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Ecohotel – Les Orangeries

Ecohotel – Les Orangeries

A stunning hotel mixing 18th century elegance with all the comforts of modernity lies at the centre of Lussac-Les-Chateaux in the department of the Vienne.

Set in one hectare of beautiful landscaped gardens - designed by local British landscape designer Patsy Boughton - guests can wander round the ancient orchard, play croquet on the lawns or take a cooling dip in the magnificent swimming pool. Hotel Les Orangeries is described by owners Olivia and Jean-Philippe Gautier as a 'home from home' and feels like the kind of place where you can easily forget about the stresses of everyday life.

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Behind the beauty and charm of the hotel, however, lies an unwavering passion and commitment to 'responsible tourism'. Les Orangeries was the first hotel in France to obtain the European Eco-label- an environmental initiative launched in 2003 by the European Union encouraging businesses to market greener, officially licensed products. In 1999, when Olivia and her architect husband Jean-Philippe bought the property, it didn't look particularly prepossessing from the outside. But inside, the couple could see the potential in its large spaces, original features and the beauty of the gardens, and decided to turn it into a hotel. The interior of the building hadn't been touched for many years and desperately needed renovation. Fortunately, the lack of modernisation also meant that the period features had been left alone.

Jean-Philippe oversaw the huge renovation and was determined to preserve the building's original features, including the warm, honeyed parquet floors, original paving and ironwork. He employed specialist artisans who knew how to work with natural materials such as hemp and lime, which ensured that the hotel retained the charm and ambiance of a bygone era. For Jean Philippe and Olivia, making use of environmentally friendly options was an obvious choice before they even knew about the Eco-label scheme.

The emphasis is on having fun and making the most of your time here

Today, Les Orangeries is an exquisite hotel. Everything - inside and out - is the result of the couple's creative skills and good taste. Stripped oak doors, charming and homely rooms and raw stone walls set the mood for an intimate, peaceful and relaxing break. The hotel is perfumed with the natural fragrance of citrus fruit, and in winter the aroma of wild sage and wood fire fills the air. Each of the bedrooms has been given its own sense of individuality, no two being alike. They are all charming, comfortable and effortlessly stylish. Some rooms are split-level- great fun for adventure-seeking kids and for guests who want to watch the world go by - and those facing the garden arc the most tranquil.

While this is a chic place to stay, the emphasis is clearly on having fun and making the most of your time here. The couple have transformed the entire top floor of the hotel into a wonderful games room where guests can play snooker, billiards and board games or simply relax with a drink on the comfortable sofas. Outside, there are numerous old-fashioned games to play, not to mention the opportunity the garden affords for a good game of hide and seek!

The grounds bathe in warm sunlight during the summer months, the ancient trees offering plenty of welcome shade. The long inviting pool with its mellow wooden decks, is perfect for cooling off to a lullaby of birdsong; the hotel gardens have been graded as an LPO (League for Bird Protection) sanctuary. In the evening, under the glow of gentle candlelight, the place is truly magnificent and reminiscent of long happy summers spent among old friends in a natural setting.

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Olivia heard about the Eco-label initiative when attending a conference addressing environmental issues. Upon further investigation, she realised that the hotel already met many of the 84 criteria needed to obtain the label. Jean-Philippe and Olivia's commitment to combining eco technology with ethical responsibility focuses on four key areas – energy, waste, water and purchasing - and environmental initiatives are present throughout the hotel.

The environmental footprint of the hotel's food menu is a radius of only 22km (excluding tea, coffee and cocoa), using 15 local suppliers. Delicious fruit juices and jams are made with the apples and pears from the orchard, and the hot chocolate is prepared in the traditional way with rich melted cacao coming from selected plantations. Jean-Philippe and Olivia work with local producers and farmers involved in an organic farming approach - many of which are available for guests to visit.

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100% of the hotel's electricity comes from renewable energy sources; they use green petrol, recycled paper, low consumption electric bulbs, and Eco-label linen and cleaning products. Rooms are fitted with energy-saving devices, and water is preserved by special attachments to the taps, showers and toilets. An area is dedicated to composting in the grounds of Les Orangerie, and all reusable packaging is returned to suppliers.

Visitors are rewarded for keeping car usage to a minimum during their stay - a number of rather attractive and elegant electric-powered bicycles are available to use. With more than 20 footpaths in the surrounding area, offering 800km of countryside walks through pretty villages, guests usually can't resist.

Although the Eco-label scheme is a huge undertaking and requires total commitment, Olivia insists that she and her team have benefited enormously from its status. 'We're in such a privileged position to be able to change how we do things.' says Olivia. The Eco-label has given us focus and enriched our creativity. We have to constantly question our actions and then look at new ways of doing things. It makes running the hotel fun.

And what do the guests think? 'Ultimately, our guests come to the hotel to relax and have fun,' Olivia continues. The environmental messages are present throughout the hotel for those wanting to learn more, and communication is soft - the intention isn't to give guests a hard time. We're a hotel, after all, and our commitment to helping the environment is not at the expense of comfort and charm.' It is clear that this is no ordinary hotel and we can only hope that the Gautiers have set in motion a new standard for hotels of the future. They have proved that caring for the environment is something we can all do. After staying at the hotel, I realise that I too can be environmentally friendly, even as I relax on holiday.

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Originally published in Living Poitou-Charentes magazine in 2008. © All rights reserved

Words: Nicki Wade

Hotel Les Orangeries

12 avenue du Docteur Dupont

86320 LUSSAC-LES-CHATEAUX

Tel: +33 (0)5 49 84 07 07

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