Sleek contemporary furnishings and boutique bathrooms are all well and good, but for many of Britain's upmarket holiday companies – not to mention their customers – green credentials are now as important as designer add-ons. And it's not just the top end of the market that cares. B&Bs, guesthouses and self-catering cottages across Britain market themselves on their low energy use – including whether they encourage guests to use public transport.
Earlier this year, we asked you to submit recommendations for sustainable travel experiences around the world. We received hundreds of nominations and, from those, our panel of eco experts (see below) selected a shortlist they felt best demonstrate innovations in technology, ways of running a business, design and style. These range from places to stay to transport initiatives, festivals, and adventure and conservation holidays. All are pushing the boundaries of what green travel means.PLACES TO STAY
Little White Alice is a gorgeous collection of six new self-catering cottages in Carnmenellis, Cornwall. Most impressive is the chemical-free swimming pool, emerald green and surrounded by local granite, with a reed bed filtration system. Beyond lie 25 acres of the property's own land, left wild, for rambling and nature-spotting, helped by a barn owl house and bat loft. The houses are a mix of wood and stone, sleeping two to eight; some have wood-burners, private decks, wet rooms and bespoke willow work, and there's an art studio offering lessons. A wind turbine produces most of the cottages' electricity, ground source heat pumps provide underfloor heating, and solar panels hot water.
• Cottages from £302 a week, 01209 861000, littlewhitealice.co.uk
At the edge of Bodmin Moor, Tregulland is a renovated self-catering pad, one of a new breed of eco-friendly upmarket properties. A stylishly converted stone barn and 15th-century cottage sleep 22 altogether – they can be rented separately – and are decked out with vintage furniture. The place is effectively off-grid for heating and water, thanks to a huge biomass boiler that keeps the indoor freshwater pool at a balmy 26C, as well as heating a steam room and outdoor hot tub. Its 16 acres of woodland stream and lake are great for spotting otters and migrating birds. If you can summon the energy to leave the sybaritic splendour, it's 15 minutes to the beach at Trebarwith Strand and a little further to Crackington Haven for cliff-top walks.
• From £3,600 a week for 10, 01566 770880, tregulland.co.uk
The Green House is a refurbished seaside hotel in Bournemouth that claims to be "the greenest hotel in the UK". It's very stylish, with mauve-and-cream rooms, flatscreen TVs and Bose sound docks, yet its eco credentials are impressive. Solid wood furniture was made using trees felled by storms or tree surgeons, rain water's harvested for irrigation, and the restaurant uses local, organic food, and only organic and biodynamic wines – there's a vegetarian tasting menu too (£45). Energy comes from solar panels and a combined heat and power unit.
• Doubles from £140, B&B, 01202 498900, thegreenhousehotel.co.uk
If this B&B on an organic farm seems more stylish than the average agriturismo, there's good reason: owners Karin Lijftogt and Antonio Giorgini gave up jobs in the fashion industry in Milan to go into farming 20 years ago. They produce olives, saffron, wheat (for their own organic pasta) and honey. Having restored the 18th-century farmhouse using natural and organic materials, the couple now run it as a four-room guesthouse. Meals are organic, locally sourced and vegetarian; heating and hot water are solar-powered; and guests can relax by the property's natural pool.
• Doubles from €130 a night B&B, +39 0578 717463, fattoriasanmartino.it
Jungle trekking, tubing, crocodile spotting and Miskito dancing are included on these adventure eco-tourism holidays in the Rio Plátano, a two-million-acre Unesco biosphere reserve in north-east Honduras. It's home to jaguars, monkeys, manatees and more than 300 bird species. Six indigenous communities host travellers in palm-thatched eco-lodges. They will transport you by dugout canoes through the rainforest as you tick off each adventure. Profits from the enterprise go direct to the villages.
• From $425pp for a seven-day "overland adventure", including full board accommodation and activities but not international flights or transfers. +504 8976 3004, larutamoskitia.com
Kayaking around the Koster Islands, ski touring on the Jämtland Triangle, and timber rafting down the Klarälven river are among the adventure holidays available with Nature Travels, a UK tour operator of small-scale, low-impact trips. It is operated in Sweden using local guides and services. Packages don't include flights; customers are encouraged to take alternative transport from the UK, such as the ferry from Harwich to Esbjerg, Denmark, or the train via Germany. More than 90% of its clients travel within Sweden by public transport.
•Five days' self-guided ski touring on the Jämtland Triangle costs from £286 per person including four nights' self-catering accommodation and maps but not transport or equipment (01929 503080, naturetravels.co.uk )
Renovated stone cottages in the laid-back seaside village of Sant'Ambrogio near the Madonie national park are available to rent through a community tourism initiative that has breathed new life into this corner of Sicily. The scheme encourages locals, especially the young, to take pride in their heritage and promote local traditions. Organic gardening is flourishing and you can expect to find local olive oil, preserved vegetables and organic jams in your apartment.
• A week in an apartment for two with terrace and sea views costs from €300. +39 0921 999011, sicilianexperience.com (a green flower icon marks accommodation that is part of this initiative)
Witness spectacular sunsets over the Himalayas, then explore the ancient city of Kathmandu, take an elephant safari in Chitwan national park then chill out in the lakeside city of Pokhara. This is just one of the whistle-stop itineraries on Traidcraft's novel sightseeing trips to developing countries. Other destinations include Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Cuba, Peru and Vietnam. While exploring the country, you stay with the small-scale farmers who make fairtrade products.
• From £1,325pp for a 13-day tour of Nepal, including accommodation, most meals, transport and activities but not international travel. 0191 2651110, traidcraft-tours.com
If you've dreamed of walking in the Himalayas but have been put off by the idea of strenuous high-altitude trekking, a Village Ways trip could be for you. Beginning at Binsar, a wildlife sanctuary in the Himalayan foothills, you take gentle, guided walks from village to village, staying in guesthouses and eating home-grown vegetarian food. Village ways offers walking holidays in five locations in India and two in Ethiopia; a project in Kenya is under way for next year.
• A nine-night trip to the Binsar region costs from £610pp, including transport, full board and guiding, but not international travel. 01223 750049, villageways.com
After winning the Green Dragon's Den competition at Hay Festival in 2010, the owners of the b-bug spent 2011 testing their innovative electric buggy – with the help of tourists. It's designed to be a quieter, low-carbon means of travelling around the Brecon Beacons national park. The cute open-sided b-bugs have a fabric roof, a top speed of 30mph and a range of 20 to 25 miles. They're charged using electricity generated by local micro-hydro schemes and use only 3kWh for every 20 miles, which the owners say equates to only three miles in a standard car.
• B-bugs will be available to rent from spring 2012, prices and locations tba. 01874 665401, b-bug.com
The first truly "green" railway station building on the UK network opened in Accrington in December 2010. It was built from recycled stone, photovoltaic cells provide some of the station's electricity, hot water is solar-powered, and harvested rain water is used for flushing toilets. The building houses a ticket office (operated by Northern Rail), but its purpose is also to spread the green message, via an education resource centre.
• 0845 0000125, communityraillanc-ashire.co.uk
Ticket-holders who arrived at the 2011 festival by public transport or bike were given a Green Traveller lanyard which gave them discounts on meals and T-shirts, and access to solar showers and compost toilets. The organisers admit these are small gestures, but as transport emissions account for more than 50% of Glastonbury's carbon footprint, this did raise awareness of the environmental impact of one of the world's largest outdoor gatherings.
• Details of the Green Traveller scheme for Glastonbury 2013 have not yet been confirmed. glastonburyfestivals.co.uk
Set in Golden Gate Park and designed by Renzo Piano, this natural history museum went for sustainability rather than spectacle when it was rebuilt in 2008. Partly solar-powered and insulated with recycled jeans, it houses the world's largest all-digital planetarium, its deepest living coral reef exhibition, and a four-storey-high rainforest. But its prize exhibit is its 2.5-acre living roof, the largest swath of native vegetation in San Francisco.
• Entrance $30 adult, $30 children. +1 415 379 8000, calacademy.org
"The world's first farm in a shop", as FARM:shop Dalston describes itself, is an experiment in urban agriculture that combines a cafe and arts venue with a mini fish farm, rooftop chicken coops, indoor allotments and a polytunnel to grow as much food as possible in what was once a derelict shop. While the space hosts regular tastings, parties and events, the produce grown on the site is also served in the cafe, in dishes such as fresh tilapia with hydroponic chilli and tomato chutney. Devised by Something & Son, an eco-social design practice, it aims to roll out the concept around the UK.
• 07736 002006, farmlondon.weebly.com, open Mon-Saturday, 11am-5pm
This is a website on which users share walking routes that can be reached by bus, train, coach or ferry. Grid reference, elevation profile and OS map link is given for each, with information on accommodation, pubs and cafes. Users can rate walks and add their own routes to the growing database. Prizes are offered for the best submissions.
Party Neuf has pioneered the solar-powered music scene, providing non-fossil fuel energy for lights, PA systems and stages for 26 years at venues including Glastonbury. It also now runs the Croissant Neuf Summer Party near Usk, Monmouthshire, in August, generating all its power on-site from solar panels. It also uses biodegradable beer glasses and operates a post festival recycling clear-up. Last year's headliner was folk-rocker Ed Sheeran, and there are craft and healing areas, yoga and other workshops. Its claims that, on average, festivalgoers at last year's Summer Party generated 50% or less of the CO2 they would have done if they'd stayed at home.
• Adults £88, children £35 (2011 prices). partyneuf.co.uk
Whether you want to learn about eco building or organic gardening, turning old fabrics into bags or finding hedgerow herbs, the Centre for Alternative Technology is the go-to place, offering short courses and accommodation in an on-site eco-lodge. CAT has evolved from a 1970s outdoor laboratory to an internationally renowned visitor centre, with dozens of exhibitions on just about every eco technology under the sun. There's a playground too, and it's an interesting place to visit even if you're not planning to live in a straw bale house any time soon. Come by train (the nearest station is Machynlleth) and entry is half price.
• Entrance £8.50 adult, £4 child. 01654 705950, cat.org.uk
In Kenya's northern Samburu region, young men are trained to work in conservation as part of the Ewaso Lions Warrior Watch program, which aims to address the anomaly whereby the people who spend most time out in the bush are the ones who have least input into decision-making that affects that environment. Following training on data collection, ecology, GPS use, conservation, security issues, the value of wildlife, English, Kiswahili and arithmetic, the "warriors" report on wildlife sightings, poaching, and community and livestock issues. In return, Ewaso Lions provides a wage and meals. Nearby Sasaab Lodge supports two such "warriors".
• Suites at Sasaab Lodge cost from $545pp, including full-board accommodation and most activities +254 20 502 0888; ewasolions.org
One of several projects run by Way Out Experiences, a UK-based volunteering holiday specialist, the Great Gorilla Project tour puts a neat twist on the usual conservation holiday. Volunteers don't record data or monitor animals directly. It's all about spreading the message about gorilla conservation by taking a two-week trip to Uganda to help screen conservation documentaries. The films are donated by National Geographic and the BBC, and shown via a pedal-powered cinema, to educate people in remote rural regions . On days off they can visit Ngamba Chimpanzee Sanctuary, go on a gorilla trek and visit the equator. More than 10,000 Ugandans watched the films in 2011.
• A 14-day trip with the Great Gorilla Project based at Mgahinga Gorilla national park costs from £2,150pp, including 13 nights' accommodation, transport and most meals but not international flights. 0845 371 3070, thegreatprojects.com
We were impressed by a guide to local food produced by Casas Cantabricas, drawing on its experience of more than 25 years of selling holidays to northern Spain. The aim is to help its customers find local ingredients from shops and markets, and to point the way to the best local restaurants, from tapas bars and country tavernas to Michelin-starred restaurants. Guests can pick up some "fried milk" in a village bakery, or head for Mondoñedo to shop at Rei de las Tartas, the King of Cakes. Each review includes recommendations and personal insights by its clients as well as staff who live and work in Spain.