The greenest hotel in the land – not so long ago this claim elicited sceptical sighs from patrons as they witnessed the travel industry leaping blindly aboard the eco-bandwagon.
Nowadays, this superlative often has foundation – for five minutes at least, until another hotel out-greens the last. And hurrah for that! It beats a bald obsession with style or profit, even though in the best cases, as it looks to be with Bournemouth's new hotel The Green House, these three things can be successfully combined.
There's still no universal green standard for hotels to strive for and significant "greenwash" prevails, but slowly the bar is being raised. There are now several green benchmarks that hotels can aspire to and The Green House is gunning for an excellent rating from BREEAM (BRE Environmental Assessment Method), the leading eco-assessment method for buildings worldwide. If it gets it, it will be a first for a UK hotel.
To renovate what was once a tatty seaside hotel (Gresham Court), a team of three (a property developer, an interior designer, and an eco-passionate hotelier) have done more than 100 things to "spoil you without spoiling anything else". There are natural, chemical-free fabrics and smartly reclaimed furnishings, FSC certified wood floors and a super-efficient combined heat and power unit. Everything, from the fixtures and fittings to the food, is locally sourced or UK-made, usually by small businesses.
Green hotels have gone from being "out and proud" to simply being. They no longer have to wear their green credentials decoratively and this one certainly doesn't. You could easily stay here and have no idea of the green blood running through its veins. But this functional, contemporary hotel style – a palate of creams and greys set off here and there with big-print "feature" wallpaper and a sculptural lamp – was, for me, a bit bland. An inoffensive approach traditionally sits well with business travellers, the hotel's base clientele, but weekend visitors might want more character.
Perhaps this is being picky because The Green House is certainly leading the design pack in brassy Bourne-mouth. And, on matters green, it's left the rest of them far behind.
Low-energy kettles, part-recycled tiles: an invisible green foundation runs throughout. Thirty-two rooms have sumptuous ginger and black pepper Liberty and Green toiletries (for sale) made in the UK without the use of parabens or phosphates – the brand's first entry into hotels. Many have equally reclaimed Victorian roll-top baths. Comfy beds (specially made) would mean a sound sleep if it weren't for the bumps in the night from fire doors and, in my case, noise from the raucous kitchen crew below (talent needs to let off steam).
The food and drink
The restaurant (with adjacent lounge bar) produces seriously impressive fare. The chef Gordon Jones and his team (formerly of the Royal Bath) bring some gastronomic clout. The kitchen cooks with induction heating, table water comes from an on-site filtration system and food is sourced from within a 30-mile radius. But bah to all the worthy stuff: the food is truly excellent, from hearty breakfasts (with mushrooms from Mrs T, one of the New Forest's more eccentric purveyors) to more refined dinners. The tasting menu was an accomplished adventure and, at £45 for nine courses, it's a steal. I loved the unlikely sounding beetroot bloody Mary with onion bhajee, and slow-cooked shoulder of lamb with caramelised garlic. The wine list is small but well priced, focusing on organic, biodynamic wines.
Who needs a spa when you have Dorset's broad, sandy beaches? Plus the newly revamped Boscombe Overstrand and pier. The islands in nearby Poole Harbour, including Brownsea, are good for wildlife lovers.
Wheelchair entrance and lift to upper two floors. Most rooms accessible; one room on the ground floor has been entirely adapted. Children welcome; cots and highchairs provided.
Doubles from £180 per night.
The Green House, 4 Grove Road, Bournemouth, Dorset BH1 3AX (01202-498900; thegreenhousehotel.co.uk).