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Aug 242009

By Clint Williams and Sommer Saadi
Green Right Now

Sustainability and nature appreciation walk hand in hand. But surprisingly, there are still just a few U.S. vacation venues lodged lightly in nature’s embrace. If you want to “go green” you can camp out all over North America, but you can’t necessarily find a hotel that hugs the woods (or the beach) and boasts full green credentials and white linen service.

Here are a handful of green getaways that nestle nature, but don’t necessarily involve nesting with nature. We set the bar fairly low, requiring that these hotels have mattresses, hot food, indoor showers, and a LEED rating of some sort. We begin with Callaway Gardens, a great place to enjoy a respite from urban hustle amid botanical delights.

Callaway Gardens, Georgia

Indulgence often brings with it just a twinge of guilt. Riding in the back of a limousine, you can’t help but to think about the tailpipe emissions.

The Lodge and Spa at Callaway Gardens, a well-groomed paradise about 80 miles southwest of Atlanta, is a place where you can indulge guilt free. The 150-room lodge is one of fewer than two dozen hotels across the country to earn a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification from the US Green Building Council.

The resort operations are green, too. The Lodge and Spa uses refillable dispensers of all natural bath products in each room, saving nearly 200,000 plastic containers a year. Your piña colada is served in a glass made of corn.

Energy-efficient construction here is pretty easy on the eye, too. The look is upscale rustic, with heavy beams in the soaring lobby and heavy use of earth tones in the décor. The guest rooms feature down comforters with duvets, pillow top mattresses and 32-inch flat screen televisions.

Every room has a balcony. The best balcony belongs to room 8450 – a private perch overlooking the pool (but far enough away to not be noisy) and the treetops of the forest that surrounds the lodge.

While the lodge rooms are nice, Callaway Gardens isn’t a place where you stay indoors. This is a place here Mother Nature is dressed to kill, especially in the spring when thousands and thousands of azaleas – more than 700 varieties – erupt in color. The John A. Sibley Horticultural Center is indoor/outdoor garden with plants from around the world with something always in bloom.

And there is always bright colors to be found at the Cecil B. Day Butterfly Center, a big glass house filled with 1,000 or so tropical butterflies, or, as Robert Frost wrote: flowers that fly.

A 10-mile bike path courses through the lavish landscape and there are miles and miles of walking trails. There are two golf courses, lakes for fishing and Robin Lake with a wide, white sand beach for swimming.

At the end of the day, you may be too exhausted to feel guilty about anything at all.