Home Lifestyle Travel Destinations Sustainable tourism: the best eco-friendly destinations in Europe
Last update on September 17, 2020
Sophie Pettit Written by Sophie Pettit

Satisfy your wanderlust while making the world a better place by visiting these award-winning destinations dedicated to sustainable tourism.

Today’s consumers are more concerned than ever about the impact their travels have on the environment. Indeed, the 2019 Sustainable Travel Report by Booking.com reveals that 71% of global travelers think that travel companies should offer more sustainable travel options. Furthermore, when it comes to in-destination experiences, more than half (52%) claim they now alter their behavior to be more sustainable wherever possible. Fortunately, there are numerous ways to satisfy our wanderlust while ensuring that our hard-earned euros help make the world a better place. Just take a look at these destinations around Europe that have won awards in recognition of their commitment to sustainable tourism.

Go bear watching in Wild Taiga, Finland

Animal cruelty remains a contentious issue when it comes to tourism throughout Europe and the rest of the world. And while there is still a long way to go before many governments implement strict laws to protect wildlife, there are some organizations that are doing things right. You can find some of these in Wild Taiga; one of the few areas in Europe where it is possible to see endangered brown bears in their natural environment. Located in the northeast of Finland, the spectacular terrain is teeming with wildlife from May to September. A guided expedition along the wilderness trails will bring you close to brown bears that have emerged from winter hibernation. Along the way, you might also be lucky enough to spot wolves, mooses, reindeer, foxes, and beavers. Needless to say, the photo opportunities are second to none.

Bear watching in Wild Taiga, Finland

Around 60 privately-owned companies belong to the Wild Taiga travel trade association. This aims to provide sustainable tourism while preserving the native skills and knowledge of the region. This includes several tour operators that offer bear watching expeditions in the region. One such organization is Responsible Travel which offers four-day group tours to witness brown bears without creating any impact. During the trip, all accommodation and transport is locally-owned and tour leaders are trained in responsible and sustainable tourism. The company is also a member of UK travel industry bodies Tourism Concern and AITO. Furthermore, it supports Cool Earth, which empowers indigenous communities to conserve their forest and keep CO2 locked in.

Relax at the Lefay Resort & Spa, Lake Garda, Italy

Sustainable tourism doesn’t necessarily mean having to scrimp on luxury – far from it. There are numerous wellness retreats throughout Europe that successfully manage to balance sustainability with pure indulgence. One such retreat is the award-winning Lefay Resort & Spa Lago di Garda in Italy. Perched on the side of a mountain in Gargnano, the 11-hectare eco-resort remains one of the most beautiful in Europe. The luxury retreat was the first in Italy to be certified organic and ecological by Ecocert; one of the largest organic certification organizations in the world. Furthermore, LeFay was the first company in the Italian tourism sector to work extensively to neutralize CO2 emissions. It takes a holistic approach to sustainable tourism, following its own Green Book of measures.

Lefay Resort & Spa Lago di Garda

These focus on saving water and energy, recycling, and the responsible use of resources. From its design to its daily operations, every aspect of the complex is eco-friendly. The resort is built entirely from locally-sourced biocompatible materials and is designed so that it integrates into the terraced hillsides. As well as creating minimal visual impact, its clever bioarchitecture also enables it to reduce energy consumption; while maintaining a high level of thermal insulation. The resort also produces its own electricity on-site using state-of-the-art renewable energy systems. Meanwhile, rainwater is collected and recycled for use within the grounds, which include six types of sauna, five relaxation areas, and an infinity pool. All these measures combine to offer you a guilt-free spa break of a lifetime in an eco-friendly paradise.

Bathe in the healing thermal waters of Laško, Slovenia

The Slovenia town of Laško is famous for its thermal springs, which are known for their healing powers. After the Romans discovered the springs in 39 B.C, people came from all over to bathe in their legendary waters; hoping to heal their various ailments. Today, Laško is hailed as one of the most beautiful green tourist destinations in Slovenia. This is owing to its commitment to promoting sustainable tourism. In 2013, the town was certified as a European Destination of Excellence (EDEN) by the European Commission which promotes sustainable tourism. In 2019, it also received the Slovenia Green Gold Label by the Green Scheme of Slovenian Tourism (GSST).

Thermana Laško

You can still benefit from the therapeutic effects of the thermal waters today at the Thermana Laško and Rimske Terme health resorts. The former is one of the most modern thermal centers in Slovenia and characterized by its magnificent glass dome. This houses three whirlpools, a pool with waves, a children’s play pool, a water slide, and a massage pool. You can spend up to a whole day relaxing in the soothing thermal water while detoxifying your body. But if you really want to indulge, you can stay at the Hotel Thermana Park Laško. Here, you can make use of a wide range of fitness and wellness facilities on offer.

Dive with sharks in the Azores, Portugal

Fewer things will get your heart pounding than coming face to face with Jaws. But if you love sharks, then a scuba diving trip to the Azores will be the eco-trip of a lifetime. Nicknamed “the last hidden treasure of Europe”, the cluster of nine Portuguese islands is one of the few places in the world where you can swim with the blue shark. During the late summer months, this diver’s paradise is swarming with manta rays, mobulas, squid, and – if you’re lucky – sperm whales. Needless to say, the archipelago is a hotspot for nature lovers and divers at this time of year.

Shark diving in the Azores

Fortunately, this green destination is famous worldwide for its commitment to sustainable tourism. This earned it the Sustainable Destination Award for the ‘Best of Nature’ category in 2020. There are numerous shark diving tour operators to choose from in the area, with each practicing sustainable tourism. Dive Azores, for instance, is a small, but high-quality eco-tourism operation run by marine biologists. They offer spectacular whale watching and diving experiences off Faial Island. CW Azores and Pico Sport are other reputable operators that put sustainable nature conservation at the heart of their tours. Their expert teams offer you the chance to observe sharks, dolphins, and whales in the heart of Europe’s green paradise.

Go eco-glamping at the foot of the Pyrenees in Ariège, France

Nothing brings you closer to nature than camping under the stars – or rather, glamping. If you want to experience something totally unique from your traditional hotel stay, there are plenty of eco-glamping destinations to explore around Europe. These allow you to relax in nature while creating minimal impact on your surroundings. Many of these campsites follow innovative sustainable measures that go way beyond simply recycling. One such place is Camping La Serre which carries the international environmental Clef Verte label for sustainable tourism. Located at the foot of the Pyrenees in Ariège, France, the three-star eco-campsite boasts a whopping 66 places to stay.

Camping La Serre

These include seven luxury lodge tents, several charming chalets and mobile homes, a wooden cabin on stilts; plus 47 pitches for tents, caravans, and motorhomes. Each nestled within a tranquil setting, the sites offer a large private area and a different view of the surrounding countryside of the Pyrenees. The campsite’s environmental approach includes using solar panels to produce electricity, sorting and recovering green waste, and reducing water consumption. It also works to help preserve the local wildlife and flora and fauna. There are many hiking and mountain bike trails to explore in Ariège during your stay. You can also visit the archaeological caves of Niaux or Lombrives, or go canyoning, rafting, and canoeing.

Go hiking in the Bystřicko Region, Czech Republic

If you love to hike, then navigating the unspoiled landscapes of the Bystřicko region in the Czech-Moravian Highlands will feel like paradise. This is considered to be one of the best sustainable destinations for hiking in Europe. The region is certified as a European Destination of Excellence (EDEN) by the European Commission; owing to its commitment to protecting the environment. Located within the Svratka River Nature Park, Bystřicko boasts a Bison Country hiking trail and two of Moravia’s oldest castles, Zubštejn and Pernštejn. The latter dates back to the 13th century and is said to be haunted by the White Lady. As the legend goes, a local monk cursed her for her wanton lifestyle.

The Bystřicko Region, Czech Republic

People say she wanders the corridors looking for the mirror, which she spent a lot of time in front of. It is believed that any woman who looks into this mirror will lose their beauty in it – so be warned! There are many other architectural gems and landmarks to explore in the region too. Highlights include the Romanesque Church of St. Michael in the village of Rovečné. You will also discover the UNESCO listed Pilgrimage Church of St John of Nepomuk at Zelená Hora, and the third-highest dam in the Czech Republic, Vír Reservoir. For breathtaking views over the reservoir and the Žďár Peaks, make sure to climb to the top of the Karasín lookout tower.

Sail on a solar-powered charter yacht in Ibiza

The beautiful weather, crystal-clear waters, and exciting array of things to do make Ibiza a tourist hotspot during the summer months. But sailing enthusiasts now have a totally unique way of exploring the island without damaging the local environment. Several companies in the region now offer trips on board a solar-powered charter yacht. This is part of the ‘green boating movement’ to make sailing more sustainable. The most famous of these companies is the award-winning La Bella Verde, which is Ibiza’s first zero-emissions boating operator. Since 2014, it has been running a fleet of seven solar-powered catamarans to take tourists to some of the most beautiful and secluded spots in the Balearic sea.

La Belle Verde

Depending on your budget and the package you choose, you can bring up to 32 guests on board for the day. During your voyage, you can indulge in local, organic food with organic wine and cocktails made fresh on the boat. Impressively, the company also created the first emission-free Plastic Ocean Cleanup catamaran in 2019. A robust net structure is suspended beneath the emission-free eco-boat, collecting and removing plastic as it goes. Thanks to the generous crew, you can also hop on board the heroic catamaran and go dolphin spotting for free.