Maria Lougari’s commitment to creating a network of environmentally aware hoteliers. Maintaining the olive trees, developing the farm, protecting the Caretta Caretta turtles
Interview with Maria Lougari – Manager Castelli Hotel
According to Maria Lougari, owner and Manager at Castelli Hotel – adults only – in Laganas, Zakynthos, in Greece there is a lack of environmental education. «Many locals believe that for a hotel to be sustainable it won’t be upscale or comfortable. This is not true, and it is not expensive to be sustainable. We have solar panels, we recycle and reuse. In the garden we have a composting unit, and we practice circular economy. We use the remains from the restaurant to feed the animals of the farm we own or to make compost. Then, we fertilize the farm». About four years ago Castelli Hotel started to host activities at the olive grove. They produce olive oil and, in October, host a harvest activity for guests. On Monday and Thursday mornings, after breakfast, Maria’s father takes guests on a tour of the farm. All the produce coming from the farm is consumed by guests. Zakynthos has been Greece’s fifth most popular destination in the last year – the others are Mykonos, Santorini, Crete, Rhodes and Kos. «If it weren’t for the Covid-19 pandemic, we would have better results in terms of sustainability. We are using plastic at the moment to maintain everything sterilized. That is why we have taken out a lot of decorations in the room, such as books to borrow».
Stepping out onto the wooden patio where meals are taken, you can see the sea, but before this, there is a green cushion – Castelli’s farm – populated with palm and fruit trees. Below the terrace, the pool area surrounded by plants and right, overlooking a large garden, is the offshoot of the structure that houses the rooms – those on the ground floor have a private pool. In the centre of the structure, an old curved tree makes its way up towards the sky. «I call it the Love Tree. Four rooms of the structure have been sacrificed in order to save it. Guests can write their love wishes. Before my parents left the country together, when they were young and in love, they used to meet at this tree. It is the oldest eucalyptus on the island. When they came back, they started to buy back the land, and the tree was part of it». Guests can take part in a lottery, called the Lucky Heart – winners receive a small voucher. Further, at the end of the season, we also host a lottery and the Lucky Heart of this year wins a free stay for next year.
Castelli hotel: the history and the present of commitment
The hotel opened in 1992, but the Lougari family started the construction works in 1989. «Next year, we will celebrate our thirtieth anniversary. I was born in Australia because my parents were there at the time. They realized they did not want to live there forever: my father went to Sydney and after ten years he came back to marry my mother. Later, they went back to Sydney together. After almost ten years, they decided to move the family to Greece and to make us grow here. Me, my mother and my brother moved back to Athens. I therefore grew up in Athens, while my father was still in Australia. During summertime, we used to visit Australia, while in the winter we were in Athens, for school months. My father worked for an airline company. For this reason, we had the opportunity to travel a lot. He came back to Greece when the hotel was starting».
The sustainability philosophy was inspired by his international mentality and background. «Unfortunately, most of the time, his generation doesn’t allow young individuals to take the reins of businesses. My father, on the contrary, is mentally advanced for his age. During the construction of the building he was already recycling in Australia. We had lots of cans because construction workers used to drink from them. He did not want to throw them away, so he would save them for the recycling organizations. When they came, we used to be congratulated by the Mayor». A recent project Castelli promotes is linked to loom weaving. Back in the years, locals would use old carpets to make cover to protect themselves from the cold. Our supplier, Vagenas, provides us with a large volume of unused fabrics. We ask guests to make their small souvenirs with different fabrics».
Laganas is the most touristic area in Zakynthos, nightlife venues are an attraction for young people. At the same time, however, the whole bay is a protected area. «This means high speed motor boats are not allowed. The Marine has managed to balance the volume of carbon footprint and noise pollution. Every week, we have volunteers coming here to explain to guests why the Caretta-Caretta turtles came to the island and where they are to be seen».
Protecting Caretta caretta turtles
Very little is known about Caretta caretta, like most sea turtles. Like all reptilians, they are cold-blooded, which leads them to prefer temperate waters. They breathe air, as they are equipped with lungs, but are capable of very long apnoea. They spend most of their lives in the deep sea, occasionally returning to the surface to breathe. They can reach speeds of over 35 km/h in the water. They are omnivorous animals: they feed on molluscs, crustaceans, gastropods, echinoderms, fish and jellyfish, but everything has been found in their stomachs: from plastic bags, probably mistaken for jellyfish, to caps and other plastic objects, hooks mistaken for fish, nets and wires mistaken for algae. The Zakynthos Marine National Park, established on 22 December 1999, is one of the largest nesting sites in the Mediterranean, with an average of more than 1,300 nests per year. Here, voluntary work to protect the nests is carried out by the Archelon association, which also runs a hospital for the recovery of injured specimens.
For a network of committed hoteliers
Being respectful towards the environment means also supporting the locals. «It would be easier if different hoteliers were committed to this as well. We could grow more products in Zakynthos than what we do now, as it is a fertile land. We have ancient farming techniques and high-quality standards, but not competitive prices. If more demand would come from the hotels, locals would be more productive in an economic way. A network of hoteliers and locals should be established therefore. We also have a big consumption of wine produced by local realities. It would be cheaper if hotels bought it from them as well».
Atlantica Eleon Grand Resort is located in Tragaki
In the north-eastern part of Zakynthos, there is another attempt to create an environmentally friendly hotel industry. Atlantica Eleon Grand Resort is located in Tragaki, in the eastern part of the island of Zakynthos. This infrastructure is surrounded by an estate of 41.000 m2 made of of organically grown olive trees and gardens, in order to enhance the green impact of the Resort. Weekly beach clean-ups are organized, and the guests of the hotel are invited to participate, as well as the inhabitants of the nearby cities. Consequently, plastic and other kinds of waste, such as cigarette butts are correctly disposed of. Other actions taken to face the current environmental challenges are the collection of cooking oil, which is then employed in biodiesel production by an approved supplier; the separation of domestic and non-domestic waste is carried out, and the appropriate recycling of glass, paper, plastic, batteries, toners, cartridges and electrical devices is enforced; replacement of one-use plastic items with reusable and biodegradable ones is enabled.
The Atlantica Eleon Grand Resort has also committed itself to buy at least forty percent of its total food and beverage from local suppliers, in order to cut the CO2 emission and in order to reduce pollution. The resort is a sponsor of WWF and Archelon, the Greek sea turtle protection society: thanks to the action of these two organisations, the Caretta Caretta turtle species has been protected by the tourism industry, which has a high impact on the island. Biodiversity’s protection is listed among Atlantica Hotels & Resorts’ values and goals. The beaches in front of the Atlantica Eleon Grand Resort have obtained the Blue Flag Beach certificate, an international recognition which proves that the beach meets 32 criteria linked to environment, safety and accessibility issues.
Atlantica Hotels & Resorts
The Atlantica Eleon Grand Resort is part of the Atlantica Hotels & Resorts chain. This latter owns touristic infrastructures in Cyprus, Greece and Egypt. The Atlantica Group distinguishes itself from the other hotels and resorts’ chain for its commitment to pursue low environmental impact and sustainable development hand in hand with business growth. All the hotels of the chain have been recognised with certificates which reach the European standards for Environmental and Sustainable Development Management Systems.
Castelli is an Adults Only Boutique Hotel located at Aghios Sostis, where the endangered Caretta-Caretta sea-turtles lay their eggs. Castelli received the international Sustainability Award by TUI Group, TUI UK & Ireland and TUI Nordic within the prestigious ceremony of the annual TUI Northern Region Awards and in London. World Travel Market 2018. Greek Travel Awards 2019 Greek hotels and destinations voted online in the Scandinavian market. Castelli won the Bronze Eco Hotel Award.