Is This French Ecoresort a Game-Changer?

[Above: Accommodations at the Villages Nature ecoresort, a collaboration by Euro Disney and its French partner, Pierre et Vacances, owner of Center Parcs Europe.
Photos courtesy Villages Nature]

France’s Villages Nature Blazes a New Trail for Sustainable Tourism

Over the course of four visits to the new Villages Nature resort outside of Paris, I have become convinced that the world now has a new model for sustainable resorts and their neighboring communities. On each visit, I developed a deeper appreciation for the design, the sustainability features, and the inspirational model Villages Nature represents.

My first visit, May of 2017, was during construction. Frank Heatherton, the Master Planner for the resort, gave me a tour. He shared a design that I believe is a potential game changer for sustainable tourism as it provides a high quality resort and tourism experience while mitigating the issues defined by the science of the Nine Planetary Boundaries put forth by the Stockholm Resilience Center.

Villages Nature launched on October 10, 2017. During my second visit, at the inauguration, I had the opportunity to speak with Joe Rohde, the Walt Disney Imagineer who contributed to much of the design of Villages Nature.

Part of the 300-acre Villages Nature resort.

“What were the key goals of Villages Nature?” I asked.

“We were trying to create utopian idea,” he responded. “Often sustainable architecture is executed in designs that are so modern-spirited they do not necessarily connect with a broad popular audience. This is a danger, because sustainability will mean nothing unless it is adopted by that broad audience. Our goal was to romanticize sustainability, to make it aspirational, to make it approachable, to make it poetic.”

“Then what were the key design strategies used to accomplish this?”

“We settled on symbolic language that infuses the entire site,” he said. “One in which circles and fluid forms are used to represent nature, and angular orthogonal forms represent human enterprise. These two are woven through each other to create harmonic compositions. In addition we treated the entire site as a metaphor of a garden. Gardens require our stewardship and care. Imagining the world as a garden allows a picture of nature in which human agency is always present. So landscapes of the park are all various exclamations of the idea of gardens, from vast natural forms like an English estate, to formality inspired by French classicism, the narrative mystery of Chinese gardens, and so on.”

From these conversations, I learned that despite Villages Nature paying no specific attention to the science or framework of the Nine Planetary Boundaries, the resort was operating with real promise to significantly address all nine of them. Here a new model for sustainable tourism for the world has been born, using Bioregional’s One Planet Living framework along with the expertise of the Walt Disney Imagineers and other team members like Thierry Haua.

The resort includes five themed areas:

  • The Aqualagon—a 9000 square meter water park.
  • The Promenade—an array of restaurants featuring local and organic food and shops featuring nature discovery items along with items to improve health and well being.
  • The Forest Legends—a playground with games designed to help families reconnect to nature.
  • The Belle Vie Farm—literally a farm-to-table opportunity coupled with ways for people to learn about growing their own food and cooking it.
  • The Extraordinary Gardens—four gardens themed to Earth, Fire, Air, and Water that provide games to learn the One Planet Living process and a meditative garden walk to connect with nature.

Map of Villages Nature shows the five themed areas, housing, and the pool..

My third visit I learned that the resort received the World Hospitality Award for “Best Initiative in Sustainable Development and Social Responsibility.” I also invited Villages Nature to participate in a pilot program for the new Blue Community Certification that includes the GSTC criteria, the 12 blue community strategies to protect, enhance, and restore coastal habitat and marine environments, and the One Planet Living framework.

From Marie Balman, the director of corporate social responsibility, I learned about the company’s commitment to operating in ways that benefit guests, employees, and other stakeholders. To date the resort has:

  • 40% of its supply chain from local businesses within 100 kilometers,
  • 82% of its employees from the local area,
  • had visits by 300 students from local schools,
  • and created 600 jobs.

My fourth visit was for Villages Nature’s one-year anniversary conference, on Leadership and Governance for Sustainable Tourism, co-hosted by Blue Community. We were able to present the Blue Community Certification to the resort. The certification has four levels, and Villages Nature achieved the highest.

I further learned more of its sustainability features:

  • The 18-kilometer geothermal system that heats not only all of Villages Nature but also 30% of the two Euro Disney theme parks. The system reduces CO2 by 9,000 tons a year.
  • A construction process that reused all excavated soil and diverted 98% of construction waste away from landfill.
  • A composting system that includes participation of waste separation in every cottage—zero waste to landfill.
  • A biodiversity plan that protects 72 species and brought back an additional 23.
  • The planting of 28,000 trees and 430,000 plants.
  • Water conservation efforts that keep the resort from ever tapping the aquifer.

In conclusion I offer you a few thoughts and impressions from my friends and colleagues who visited Villages Nature with me:

Villages Nature lets you enter in the magical world of a sustainable park that is beautifully designed. It is a park planned to let you think and learn about sustainability while you have fun and experience it individually as well as with your friends and family. It is very inspiring, and leaves you something beautiful inside. The Extraordinary Gardens and the Aqualagon were my favorite worlds. The Belle Vie Farm, was where I had my favorite food experience: a unique breakfast sitting surrounded by tea pots.” —Silvia Barbone

Villages Nature provides the perfect environment for family, friends, and guests to explore ways to ‘power-down’ in meaningful and fulfilling ways without compromising comfort or enjoyment.” —Rebecca Tobias

And from Joe Rohde:

“First of all, this is a place for a family to be together with each other, to experience the restorative calm of nature, and to have fun. After that, I hope people take time to imagine that this world they have experienced here could be built anywhere, in many climates, in many styles, and could become a model not for a utopian getaway, but for their own living communities.”

Villages Nature is nothing short of reinventing sustainable tourism.

We at Blue Community are now implementing projects in Florida where existing resorts are becoming more sustainable by integrating the Villages Nature model of the One Planet Living framework, the Blue Community strategies, and PM4SD (Project Management For Sustainable Development) skills.

Let us know if you want to bring this to your resort or community.

David Randle

About David Randle

Managing Director of the Blue Community Consortium and President & CEO WHALE Center. See http://www.bluecommunity.info/topics/view/51cbfc77f702fc2ba8129a32/

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