Six stops for an eco staycation

Neutralise your impact on the environment and choose a holiday that is committed to sustainable tourism, writes Ciara McDonnell

1. Cool Planet, Powerscourt

‘We do not inherit the earth we borrow it from our children’ — Cool Planet Experience

We recycle, we don’t do food waste. We always thought we were doing our little bit for the environment. And then we visited Cool Planet at Powerscourt Estate, Wicklow. Now, we can’t leave a room without checking that lights and appliances are off. Take away coffee cups? The kids scream no. The caffeine fix has to wait, and in the meantime we make a mental note to invest in eco-friendly long life cups for next time.

An hour at Cool Planet, and as a family we are transformed — all motivated by the children.

And the reason the kids are so transfixed? Every second of the experience was focused on fun.

Six stops for an eco staycation

A visitor centre focused on climate change might sound educational and well ... boring for young minds.

But somehow, whatever magic formula the creators of Cool Planet have conjured up, the kids had an hour of competitive games and laugh out loud entertainment — and still they came away laden with new facts and education on climate control, carbon footprints and what they could do to save the world.

Somehow, the experience combines play with deep thinking.

This fun, interactive climate action experience — the first of its kind in the world — opened last year (Richard Branson cut the ribbon) at Powerscourt House & Gardens.

From the get go the kids were entranced. Wristbands allow you to log in at reception and by answering a few simple questions — how you travel to school, have you been on a plane this year — your carbon footprint is calculated. The idea, by the end, is for families to discover ways to reduce their impact on the environment.

The same wrist band allows you to keep logging in as you enter each room in the experience.

The first room, a mirrored floor to ceiling screen, shows the impact of Ireland’s changing climate, the reflections creating a 3D effect (that can be a lot for little eco warriors to cope with).

Next up there’s a globe — touch it and you see how your carbon footprint compares with national and international averages. Greenhouse gases and the science behind climate change is simply explained for young minds.

Next up is gaming, and here’s where my kids were most enthralled. You see a city in 2050, a world where cheap cars mean traffic gridlock is the norm, buses and public transport are pushed to one side. So it’s our task to rebuild the city. Gaming pads allow us to pull drivers to buses; free up motorway lanes for cyclists. All through games, we help supermarkets avoid food waste by sorting food by sell by dates, we sort out recycling, click off buttons on appliances.

It’s competitive fun — and the kids start to get the message. The small changes add up — together, we can save the world.

The multiple choice quiz show, teaching kids about food waste, was a huge hit, educating every adult in the room as well as the kids. (Did you know it takes a 1000 years for one plastic bottle to decompose?) And at the end, we all looked at the little steps we could make to reduce our carbon footprints, and made our pledges.

Connecting science, engineering, gaming and drama, the centre is the first of ten that are planned to open around the world over the next three years, with plans already in place for centres in Dubai and Sydney.

All of the interactive experiments, demonstrations and activities are curriculum linked, designed to ignite a curiosity of STEM subjects.

Walking around Powerscourt afterwards, exploring the gardens, the woodlands, the magnificent waterfall, you realise just what is at stake. The hotel is a perfect base for a visit to Cool Planet — there was an enormous family room, and kid friendly hours at the pool (bring arm bands though — there’s no baby area). The restaurant, Sika, was a pressure free destination for young kids, with an extensive menu and colouring on tap to keep idle little hands busy. The older guests, on the other hand, had the €65 set menu to choose from, the steak and monkfish a sublime choice. The chocolate globe, cracked open by hot chocolate sauce at the table, was met with oohs and aaahs by everyone at the table.

A beautiful, relaxing space to eat, floor to ceiling windows with views of the rolling gardens tempted us outside for an after dinner stroll. And after Cool Planet and our climate wake up call, we were savouring our beautiful surrounds.

2. Gregans Castle, Clare

As founding members of The Burren Ecotourism Network, Simon Haden and his team at Gregans Castle are paving the way for luxury hotels wishing to offer their patrons a more eco-friendly travel option.

Six stops for an eco staycation

Amidst the deep pile carpets and roaring fires (using timber trimmed from their own trees), you’ll find a hotel that is true to its fabulous surroundings, in both luxury and sustainability. Gregans boasts three electric car-charging points across its property and all electricity used by the hotel comes from wind energy.

The hotel utilises a natural reed and willow bed treatment system, which purifies all wastewater that is generated onsite. Guests are encouraged to walk or cycle during their stay, availing of one of the hotel’s many bicycles and walking maps. As a foodie destination of note, the majority of the food sourced by Gregans’ kitchen is local, ensuring a minimum amount of food miles travelled.

3. Inchydoney Island. Lodge & Spa, Cork

Inchydoney has been conscious of its eco footprint for far longer than most of its contemporaries, and that’s down to owner Des O’Dowd’s commitment to preserving the environment. When the hotel opened in 1998, it boasted solar panelling and a wood pellet heating system and since then, staff have committed to investing in energy efficient systems.

The kitchen have been composting food waste for over a decade now, and this year, the hotel has decided to switch to Bio Gas, a move that will ultimately cost them more money, but something that the team feels is an essential contribution to a more sustainable approach to hospitality.

All of this information should make you feel even more relaxed as you enjoy the benefits of the resort’s Thalassotherapy spa and gorgeous sea view rooms, complete with proper coffee machines and super comfy beds.

4. Croan Cottages, Kilkenny

When it comes to a self-catering break, Croan Cottages in Kilkenny have set the standard for eco-friendly tourism around the country. The multi-award-winning venue showcases their utter devotion to climate awareness at every possible turn. Renewable energy sources fuel both the cottages and surrounding farm, and they boast a prolific composting ability with almost 48 cubic meters of composting capacity.

Six stops for an eco staycation

The five cottages have either two or three bedrooms and each one has an open fire, a private furnished patio and barbeque area.

Each cottage has maintained its traditional charm, but with modern upgrades like power showers and great kitchens. There’s a lot to see on the farm if you are an animal lover, and pets are welcome at Croan Cottages, so no need to leave your beloved dog at home.

5. BrookLodge & Macreddin Village, Wicklow

The team at Macreddin Village have been keeping it green since they opened their doors in 1999. The Strawberry Tree, their award-winning restaurant, became Ireland’s first restaurant to hold a full organic licence, and is organically certified by The Organic Trust.

Six stops for an eco staycation

The hotel heats its two swimming pools with Ireland’s largest geo-thermal hotel heat recovery system, and all the water comes from the resorts’ own well. They have two 200KVA carbon-neutral Wood-Chip Burners providing all the hot water in their guests bathrooms and transitioned to using Biogas in 2018.

The bathroom products are 100% organic and the toilet paper is 100% recycled — but you wouldn’t know it, because every single detail at this gorgeous hotel and spa is the last word in luxury.

6. Kelly’s Resort Hotel, Wexford

As part of their long-term sustainability plan led by proprietor Bill Kelly, Kelly’s in Rosslare recently unveiled the first crop from their onsite kitchen gardens. The two gardens spread over three acres and four polytunnels and aim to create a direct food path that is in tune with the seasons, and as far away from industrial food production as is possible.

The garden team utilise food waste, grass clippings, leaf mould and coffee grinds to make compost and have already seen an increase in the bee population at Kelly’s.

The garden is just the latest part of this hotel’s commitment to protecting our environment – they transitioned their heating system to biomass energy, saving 260,000 tonnes of carbon each year.

  • A two-night weekend break at Kelly’s on a full board basis costs from €386 per person

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