#WeekendRead: Is it possible to be sustainable while traveling in luxury?

by Wendy Long
04 Apr 2020

I never knew how much I would miss traveling until the current coronavirus situation swept around the world and is still wreaking havoc as we enter the third month of the first quarter of a new decade! The travel restrictions, potential quarantines and precautionary measures in general (hopefully based on sanity and not veering into apocalypse-like preparation, such as — ahem — hoarding) meant that spring break is looking bleak (goodbye, cherry blossom jaunts in Japan) and summer seems like an eternity away. It left me dreaming of long days and hot nights, ideally back in the south of France, which is still my favorite summer destination.

Every now and then, I find myself scrolling through the Instagram pages of the resorts that I earmarked for Summer 2020 (Villa La Coste, La Reserve Ramatuelle, Cheval Blanc St Tropez, Les Roches Blanches, to name a few that are at the top of my list of resorts to check out this summer) and teleporting myself subconsciously to the French Riviera, all while organizing my summer wardrobe in my head (what to wear?!) and scouring online sites for upcoming summer collections (what to buy?!).

Yes, a lot of work goes into vacation planning (I mean, we need new swimsuits and sandals, right? Never mind that they look almost exactly the same as every other swimsuit in our closet. I know you are nodding in agreement!) What else is there to do while holed up at home in these viral times? Even the stock market has spoken, “stay-home” share prices (of companies like Netflix) have gone up, while “going-out” share prices (of companies like Uber) have dropped, as more people are now staying in, voluntarily or not.

All these summery fantasies have left me reminiscing last summer, when I was in Bordeaux, Èze and Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat.

I spent a few days in London first, catching up with friends, before jetting off to France for my summer holiday. Over dinner, we discussed my itinerary for Bordeaux. I mentioned my grand plan of staying at a few of Bernard Magrez’s chateaux for that “chateau experience,” and it helps that they have a concierge division to organize a Bordeaux itinerary for guests, which makes it a lot more convenient for me.

My friend, who had been to Bordeaux, politely offered his true opinion of a charming chateau stay. His choice of words — “It’s a little too rustic for me” — was essentially code for “It’s lacking in modern creature comforts (or rather, services) that urbanites are used to.”

What he was referring to was having access to a club sandwich at odd hours, like 3 p.m. or 11 p.m., whenever he felt peckish, instead of only during designated meal times, because there isn’t a chef on site otherwise.

There are, after all, fewer than 10 suites in total, so it isn’t “sustainable” to provide in-room dining services all day and night. Or having access to a round-the-clock guest relations service team instead of a one-man operation when night falls, for who else is going to bring you extra towels at 1 a.m.? Or getting your shirt pressed at 8 a.m., when you suddenly feel like wearing a particular shirt that day.

These are full-fledged services that are sometimes lacking in more rustic (albeit still luxurious) experiences, as the whole point of such adventures is to not be like a cookie-cutter cosmopolitan hospitality establishment. But that is not necessarily for everyone, which makes a travel experience extremely personal, as we all seek different objectives in our explorations.

That got me thinking about sustainability in luxury travel. If being sustainable means being less excessive, will that be in contradiction with the idea of luxury?

As I recall the conversation I had with my friend about not yearning a “rustic experience,” I totally got what he meant when I returned to Bordeaux city, after a three-night stay in two different chateaux, and I checked into the pièce de resistance of Bernard Magrez’s hospitality portfolio, La Grande Maison Bordeaux. Yes, it has only six rooms, but it has a two-Michelin-starred Pierre Gagnaire restaurant on site — enough said!

The first thought that crossed my mind was, “It’s good to be back in civilization with a full range of luxurious services and amenities, even though it is only a six-room establishment!” I guess I was pretty much traumatized by my last night in one of the chateaux, one that had only two rooms, and the only way I could ask for water was to call the reception desk of the previous chateau that I stayed in and ask for help, since they should know the operations at the sister property. Even my guide, who picked me up the next day, joked that I had “survived” the night!

I guess it was more sustainable to not offer a full suite of services round the clock if there are only two rooms. I’m not sure about you, but I think luxury means having what you want when you want it, never mind that it may seem excessive. Isn’t that why we pay for luxury? It may not be sustainable, but at least it’s my sustenance for a luxurious travel experience!