Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Sustainability Issues in Avignon

While I was working, in a previous life, as a consultant for a governement agency in Madagascar,  putting together the data for  the WorldHotelink website of this country, I became aware of the different meanings of " sustainable tourism", depending on one's cultural background.
 The WHL team ( Mostly anglo-saxon, and living in developed countries)  was expecting us to put more emphasis on large operations, with a recorded track of sustainability ( focusing on things like waste treatement, renewable energy, donations to NGO's...). They wanted no information on social issues, (minimum wages, local recrutment or ownership). The "Sustainable" hotel who won first price  that year was a US-owned luxury palace in a large track of private rainforest in Central America. (Sounded like an ex United Fruit plantation painted green to me !).
I was advocating the potential of small ( 5 to 20 rooms) units, family owned, located in small cities... My cultural model of sustainability was that of a french provencal Auberge ! Not illogical, if you consider that their modus operandi  has been sustained for several centuries, without negative impact on the environment nor trendy herbal-spas. But let me come to the point:
A holiday in Avignon is a case in point of sustainable, low-emissions tourism.
Green-minded tourists can have the time of their life here, eating proper food, and minimising their carbon imprint. To do so, you could arrive by train ; rent a pushbike from an automated ( an solar powered) docking post of the Velopop' system (pay per ride, city operated), then cycle your way around town. It's Avignon's answer to Paris's Velib bike-hire scheme or the Barclay's cycle hire launched in London today.
If you don't feel quite  fit enough, call a cycle rickshaw ! Velo cite (www.velo-cite.fr, phone 06 37 36 48 89, e mail : velociteavignon@gmail.com) is a team of four  hardy cyclists, ready to wheel you around town on comfy contraptions, british-built but looking very much like designer's version of Indian rickshaws. Avignon is rather flat, but the cyclists are helped by electric batteries and sharing their experience of town with the clients is one of their priorities.
Crossing the Rhone river on the electric ferry is also a must ; from the landing point, on the green Barthelasse island, you can walk to vegetable growers , and buy organic food . Several organic farmers exist in the so-called " green belt" within Avignon municipal limits, and inside town are also excellent retailers selling organic ( here we say "bio")  fruits and vegetables.  ( My favorite is La Courgette en Folie, rue Saint Michel). Many other opportunities abound in the city, for instance to understand the  potential of solar energy  in homes, or the organic food market organisation... all the while enjoying a pleasure trip in an inventive city  that has remained little changed since about 700 years. For lovers of the planet, it beats jetting to Central America, in my opinion.