Destination Treehouse! Four Gorgeous and Green Aerial Accommodations

My treehouse growing up was more of a fort; a simple piece of plywood wedged into the meeting place of three branching tree trunks. The 70-year-old oak tree from which I spied leaned a bit precariously over an embankment above our driveway. It was the perfect place to observe undetected. The tree kept me good company with its rough bark and leaves (bright to dark green to brown and crinkly, depending on the seasons) with pointed edges. It was solid under my legs when I inched up the trunk to get a better view.

The sound of the wind in the leaves is one I remember clearly and can conjure up almost any time I need a calming. So the idea of staying in a treehouse hotel of some sort seems automatically more relaxing to me than a regular room in a box of a hotel.


If panoramic views of the Balinesian rainforest caps off your idea of an organically-infused getaway, then the Ubud Hanging Gardens will provide hours of natural inspiration and relaxation (a river runs nearby). The panoramic deluxe pool villas come with a heated infinity pool (as pictured above), but you can also chill on the native Bali-style verandah or enjoy the forest from your room, since they have floor-to-ceiling windows to take advantage of the privacy of the area.


I love that the Hana Lani treehouses in Maui come with a warning that they might be too rustic for some (glamping is so popular these days….). I love a gorgeous high end hotel, but simple, dropped-into-nature experiences are more my style. This double-level treehouse rental has a larger master bedroom at the top (with ocean views!) and a living room and kitchen below. No electricity is available, but running water and a regular toilet are. Love!


A former country house in Lenox, Massachusetts, the Wheatleigh gets all kinds of great reviews. But it has one extra-special room; the aptly-named Aviary, is “A former aviary transformed into a two-story suite with a private covered terrace. The downstairs living room features windows on all sides and a BeoVision 9-50 Entertainment System. A sculptural glass enclosed circular stair leads to a second floor sleeping room floating in the trees. A unique bathroom with limestone and glass wet room combines a soaking tub and shower area.”

The Wheatleigh abuts 22 acres of Fredrick Law Olmstead-designed parklands, so you can venture out, or stay close by. Western Massachusetts is beautiful year-round as a locale for outdoor sports like cross-country skiing, iceskating and snowshoeing, and is nearby the Tanglewood Arts Center, for music lovers. Staying in the Aviary would be like icing on the mountaincake.


Tranquil Resort in Kerala, India, offers not one, but two treehouse lodgings, both located about 35 feet above the forest floor. If you are travelling solo or with your sweetie, the Tree House is perfect, (watch the slideshow with the tree trunk running through the bathroom!). But if you are part of a larger group or family, check out the TreeVilla (pictured here): “The 1080 sq.feet TreeVilla is spacious, child friendly and completely insect-proofed. Designed to accommodate up to four people, it has 8 feet verandahs on two sides and two bathrooms – one, with a panoramic view of the estate.”

The World’s Best Ethical Destinations for 2012: “Travel is a Powerful Communicating Tool”

ethicaltraveller is a nonprofit that takes an unbiased look at the status of socially and environmentally responsible programs in developing nations. I was incredibly curious to see which countries they designate as being the ‘best’ to travel to, because I believe in not only seeing the world, but supporting companies, countries, programs and incentives that actively work to protect indigenous people, give good jobs, protect the environment, and support human rights.

As they state: “There are many ways to deliver a message and take a stand for human rights and the health of our planet. Social networks are critical—but travel is also a powerful communicating tool. Travel and tourism are among the planet’s driving economic forces, and every journey we take makes a statement about our priorities and commitment to change.”

And The Winners Are:

Ethical Traveler congratulates the countries on our 2012 list of The Developing World’s 10 Best Ethical Destinations. The winners, in alphabetical order (not in order of merit), are:

Argentina *
The Bahamas
Chile *
Costa Rica *
Dominica *
Latvia *
Palau *
Uruguay *
( * = also appeared on our 2011 list).

Check out all the considerations that went into putting this list together on the Ethical Traveller site, but the short list is below:

“Every year, Ethical Traveler reviews the policies and practices of all the nations in the developing world. We then select the ten that are doing the best job of promoting human rights, preserving their environment, and creating a sustainable, community-based tourism industry. By visiting these destinations, we use our economic power—our travel dollars—to support these countries.”

So far, of countries on the list, I’ve gotten to visit Costa Rica and the Bahamas, and Chile and Argentina are high on my list of places I’d like to see in 2012. Where have you been and where do you want to go? (PS – I’m going to have to do some reading about Mauritius and Palau…have to admit I don’t know much about them!)

The St. Regis Princeville: Kaua’i’s Crown Jewel, and Ethical Too

The walk from the St. Regis Princeville to the beach.

My favorite kind of wedding to attend is, by far, the destination wedding. While an open bar is never not fun, it’s even better if the drinks are located in a country that takes a passport to get into. And a wedding is a genuine excuse to blow your budget to travel (I barely need an excuse to get out of town, but it’s always nice to have one).

So when my boyfriend received an invitation to nuptials in Kaua’i, I started planning the trip immediately, even though I had never met the bride or groom. Having sojourned on the Big Island and visited Oahu numerous times growing up, I was excited to check out “The Garden Isle” of Kaua’i, which I’d heard so much about.

The Makana Terrace at the St. Regis is just one of the hotel’s restaurants that serves local, organic food. Image courtesy St. Regis Princeville.

After scouring the web for ethical accommodations, I ended up at the St. Regis in Princeville, a stunning hotel in the old-school style, with impeccable customer service and a lobby that I’ll never forget (picture several story-high glass windows fronting a view of one of the most famed spots in Kaua’i and miles of ocean and sky).

While not a small lodging, the St. Regis is well integrated into its environment, and unlike many of the newer hotels I’ve lately seen, it doesn’t try to be more than its location. I have a major antipathy for cheesy, overdone, glitzy hotels that seem designed in Des Moines and plopped down wherever tourists are flying this year. The St. Regis is not one of these, but in its elegance, seems almost to serve to remind us why a boutique hotel isn’t always the way to go.

I had a bit of a stretch out on the rocks in the bay off the beach at the St. Regis.

I had the chance to have a lovely breakfast with Stephanie Reid, the Director of Public Relations for the hotel; she is both a native Hawaiian from Kaua’i (going back 10 generations) and a wealth of knowledge of the natural and human history about the area where the St. Regis is located.

Having grown up watching old movies with my grandma, I immediately recognized the dramatically gorgeous mountain peaks sweeping down into the bay behind the St. Regis as those from the movie version of the 1958 Rogers and Hammerstein musical “South Pacific,” (watch here and here) a fact which Stephanie corroborated. “This place speaks to what people dream about when they think of Hawaii,” Stephanie said, and this is no tourist-friendly hyperbole. “We have respect for this place, and practice the best stewardship that we can,” continued Stephanie, which for the St. Regis includes a plethora of environmental and social programs.

Relaxing in the pool.

Starting with the food in the hotel’s restaurants, most of what is served is organic and local, including fish, greens and fruit. “We support farmers in the North shore, and the menu is created around what we grow here,” Stephanie told me. “It’s more than sugarcane and pineapple; we serve Kunana Farms goat cheese, and we use Malie spa products, which are based on locally-grown taro root combined with flower essences.” The executive chef works directly with the community so that everyone gets what they need.

The St. Regis Princeville’s environmental commitments extend to green roofs, non-toxic cleaning products, and a serious seabird conservation program (wherein the hotel adjusts its lighting during the Shearwater’s migration period and has instituted a bird recovery policy for those birds who go astray).

My boyfriend is a yoga teacher, and he enjoyed practicing outside on the many lawns at the St. Regis.

For those of us keeping track of our points, the St. Regis group of hotels (there are 22, the flagship property is the historic hotel in NYC) is part of Starwood, and the mission for all the properties is to cut water use by 20% and energy use by 30% by 2020.

The St. Regis hotel looking back from its private beach.

Princeville, where the St. Regis is located, is part of a resort-only area, and it is basically set up for tourists, with shops (and a grocery store) for incidentals and picnic fare, as well as souvenirs, etc. Keeping all the visitors together, and designating one area for development (this one dates back to the 60′s) means that not only can resources be combined, but that other areas are left undeveloped, an important way for areas supported by tourism to both control and monitor those businesses, and also protect natural resources.

Enjoying the water in Hanelei Bay, which is just feet from the pool.

After slacking in our room (with an endless view) and enjoying the pool and beach, both of which front onto a bay that’s ringed with steep-sided green mountains which are remnants of the island’s volcanic history, my boyfriend and I drove around the island. Well, almost. You can’t drive all the way around Kaua’i (like you can on Oahu or the Big Island), since the road deadends at two spots due to Waimea Canyon, which is well-described as “The Grand Canyon of the Pacific.”

You can try to capture the view from the trail, but this is the best you can do.

But you can hike where there’s no road, and while trekking the whole distance would take some time (and gear), there are plenty of day walking paths that go from isolated beach to beach (there are usually only a few other people around since the only way in is on foot). And while Kauai’s natural beauty is the celebrated landscape shot, an up-close interaction with the red earth, the sometimes craggy volcanic rock and the riot of tropical plants and flowers is only available to those who take a hike.

A freshwater stream runs into the ocean along the two-mile hike from Ke’e Beach to Hanakapiai Beach.

The glorious trek my boyfriend and I embarked upon, the first few miles of the Kalalau Trail, is popular walk, and though guides list it as strenuous, I think that’s a bit conservative. An energetic 8-year-old could definitely handle it, as well as anyone else in reasonable shape. The path starts at the end of the paved road, which in Kaua’i, includes a beach, of course. Ke’e beach fronts a perfect-for-snorkelling lagoon (which I enjoyed post-hike), and the path ends, after about two miles, at a secluded waterfalled beach in the Na Pali State Park. In between, the route climbs up and down in such a way that you get the perfect workout without feeling exhausted.

The views are nothing short of totally breathtaking, to the extent that you keep wanting to stop and take pictures – until you realize that you’re never going to be able to capture it all.

Along the route through the Na Pali State Park on the Kalalau Trail.

While you can keep hiking – and overnighters or ambitious dayhikers do, we ended up spending an hour or so enjoying the views from Hanakapiai beach, doing some yoga, and playing in the waterfall and stream before heading back the way we came. Usually I don’t like to hike a loop, but in this case the views on the way back were just as fabulous, and I got a slightly different perspective on the coastline. That’s because we got rained on – twice – on the way to the hidden beach, so it was fun to see the mountains towering above me sans clouds on the return voyage just a hour or so later, now all sparkling-dripping in the sunshine.


And don’t worry, while regular mini-rainshowers (that’s how I see them coming from the stormy Northeast US) are certainly common, they are more than balanced out by sunshine, and indeed the sprinklings not only cool a warm hiker off, but insidiously inculcate the walker into the environment, as your own perspiration mixes with the mist and drops coming from the sky until you don’t know where you end and the clouds begin. In situations like this, with warm temps and sunshine mixed in, rain gear is just a bother. Just get wet and dry off.

Crossing the stream to get to the beach. Freshwater meets ocean.

I did much of this hike barefoot; after the initial rocky uphill from the parking area, most of the path was trodden-smooth earth, and was easy and fun to walk on. As a barefoot (when I can) runner, my feet are tough enough to deal with the minimal things I could have stepped upon. Stream crossings are common here, too, so if you don’t feel comfortable hiking barefoot, water sandals like Chacos are the next best thing.

“Typical” Hawaiian rainbow.

After we made our way back, then checked out the world-famous (for surfers) Tunnels Beach for a bit, then came back the next day to explore a large dry cave there and have more beach time (which involved admiring not only the ocean out front, but the dynamic vertical wall covered in plant life that juts up at the rear of the beach, creating the feeling of being in a giant, but still circumscribed room made from lava rock and plants with the beach as lanai).

A rainbow came out to greet us as the newly-married bride and groom (and the wedding party) moved through yoga poses on the beach, and so I’ll end on that perfectly Hawaiian image.

My boyfriend taught a yoga class on the beach. Most of the wedding group joined in to stretch out the partying from the night before.

All images by Starre Vartan except where indicated.

Three Vintage Carry On Bags for Travelling in Sustainable Style


One of my favorite parts of travelling is packing; bear with me here. While I don’t relish putting together my bigger suitcase or bag (which I always check), setting up my carry on, whether it’s for a long train voyage or a shorter (but more stressful) plane flight, is good fun. I save up copies of Elle, Monocle, and the New Yorker, carefully choose at least two books – yes I still read on paper – and ensure I have enough moisturizer, facial spritz, hand wipes, lip balm, healthy snacks and podcasts loaded on my phone. It’s fun to pack it all in there, the minimum number and quantity of items that one needs immediately while voyaging.

One thing that has eluded me thus far is the perfect bag in which to keep everything. Etsy seems to be the ideal place to start any bag-finding expedition, and I found some lovely ones made from vintage leather, fabric, and veggie-tanned leather.

The Glorianne, above, by Leonie Saliba, is like an extra-giant handbag, which makes it kind of a fun piece, as well as being practical. Made from vegetable-tanned leather, it’s plenty big enough for a laptop and much more.


The African mudcloth travel bag from Etsy seller missprettyperfect is made of a soft material, in the traditional African colors and style (you can read all about the design and how it was put together on the seller’s blog). Handmade and fully lined, it looks like this bag could well double as a pillow, which of course is perfect for travelling.


This vintage leather bag from Salvage Life is just the most beautiful color and style. Absolutely classic and would go with anything/everything.

Costa Rica’s Tourism Board Gave Me a Green Gift of Happiness!


After a long day last week, and a green event to cap off the night, I checked my mail right before I entered the subway and one particular email caught me off guard. It seemed way too good to be true. So I re-read it, and even walked back up to Columbus Circle to get better reception (to read it again).  Here’s an excerpt:


Because of the large readership of the Brown Loves Green blog, your influence through, and your involvement in other eco-friendly blogs across the web, Costa Rica’s Tourism Board would like to give you a free trip to Costa Rica.

Costa Rica is sending out a select number of these Gifts of Happiness in the form of customized trips, and because your values align with Costa Rica’s belief in Pura Vida, you’ve been hand-selected to receive a trip for two.

Say what? I had that whole “if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is” internal dialogue going on.

But as it turns out, I was not delirious from exhaustion.  Nor had I sniffed too many naturally scented eco-friendly products at the event that eve. And it wasn’t too good to be true.

Costa Rica’s tourism board really has so graciously given me a gift of complete and utter happiness: an all-expense-paid trip for two for eight days to their beautifully green country! But that’s not all …

My boyfriend Dan (whose arm needed no twisting on this one) and I were able to choose from five uniquely themed trips, all of which are absolutely incredible in every way imaginable! They each include top CST-rated (Certification for Sustainable Tourism) hotels (an honor reserved for the most ecologically friendly hotels), exotic excursions, and organic opportunities to truly experience Costa Rica — the happiest place on earth.

Costa Rica’s generous gift, which made me the happiest girl on earth, is all a part of their “Million Dollar Gift of Happiness”campaign which aims to spread good energy and happiness with a million dollars’ worth of free trips to the country. “Like” the Visit Costa Rica Facebook page, and you could win yourself a trip! And on Anderson Cooper’s daytime show today, he’ll present a Gift of Happiness to the couple in this viral video, making them the happiest couple on earth!


I met up with Costa Rica’s PR team while they were in NYC this past weekend, and they assured me that their email wasn’t a big hoax on me, and even made it official by hand-delivering a beautiful certificate, made using responsibly sourced wood.


When I shared the news with Starre she excitedly declared, “It’s PHENOMENAL! It’s really one of my fave places in the entire world! Literally every single person I know who has traveled there, has shared the very same sentiments with me.

But I decided to do my own pre-trip research and look into what exactly makes Costa Rica so green and so good. Here are a just few fun facts I found and adore (for obvious reasons!). I think you will too:

  • It’s considered one of the most bio-diverse regions in the world (they have 5% of the earth’s biodiversity)
  • Costa Rica is an ecological pioneer. The country aims to become the first carbon-neutral country by 2021
  • Costa Rica ranked third in the world, and first among the Americas, in terms of the 2010 Environmental Performance Index
  • Costa Rica ranks first in the Happy Planet Index. Here’s a great  NY Times piece on the country,”The Happiest People” by one of my favorite columnists, Nicholas D. Kristof
  • The National Park of Corcovado has been called “the most biologically intense place on earth” by the National Geographic Society
  • Costa Rica has a female President! Laura Chinchilla is the first woman to lead the nation. Would love to interview Laura for Heroines for the Planet one day!
But seeing is believing after all. What could be better than actually exploring all of the green goodness for myself? My trip promises to be well-documented, here of course, and I can’t wait to share my authentic adventures in the greenest and happiest place on earth!


Have you been to Costa Rica? If so, post a comment and share your favorite thing about the country! I’d love to hear about your experiences and any recommendations you could offer up too!


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