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At Villa Le Blanc, Menorca’s carbon neutral Gran Melia hotel, style and sustainability meet – paving the way for a new vision of conscientious design.
This article first appeared in Mix Interiors Issue 222
Words: Harry McKinley
Photography: Gran Melia, Villa Le Blanc
Villa Le Blanc, a Gran Melia Hotel, is rather special. Stepping beyond its bountiful good looks, clever detailing and splendid coastal location, the property is the hotel group’s first carbon neutral prototype. On the south of Menorca – itself a UNESCO biosphere reserve – Villa Le Blanc is both a test case and a demonstration of how luxury and comfort can walk hand-in-hand with the highest standards of sustainability.
Designed by Spanish architect Alvaro Sans, Villa Le Blanc’s intelligent integration of interior and exterior spaces not only creates a deeper connection to the surrounding landscape for guests, but is a core component of its eco-ethos.
“Mediterranean architecture for me has five design premises: white, patios, arches, native natural materials and porches. They’re present in all spaces, both exterior and interior,” Sans explains. “This concept converts many of the interior spaces into covered exteriors and adapts them to the Mediterranean climate – playing with the sun, light and wind. This favours sustainability because it reduces air conditioning in common areas – thanks to cross ventilation and protection from the sun – but it also maximises natural light through arches and large windows. The entire interior design of the hotel has taken these criteria into account.”
With 159 guestrooms, Villa Le Blanc is by no means a bijou resort and – while Melia Hotels International has been ranked second most sustainable hotel group in the world and the leader in Europe – it’s the scale of ambition and intent within this property in particular, that could provide a blueprint for others to follow.
Though unlikely to stir the emotions of the average traveller (there’s plenty for that elsewhere), Villa Le Blanc’s benchmark-setting energy efficiency is owed to five pillars. There’s the improvement of the building’s envelope, with thermal insulation systems; use of biomass as a source of energy in boilers; photovoltaic, or solar, panels for energy production; deploying geothermal energy to power the AC; and the recovery of water for alternative uses, as well as the control of its consumption through smart technologies. Together, these actions reduce emissions by 87% and are, for the most part, invisible to guests – both figuratively and metaphorically.
Other design notes are both beautiful and purposeful, such as the abundance of restful white that informs the hotel’s name – reflecting heat and keeping the building cool. It’s an example of what Sans describes as the influence of vernacular Mediterranean architecture, the bedrock of his approach.
“Houses have always been painted white and the patios are reminiscent of the ancient Greek’s agoras,” he says. “Porches, also, are the most important spaces in Mediterranean architecture, as a transition between inside and outside, and in fact the hotel is one large porch, open to the sea.”
Since the Roman age, arches have equally been symbols of the region, and are used at Villa Le Blanc liberally, including within the design of the main swimming pool; one grand arch made of white stone. Local, natural materials are celebrated, with the hotel’s design based on three: white marble, old northern wood and Mediterranean clay.
As for how the property speaks to Menorca more specifically, Sans drew both from its contemporary culture and its rampant nature.
“Menorca is an island where art is found in vernacular architecture, in the way of understanding and working with the climate and its relationship with the landscape – as well as in town planning,” he notes. “The population has intervened with the environment primarily with its culture, which is also a very important element on the island – from the Talayotic history and opera, to the new initiatives of art galleries such Hauser & Wirth.”
It’s for this reason that the entire hotel is inspired by this wonderful and, for me, authentic island. The gardens have been designed with local trees and plants (olive, cypress, lemon and pomegranate trees) and the sculptures and decoration come from Mediterranean artists. Because, ultimately, I believe there are three words that define a good design: location, ecology and harmony.”
For Melia’s vice president and CEO, Gabriel Escarrer, Villa Le Blanc represents a deeply meaningful progression for the group. “It’s actually a dream come true for our company,” he explains. “Because a project like this allows us to move forward towards decarbonization. It’s also in a very special place, the biosphere reserve of Menorca of course, making it one of the most tangible results of our commitment to a hotel model based not just on excellence, but responsibility and sustainability.”
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