Les Villages Nature® Paris aims to create a new kind of holiday – immersing its one million visitors a year in nature while minimising its impact on the planet
It is a Saturday in 2005 as I recall. The rain is coming down steadily. A Frenchman has arranged to visit the ecovillage which we helped initiate and develop, and where our office is now – BedZED in south London. Little do I realise what an amazing project is about to take shape.
That Frenchman was Gérard Brémond, the founder of leading holiday company, Group Pierre & Vacances-Center Parcs. It’s working in joint venture with EuroDisney to build a new holiday resort – Les Villages Nature® Paris – that’s inspired by the idea of ‘humans and nature in harmony’.
Gerard is affable and unassuming. I show him about the exhibition at BedZED and he listens quietly. I grab an umbrella and we take a stroll around outside. It is not a good day to see BedZED but the colourful windcowls, local brick and oak weatherboarding add colour and texture to a grey day. I show Gerard my ‘zero carbon zero waste’ sportscar. He smiles.
So, starts a long story and a long partnership. Gerard and his EuroDisney counterpart, Dominique Cocquet, adopted our One Planet Living framework as a way to give a new depth of expression to their concept. We ran joint workshops with their designers, architects and engineers. Pierre et Vacances have a long history of commitment to the environment and this starts to fuse with the Disney ‘Imagineering’ culture of imagining an ‘One Planet’ experience and then meticulously engineering it.
It is a big project – 249 hectares. With a commitment to helping wildlife thrive, it transforms a site which consisted mainly of low-biodiversity, intensively-farmed arable fields into one that benefits local species. In fact, as of 2017 23 new protected species have already been spotted.
Its zero carbon ambitions are realised with a major geothermal system – the largest of its kind in Europe – which provides the entire site’s heat and hot water demand. This includes heating the water at the Aqualagon to 30 degrees year-round.
The process over the years has it usual ups and downs – not least the slow down caused by the Global Financial Crisis, but the commitment of all the partners remains strong, not least due to the personal commitment of the two CEOs.
Bioregional make regular trips to support the team and review activities, working closely with Pierre et Vacances’ Head of Sustainability, Marie Balmain. Our reports are used to verify progress to the local planning authority. Construction starts onsite at the end of 2014, with immense amount of work for Villages Nature Paris team.
Most of the hard work on our side is done by my colleague, the brilliant and indefatigable Ben Gill. My job is to keep an eye on the big picture and support the growing number of partners in our One Planet Living initiative. The trials and tribulations only added to the sense of Anglo-French comradery.
Last September, the site gets ready for opening. Bioregional plans a company day out to help test out the new resort and reward our staff for all their hard work on our projects around the world. I have been too busy to think much about the visit and the project has been so much part of the life for over a decade – as a concept rather than a reality – that it hasn’t sunk in that computer-generated images might now have taken form.
I cannot express in words the sense of awe as I visit the site complete and not as a construction site. It was like walking into a utopian vision of the future – pure joy in harmony with the natural world. I realise we can really have it all.
What more can I say? I am in admiration of, and in gratitude to, Gerard Bremond, Dominique Cocquet and the everyone at Pierre et Vacances and EuroDisney who have worked so hard and with so much authenticity to make Les Villages Nature Paris a reality. Together with my family I will be taking our own annual vacation there this year.
But Les Villages Nature Paris will be more than a great resort. It will change people’s perception of what the future can be – not only in the minds of the anticipated 900,000 people who visit as guests but far more widely. Its One Planet Living vision has already been recognised by the United Nations Environment Programme as a leading example of large-scale sustainable tourism.
Thank you, Les Villages Nature Paris for the very particular type of joy you are bringing.
In April 2018, Bioregional accompanied journalists to Les Villages Nature Paris. Read their reviews of the One Planet resort:
Pooran Desai OBE is a co-founder of Bioregional and was our Head of International One Planet Communities until October 2018.
Photo credit: The Aqualagon at Les Villages Nature Paris