Eliana’s Tree: The Bed and Breakfast With a Sustainable Twist!Francesca Palange
Hidden among the narrow twisting lanes of the southern Italian ‘cave town’ of Matera, where cats sun themselves on stone walls cut into the rock and mysterious flower-shaped symbols are imbedded in the walls of the Sassi (the old town, literally ‘stones’), lies a very special bed and breakfast. Unlike many hotels and guesthouses, which make a great fanfare about their sustainability policies, such as not changing towels every day or encouraging guests to save water – just common sense, one would think – at L’Albero di Eliana, or ‘Eliana’s Tree’, sustainability and eco-friendly policies have been key considerations since day one.
L’Albero goes beyond simply using sustainable practices in the upkeep, and encourages its guests to follow the same philosophy. Of course, there are the usual practices such as recycling and limiting water use, but guests are also reminded that buying plastic bottles of water is unnecessary since the water of the Sassi is good. Instead, we are encouraged to reuse existing, or better still, use metal flasks. Likewise, cloth shopping bags are positioned conveniently by the front door, prompting guests to use them for their everyday shopping or souvenir hunting instead of wasteful plastic bags. Single use items such as plastic cutlery and plates are actively discouraged – obvious perhaps, but it is surprising how quickly convenience often trumps principles for even the most conscientious of consumers when we travel. We all need a bit of reminding from time to time and L’Albero di Eliana does an excellent job.
Over a delicious breakfast of locally-sourced products, including fig jam, yoghurt, fresh fruit and eggs, Eliana tells us a bit more about the philosophy of her guesthouse. The electronics are all low-energy, and what energy is used is harnessed from Italy’s sunny climate, with electricity sourced from the national solar panel grid – even the website is run on solar power thanks to Hosting Sostenibile. It would be unlikely that a UNESCO world heritage city such as Matera would allow solar panels to be installed within the city walls, but this does not mean that they can’t make use of what is produced elsewhere.
Perhaps one of the most striking aspects of L’Albero, at least visually, is its Pinterest-worthy décor. Most of the furniture and furnishing items are either locally sourced from artisans, or reclaimed and reused in a way that looks modern and put together; an old retro saucepan used as a quirky plant pot; a ladder put to use as a towel rack; an old radio displayed on a shelf. It is beautifully styled; the simplicity of the beautiful old vaulted ceilings, whitewashed walls, and the unusual decorative touches.
As recently as the 1950s, Matera was an over-crowded disease-ridded slum, with thousands of inhabitants crammed into the cave dwellings carved into the soft rock. It took a novel – Carlo Levi’s Christ Stopped at Eboli – to bring a nation’s attention to the substandard living conditions in what became known as the ‘shame of Italy’. The inhabitants were quickly rehomed in clean, modern and much-lauded city blocks, although many of them chose to immigrate to the new world just a few decades later. Meanwhile, the cave dwellings were cleared out, revitalised, and the city became a UNESCO world heritage site in 1993. Today tourists can pay a fortune to stay or dine in one of the now-chic caves. The city today is picturesque and charming, but hasn’t forgotten its long and unique history, as testified by a visit to the fascinating Casa Noha. By placing so much focus on, and actively promoting earth-friendly practices, L’Albero di Eliana completes the circle back to Matera’s earthy origins.
You can find more information on L’Albero di Eliana’s website
Another useful link Fondo Ambiente Italiano
Text and photos by Fuschia Hutton
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