Eco-friendly accommodation on Hvar!

Published in Highlights

Ecobnb is an initiative for the 'new' age of growing environmental awareness.

View from the pool at Villa Perka View from the pool at Villa Perka Photo: Vilma Plazonja

Like the better-known Airbnb, it is an international organization which lists rental accommodation. The difference is that Ecobnb only lists properties which have 'eco-friendly' credentials. To qualify, the properties have to satisfy five of ten criteria: organic or local food, 100% renewable energy, car-free accessibility, ecological cleaning products, more than 80% waste recycling, energy saving lights, green building, solar thermal panels for hot water, water flow reducers, recovery & reuse of rainwater. Villa Perka is the first Ecobnb rental property on Hvar. Manager Vilma Plazonja is deeply committed to looking after Hvar's natural environment, and at the same time offering her guests a comfortable eco-friendly base from which to enjoy the surroundings. In the following article, she describes what eco-tourism means to her.

From 'Grandma's tea' to the first eco-accommodation on Hvar

Tourism on our island has a tradition which could well be the envy of many. All of us who have grown up here know full well that renting, even just one little room, has always been a great help in boosting the family budget. Not that renting would bring in lots of money, but it meant a lot because living off the land on an island with sparse dry soil was back-breakingly hard. A huge amount of work and effort went into producing and selling each final product of wine, olive oil, honey and lavender, and trying to earn enough to ensure one's family's survival.

Hvar's stony landscape, beautiful and tough! Photo: Vivian Grisogono

This karst landscape has never yielded much, but by the same token what it does produce is of the highest quality for taste, aroma, and healthy living. The truth is that top-quality never comes in large quantities, and for that reason it can be categorized as exclusive. This holds true for first-class wines, oil, honey, accommodation... and equally so for people. Among those who offer accommodation to guests and the visitors who come to us from all over the world looking for new experiences, emotions and enjoyment, only a small number can be called 'first-class'. Our way of life, our attitude to the natural environment and to the people around us, all the things which seem so small and simple that we often take them for granted, are actually the things our visitors look for and notice. They may even have come from nearby countries where alienation is the social norm, where neighbours don't know or greet each other. So the 'little things' in the customs of our society are an important and valuable part of our image and branding, they form the authentic atmosphere which tourists look for and appreciate.

My father working with bees, 1982

When our family house was built in the 1930s, my family's main occupation was beekeeping. In the early 1960s the first tourist visitors came to stay. Because my family used to travel away from the island with the bees, they got to know large parts of the former Yugoslavia, especially neighbouring Bosnia and Hercegovina. Through working with the bees and spending time in nature, my grandmother gained a deep knowledge of many types of plant, which she used to select to use for herb teas, brandies and liqueurs. She passed her love and knowledge of plants on to me, and I have gradually extended my own knowledge over time, collecting and using types of plants which are rarely, if ever used on the island. In her later years, my grandmother needed more help in preparing her 'grandma's tea', which would be sent to her friends as a welcome and much-prized gift. One of those friends, now nearing 90, used to take grandma's tea to work with him every day, and claims to this day that it cured him of serious kidney problems.

Camomile, one of Hvar's abundant medicinal plants. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

My grandmother often used to quote a well-known herbalist, who commented on a visit to Hvar that there were medicines underfoot wherever one walks! And, truly, Hvar is the richest Dalmatian island in terms of numbers of plants. Its 1163 plant varieties match the number of Ireland or Denmark, which of course cover much bigger areas. They are riches which should be prized, used and promoted, and, above all, treated in a responsible manner with respect and gratitude, but, sadly, this doesn't always happen.

Walking across certain parts of the island, one of the most tragic sights one can come across is 'burnt earth' under olive trees or vines. I find it rather shocking that anyone can treat weeds with poisons. The roots of the olive tree absorb the poison, it gets into the fruit, from the fruit into the oil, from the oil into our bodies. Which gives rise to the questions: isn't it then better not to ingest this oil? Why on earth suppress weeds in this way? when it denatures the earth, ultimately leading to less fruit, less oil, less profit? The weeds can be strimmed, they can even be left, and the olive tree will still deliver its fruit, healthier and happier.

Herbicides in a vineyard, an environmental tragedy. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Nature provides many solutions for preventing or curing problems which arise in agriculture. Some of them are readily to hand on Hvar for organic farmers. For instance, in springtime the island's slopes turn white with the spread of pyrethrum, part of the chrysanthemum family, whose flowers have traditionally been used as a natural insecticide. Indeed, there used to be a factory in Jelsa producing pyrethrum insecticide commercially. Pyrethrum from Hvar, Šolta, Brač and Dubrovnik was once a major export product. Now the plants grow wild, left over from those days of large-scale cultivation. We collect the flowers to use on our fruit trees, vegetables and the flowers on our terrace and balcony. We dry some of the flowerheads for future use. And we are humbly grateful for this natural resource, available freely from the world's best pharmacy. We use such gifts in our everyday lives, conscious of the essential part they play in enhancing our good image and the premium quality and exclusivity of the accommodation we offer our guests.

Pyrethrum flower. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

How to make an insecticide from pyrethrum flowers:

150 - 200g of dried, or 1 kg of fresh flowerheads will make 10 litres of insecticide. The flowerheads are placed in a bowl and covered with the 10 litres of boiling water; they are left to soak overnight, after which the liquid is strained to remove the flowerheads, and then poured into a spray can. We use about 1 litre of the insecticide to treat the potted flowers on our balcony and the plants in our garden against destructive aphids, fruit flies and other pests. The spraying has to be done with fresh solution, and only at dusk, as pyrethrin degrades in daylight - this is also one of the reasons why pyrethrum spray is the least destructive to non-target insects, especially bees, who do not fly when the light fails.

Eco produce from the kitchen garden. Photos: Vilma Plazonja

Racing thoughtlessly to achieve material gain is senseless, we all need to find the right limits and criteria, to avoid being carried away by greed. An architect friend has expressed succinctly his way of making sense of his life's various daily challenges: "I looked for agreement and balance: agreement between modern and traditional, and balance between satisfaction and happiness". Finding the right balance, whether in architecture, tourism, agriculture and everything else is the magic key which opens the door to happiness. The simple, proven recipe for a happy life is to achieve one's aims without causing harm, humiliation or grief to anyone. Nature asks nothing of us, but just gives and gives and gives, always finding more to give, and so is our best example and model. By following Nature's lead, we can become the best exclusive version of ourself, the strongest, most important element in the brand of tourist hosting we offer, which provides our living.

The organic 'u-pick' herb garden. Photo: Vilma Plazonja

The 'eco' way of thought is largely devoid of egoism or greed. It quells any need for self-aggrandisement or asserting superiority over other people or Nature. Eco-practitioners care for the wellbeing not only of themselves, but of those around them, also of their whole community, their environment. Through years of experience we have learned to recognize and prize true values, and to reject negative influences. For this reason, we value our eco-minded guests, who respect the house rules, do not make a noise outside after 11:30 pm, do not do damage to our property, and do remember to close doors and windows when the airconditioning is switched on...

St.John's Wort oil, from the medicinal yellow flower. Photo: Vilma Plazonja

The eco-certificate from Ecobnb is a wonderful asset from our point of view, as it ensures that we attract like-minded people who come in a spirit of respect for the environment and people around them. Our guests appreciate the amount of care and love we have put into preparing their accommodation to provide the highest level of comfort, so that they can enjoy to the full the delights our beautiful island has to offer. We are proud that the Villa Perka is the first holiday villa on Hvar to gain the eco-certificate, and we are delighted that the standards laid down by Ecobnb are set to spread among holiday lets across our beautiful country.


© Vilma Plazonja 2019.
(Article translated by Vivian Grisogono)
You can read more about the Villa Perka and its impressive facilities on the website www.villa-perka.com
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    Will McCarry is a staff writer at Conservation International. Want to read more stories like this? Sign up for email updates here. Donate to Conservation International here.

    Cover image: A large seagrass bed in Honduras (© Joanne-Weston)

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