By Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi
When you think of la Serenissima (Italian for “the most serene”), the history and enchantment is overwhelming.
The Republic of Venice was a major maritime power from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance, considered the hub of commerce and art in the 13th century up to the end of the 17th century. Besides the visual arts and exquisite craftsmanship – that embraces Murano’s glass blowing and Burano’s majestic lace, Venice also has a strong musical tradition: it played an important role in the history of symphonic and operatic music and is the birthplace of Antonio Vivaldi. The theatrical tradition is also outstanding, with Carlo Goldoni’s plays or the old Italian tradition of Commedia dell’arte, which has established Venice as the City of Masks, making its winter Carnival one of the most fervent events in the worldwide calendar. These artistic traditions still continue today with the likes of the the Venice Art Biennial or the Venice Film Festival.
Whilst there are many positive associations with this romantic destination, something that doesn’t pop to your mind when thinking about The Floating City is sustainability. Given its age, many assume that an eco friendly Venice isn’t possible, but the fact is that the city is actually green in several ways.
Greener Than You Think
First, there is food. Venice is known to be full of very healthy eating options, not just for its traditional fish dishes (be sure to try the typical baccalà mantecato, i.e. creamed dried cod), but also because it’s easy to find vegan food. The cuisine from the region of Veneto includes Minestrone (homemade vegetable soup), verdure grigliate (sautéed veggie plate), polenta (solidified porridge used with cornmeal), and risotto with radicchio. The enchanting Venice is definitely a place where you can reconnect with healthy living, shopping for fruits and vegetables in family-run groceries, bio food stores, or pick one of the main vegetarian restaurants of the Lagoon.
Then, there is transportation. The “vaporetti” (i.e. water boats) unfortunately pollute the lagoon, but the beautiful traditional gondolas definitely help keep the waters pristine. Everything in Venice is within walking distance, so the vaporetti are usually used only when necessary. In fact, Venice has become an international example of a sustainable city, and was even examined as a special case study at the 1992 United Nations Rio conference. But the case study also highlighted how mass tourism often works against the pursuit of environmental measures. The worst offenders are the enormous, polluting yachts that harbour in the Venetian port and disgorge huge numbers of tourists who swarm around the city all at once. These two factors (plus time and rising sea levels) are contributing to the sinking of the ancient town.
There was a plan to curtail this with the MOSE project which was designed to protect the Venetian Lagoon from being submerged by the Adriatic Sea, but unfortunately the plans were drowned in shame. The former Mayor of Venice, Giorgio Orsoni and 35 others were arrested for corruption, money laundering and bribery. The arrests focused on the embezzlement of funds paid to the company behind the building of the MOSE dam. In Venice’s journey towards innovation, contemporary construction doesn’t help: it is either plagued with scandal or horrific designs–just take a look at the restoration of a wing of the historical Hotel Santa Chiara, for example. This monstrosity (below) transformed a-500-year-old building into an ugly white cube and has aroused much protest from both the Venetians and visitors.
Green Hotels in Venice
Fortunately there are also many examples of sustainable hotel reconstruction which aim to preserve the majestic beauty of the ancient Palazzos whilst applying modern, sustainable facilities. Here are a couple of example of the best, truly environmental Hotels in the Serenissima:
While walking in the narrow streets (named calli) of Venice you will notice several Palazzos are called Ca’ which is short for “Casa”, house. One of these aristocratic Ca’ mansions has been transformed into an eco-friendly hotel, Ca’ della Corte, certified by the Eco World Hotels for their attention to careful waste disposal and recycling and to the intelligent use of power sources and materials. The bright rooms offer splendid views of gardens and buildings, with cosy and inviting spaces that have ancient parquet floors and elegant furnishings.
Ca’ della Corte is especially focused on the ecological use of power sources, reducing unnecessary consumption to a minimum and always trying to use recyclable and eco-friendly materials for anything new. There is even an “Eco” room that is fitted out with natural materials arranged in Feng Shui principles, but most visitors will generally experience the 16th century Venetian palace rooms, with all the amenities of a boutique hotel complying to environmentally friendly standards.
Set in a palace that was built in 1890, this hotel underwent six years of refurbishment to gain cutting-edge facilities. This chain of hotels is truly eco-friendly, covering key issues of sustainability: water consumption reduction, recycling, lower CO2 emissions, and biodiversity protection, to name a few.
For example, to help save water, NH Hotels have been using consumption reduction systems since 2007, monitoring how much water is consumed by their swimming pools and rooms, initiating state-of-the-art water recycling technologies. Furthermore in the hotels there are devices to recycle greywater, which is reused for watering plants and gardens. Room furniture is beautiful–neutral, classic and comfortable. But it is chosen based on both aesthetic criteria and the lifecycle environmental impact–the frames of all chairs and beds are made of FSC certified wood, helping to contribute to biodiversity conservation, for example.
Here, even the lifts are eco-efficient, thanks to a revolutionary system based on the reuse of kinetic energy generated by movement. If you are planning to have meetings, conferences and events at NH Hotels be certain they will provide with green materials, such as pens that are made from biodegradable materials, Fair Trade coffee, or water in jars instead of bottled water, avoiding the generation of millions of plastic waste bottles.
But apart from the ‘green-ness’ of this hotel, we love the views–it’s situated right on the canal, offering views to guests that were only enjoyed by privileged aristocrats centuries ago.