Words and photos by Be MyJourney and C. Le Fort

Villa lena

A conversation with Clara Le Fort about her book Bon Voyage, Boutique Hotels for the Conscious Traveler, led us to talk about sustainability.  A sustainable lifestyle consultant, Clara Le Fort is also a writer, international journalist and regular contributor to lifestyle magazines ELLE and VOGUE or weekly magazines Les Echos WE and Le Point. Like us, going off-the-beaten-path is also one of her passions.

BMJ : How did the book idea come up?

CLF : Bon Voyage naturally took after a series of books. Once in a lifetime Volume I (2012) focused on unique places that were not a copy of existing hotels – at the time design hotels starting to spring in Thailand and Berlin looking alike. Back then, already, I tried to tie in sustainable environments with local culture and beautiful hotels. My second book, Once in a lifetime Volume II (2016) had conservation and authenticity at heart: it coincided with the time when DesignHotels launched Designed By Originals. The drive behind beautiful addresses where visionaries and aesthetes committed to changing the hospitality industry from within. Bon Voyage, Boutique Hotels for the Conscious Traveler (2019), took these matters a step further: I don’t believe hoteliers and hotels can look at the future without taking sustainability, ethics, local culture and humanism into consideration.

BMJ : How did you select and choose the hotels featured in your book, have you visited them all?

CLF : In French, there is a word – chemin de traverse – that means “the path that takes you across”. It is always easier to stay on the main path and only rely on PR offices to learn about new hotels, but going across the beaten path allows you to find authentic places that are not featured in commercial magazines.

They bare part of an ecosystem where people do things right. I’d like to make an analogy with cooking: one’s knowledge comes from interest and experience. Some recipes you inherit them from your grandmother, others are shared by friends or influenced by your travels. The places featured in the book were gathered naturally: some I visited, some I was recommended by people I trust or admire, some I heard about whilst traveling. Again, selecting hotels for a book is about being open minded, staying curious, wanting to learn or go the extra mile. It is the daily philosophy I apply to my job, as a journalist. I haven’t seen them all for they are scattered around the globe and one of the book’s aims was to encourage people to visit great places close to home.

BMJ : All places chosen are off-the-beaten-track and not commercial. Other than that, have you found any unexpected common patterns within their philosophy?

CLF : I wrote Bon Voyage convinced that there are four key notions that anchor the conscious hospitality industry. First, there is the human connection, or humanism, when one travels: treating employees as part of the family, empowering women, supporting local communities, etc. Embracing human values is key.  Then there is how one designs for the future: what architecture principles are vernacular and respectful of the surrounding nature? How can innovation and new materials be used to minimise the overall impact? The third pillar is about engineering a new business model: one that places nature over profits. It means all is done for nature (and natural equilibriums) to be kept intact. A healthy approach to economics and business should be put in place for future generations.  Fourth, but not least, there is a growing need for mindfulness and consciousness. Whether it’s taking a yoga class, meditating or simply walking in nature, nurturing a spiritual connection means that you are empowering yourself, giving back more (to you and others) and consuming less. One could see it as planting seeds and watering plants for the future.

BMJ : This is extremely inspiring and, as per Be MyJourney’s ethos, it is all about embracing a whole different way of living. In Italy you featured Villa Lena and Masseria Moroseta. I am not sure if you were able to visit these places in person, but I’d be curious to know why you picked them and, if you stayed there, what you loved the most about the experience?

CLF : Villa Lena invited me to participate in their artist residence as a writer; unfortunately, I was traveling on another continent at that time. Their concept is truly unique, and generous: bringing together creatives and visitors can only benefit the whole community.

As for Masseria Moroseta, I kept on hearing about it, coincidences kept on happening. Isn’t it fascinating to see how the buildings there seem to have existed for years although they are quite new? It is a unique place in the sense that it brings together the best of heritage, respect for traditions, local culture and a contemporary aesthetics.

BMJ : What are you focusing your job on right now?

CLF : I have been writing on and about sustainable projects for years now: it always struck me that luxury and sustainability were at odds, considered as opposites that could not be reconciled. So I now focus on addressing this issue: luxury is about taking time to craft, about having time to develop the right approach, about the patina time leaves on an object. Isn’t that by all means sustainable? So to answer your question, I act as a lifestyle consultant for luxury brands who want to embrace a more sustainable approach, or with sustainable brands that need better designs, aesthetics or style. I help them make more conscious choices – and on the side still write articles or moderate conferences on this topic.

BMJ : Do you have any new projects upcoming?

CLF : Yes, I have worked with architects to develop a new kind of ecolodge.

BMJ : This sounds amazing! Where will it be?

CLF : We aren’t focusing on location, but rather on creating a visionary, nomadic solution; without foundations, it can be set up anywhere!

BMJ : What is the role of hoteliers in the mindful travel universe?

CLF : Being a hotelier is one of the most amazing jobs in the world! As a hotelier, the more you give, the more you receive. Your role is mainly that of a conductor: making sure visitors get the best experience. It is less about being a manager or following a set protocol than embracing your power to change and influence guests: any hotelier can soothe, bring true joy, plan celebratory moments, share a culture or ethos. Huge hotel corporations have forgotten about this unique, human journey, and how lucky they are to have guests traveling to stay with them. Being a hotelier is about embracing life’s potential and making unique encounters every single day.

BMJ : How would you define a mindful traveller?

CLF : I think it’s all about understanding the importance of living in present moment awareness. If you keep on travelling with your bad habits, your on-going stories, your problems, you will keep on projecting them around you. You will not fully enjoy the experience nor be open to change. I believe a mindful traveller is not someone who travels far, but someone who wants to truly enjoy the moment. That very moment that brings you to high grade living. This very traveller will, in return, give much more to those she encounters. Again, it is about positive impact.

Clara Le Fort


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