Holly Rooke visits French resort Villages Nature Paris, a collection of holiday cottages just 20 miles from the French capital, to see how it has incorporated sustainable principles into its large scale design and operations.
The new resort Villages Nature Paris, a collaboration between EuroDisney S.C.A. and Groupe Pierre & Vacances Centre Parcs, is a collection of over 900 holiday cottages and apartments set in a tranquil, car-free landscape of forests, lakes and gardens.
The resort was planned, built and operated according to Bioregional’s One Planet Living Framework – ten principles covering aspects such as energy, carbon, water and waste. After more than a decade of planning and construction, and a total budget of €500 million, the site opened to guests in September 2017.
Five Immersive Worlds
The presence of Disney is unmissable in the layout of Villages Nature. Split into five ‘immersive worlds’ – The Aqualagon, the Bellevie Farm, the Extraordinary Gardens, the Forest of Legends and the Lakeside Promenade – the design aims to reconcile nature with the highly organised and schematic vision of Disney’s ‘imagineers’, and does so with surprising success. Each of the five worlds has a different theme and target age-range, but all are intended to allow and encourage guests to reconnect with nature, something that is obviously hugely important to the people behind Villages Nature.
The heart of Villages Nature – both geographically and conceptually – this huge waterpark, complete with seven waterslides, numerous pools, rapids, jacuzzis and a wave machine, is heated year-round entirely by geothermal energy. The geothermal source which heats the water also provides 100% of the heat energy demand of the site, and even generates excess power which is sent to Disneyland. The fun of the Aqualagon encapsulates what is so promising about Villages Nature: its commitment to providing a destination that makes being sustainable enjoyable and effortless for its guests. After all, what could be better than swimming in the April sun in deliciously warm water in the knowledge that it was heated by a completely renewable energy source.
Accommodation The accommodation is provided in a mixture of cottages and apartments, all built using low-carbon cement and sustainable timber, which saved approximately 12,000 tonnes of carbon emissions compared to the French construction average. Each accommodation has its own private garden or green space, creating a sense of spaciousness that I was not expecting from a resort of this size. Inside, my apartment was comfortable and light, the design simple but attractive. The pack of eco washing up liquid and other kitchen necessities was a particularly nice touch, demonstrating a meticulousness that was apparent throughout my time in Villages Nature.
Some 97% of waste created during the construction of the accommodation and the remainder of the resort was sorted and diverted from landfill – not quite reaching the One Planet target of zero waste, but not far off. Emelie Reiss, CSR Manager at Groupe Pierre & Vacances, was honest about the challenges presented by maintaining the One Planet principles throughout a project of this size: getting each one of the countless firms involved in the construction to buy into the zero waste vision was, she said, definitely one of these.
Activities Like the immersive worlds, the various activities available on site are all centred around the desire to get guests in contact with nature. For adults, there’s everything ranging from cross-country running and paddleboarding to bee-keeping and wine tasting, while for kids there’s hut building, cooking classes and a designated kid’s club, developed in partnership with Disneynature. Listening to this list of diverse pursuits I had the sense, which had come up at numerous points before, that the developers were constantly searching for those activities that have a double benefit: good for the health and happiness of the guest and good for the planet.
Getting there Just 20 miles from the centre of Paris, Villages Nature is easily accessible by public transport. From London, I took the Eurostar to Paris and then caught the RER train to Marne-la-Vallée, where a bus runs directly to Villages Nature. The whole journey can be done in around four hours. The site itself is car-free, which, it is hoped, will encourage guests to lower their carbon footprint while staying in the resort.
The meticulous care with which so many aspects of the planning, construction and operation of the project was and is referred back to the One Planet Living Principles is impressive for a resort of this size. Additionally, the commitment to doing so in a way that is fun and easy for guests is hugely promising for the future of sustainable tourism, in a world in which many people still see ‘being green’ as a chore – not something to do on holiday.
As Emelie Reiss told me: “Villages Nature was designed to offer a positive vision of sustainability. We have to keep in mind that people are here primarily for leisure, relaxation and enjoyment, and offer them the opportunity to do this in a way that does not damage the planet.”
== Disclosure: Holly Rooke was a guest of Village Nature Paris and Bioregional. Holly had full editorial control of the review, which is written in her own words based on her experience of visiting Villages Nature Paris in the spring of 2018. All opinions are the author's own.