The Ecotourist

Looking for a different type of holiday this year? Why not go green, asks Karin Mochan. 

While it may sound like the latest tree-hugging trend, ecotourism carries a serious message. It’s all about preserving the environment for future generations, and reducing the impact of tourism on places of natural beauty and on local communities. The United Nations describes it as an “important and rapidly growing niche market within the global tourism industry”; the sector has come a long way since the UN went so far as to declare 2002 the Year of Ecotourism.

Keen to take a closer look, I booked a trip with Tribewanted, an initiative that’s been running since 2006. It started out as an island community in Fiji, and now offers a beach resort in Sierra Leone and a hilltop farm in Umbria, Italy – where I was headed.

Life on the farm

The picturesque hamlet of Monestevole sits atop a hill just outside Perugia, surrounded by vineyards and olive groves. This co-operative community aims to be as self-sufficient as possible. Water comes from a well on the farm, there are showers only – no baths – to conserve this precious commodity, and solar panels generate power to use on the farm and to sell to the national grid.

“Increasingly, people want to do something more than lie on the beach and sip margaritas,” says Tribewanted’s charismatic co-founder Filippo Bozotti, my guide during my stay at Monestevole. “They want to learn and to be involved with the local culture – to know that their choices are protecting the environment and to learn about a more sustainable way to travel and to live.”

My one-week stay was a busy one, what with the olive harvest and chestnut season in full swing, but guests choose how involved they want to be. The friendly and incredibly patient staff – from gardeners to farmworkers to permaculture experts – were happy to explain what they were doing and let me try my hand at various activities. I planted a local grain, farro, helped with the olive harvest, chased a cow back into its field (we were less successful trying to catch the albino peacock), and was a willing taster for the wine-makers.

“Monestevole is open to everyone and you can lie on the hammock the whole day if you want, we don’t knock on your door at 7am to milk the cow,” explains Filippo. “It’s not volunteerism, but most people come to participate and get their hands dirty. They take that experience back home to change their lifestyles a little.”

Rooms are spotlessly clean and comfortable, and much of the furniture is reclaimed or handmade, which fits the setting perfectly. The views from my bedroom window, down to the misty valleys below, were breathtaking. The food, all included in the price, as is wine and beer, was as delicious as it was fresh – Costa the cook can turn even the most unprepossessing garden produce into a gastronomic experience.

“We eat together,” says Filippo, “and the only thing we ask our guests is to clear away their plate, and to respect the local culture. We are not a hotel: we are a home and a farm.”

From €50pp per night;