the terrain is forested. The crisis from air pollution globally came to the fore in 2021 when the World Health Organisation declared it one of the biggest environmental threats to human health, alongside the climate emergency. Meanwhile, Finland's air and water is proclaimed the clearest. Thank you to the tourist board for laying on a Sustainable Finland programme to map out a blueprint to help visitors plan the most eco-friendly escapes and engage with nature and local culture, knowing every step of their stay has been looked at through an economical, ecological, social and cultural lens. Our eyes are on Octola especially for 2022 — a private wilderness retreat deep in the Arctic Circle with hundreds of hectares of Lapland forest. We’re especially seduced by the luxe 10-room lodge designed with Lapp and Sami traditions in mind. Sign us up to spy the Northern Lights from here — visible from these coordinates, from August until April.
Fantastic flavours and forward-thinking in Barbados
The Caribbean island setting new benchmarks
This Atlantic Ocean coral island is one to watch for its transition to renewables. One of the Lesser Antilles of the West Indies, this new republic, sized only 21 miles by 14, is regularly walloped by hurricanes. It may not be famous for next-level eco stays – yet – but we’re saluting Prime Minister Mia Mottley's mission to lead by example from the frontline of the climate crisis. As well as proselytising about the need to switch to greener energy supplies, the celebrated COP speaker is introducing dramatic targets for this island which is so especially vulnerable to the climate emergency. Tourism is the main revenue, and they’ve been hard hit economically without the usual stream of visitors in recent times, but still managed to win acclaim for looking after their residents so exceptionally well during them.
CAST – the Caribbean Alliance for Sustainable Tourism – can attest to the strength of the country's new direction towards more nature-positive and community-focussed experiences. La Maison Michelle, owned by a Black Bajan, is a reclaimed sugar plantation which now hosts seven suites and exemplifies a new-gen hospitality business that supports community-boosting initiatives. Coco Hill Forest insists we reconnect with nature while making it clear these 53 acres of land are the beginning of big ecotourism plans from the director of the Bridgetown Film Festival. Plus, the yield of indigenous fruits and vegetables served over in its Mamu's Café is impressive. Also working hard to reverse the reliance on imported produce is Local and Co, a restaurant helmed by chef Sophie Michell and a champion of regenerative organic, hyper-local and wild food sources, and which cooked for Prince Charles on the eve of them becoming a republic. Graze on produce from the biodynamic PEG Farm and Nature Reserve in good conscience too, knowing that they model free-range animal husbandry and permaculture.
Green and serene Germany
Wellness for the world
Wellness is naturally the forte in a country with hundreds of health resorts, and here you can spa sustainably, such as at the carbon-neutral Nature Resort Schindelbruch in Südharz or while enjoying the moonlight sauna at Eifel-Therme Zikkurat. The tourist board itself is Green Globe certified and so they know what they’re talking about when they navigate visitors to 1,300 places to stay, from glamping to high-end hotels. Green Pearls is a portfolio of eco-friendly escapes that includes many members in its home country, too. If you are of a plant-based-diet persuasion, this country has the largest percentage of veggies in Europe — so you know it will be easier to keep your foodprint low. Take a train through Germany, and a reminder of the country's dedication to more sustainable eating is even visible from the on-board organic dining options. Yet more impressive than that, all its long-distance trains run on 100 per cent green electricity.
Global goals from Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Iceland
Scandinavian eco-energy superheroes
Folks are wising up to the importance of keeping the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in mind. When the UN announced its 17 SDGs at the United Nations Assembly in 2015, they were laid out as a roadmap to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. According to the team behind them, Scandinavian countries Denmark, Sweden and Norway all rank in the top 10. Now that we know there’s so much emphasis on the need to decarbonise our energy systems, let’s show some love for the countries with the highest reliance on renewable energy. In Norway, hydropower contributes 45 per cent of its power – its energy-positive off-grid poster hotel is Svart. And we have to salute Iceland too, which is already 100 per cent powered by renewables. We’re especially drawn to family-owned Torfhús Retreat, which runs exclusively on geothermal and hydroelectric energy and where all stays are offset.
Written by Juliet Kinsman.
This article originally appeared on Conde Nast Traveller.