By Michelle Franzen Martin
In this day and age, the virtual world often seems more prevalent than the natural one. So much of work and leisure is dominated by technology, and digital appliances have made their way into every part of our day—smartphones might as well be appendages. While the tech explosion promotes speed, efficiency and convenience, it’s also widening the gap between humans and the environment, making trekking through the outdoors and reconnecting with flora and fauna one of life’s remaining luxuries.
Fortunately, natural havens exist beyond computer and cellphone screens. Many of these destinations surround Loews Hotels & Resorts, where the glow of sunshine is enough to pull travelers away from the glow of digital devices. Fragrant herb gardens, soothing koi ponds and challenging hiking trails—Loews’ varied indoor amenities are complemented by outdoor adventures both on-property and nearby. From the desert to the beach, and the bay to a mountaintop, there are countless ways to embrace the environment within just steps of these Loews properties.
Inspired by its surroundings, Loews Ventana Canyon Resort is a hidden gem in the Southwest. “The harmony with nature is what makes Loews Ventana Canyon unique from other hotel properties,” says Victoria Cote, concierge at the Tucson, Ariz., resort. The local environment has dictated the property’s development both inside and out. “True to the plan, not a single one of the 3,500 saguaro cacti was destroyed, and all the riparian habitats were kept intact during construction.”
The eco-conscious building plan was so well executed that Architectural Digest named Loews Ventana Canyon the “First Environmentally Conceived Resort.” It’s easy to see why: The resort is home to 550 different plants, 30 different mammals, 260 different bird species and nearly 300 unique types of lizards, insects and arachnids.
Included in the resort’s design is a 1,500-square-foot butterfly garden, filled with 20 plant varieties, such as Mojave milkweed, to attract 60-plus species of butterflies. Five types of hummingbirds can also be seen from the garden, which is open from early morning until dusk. In addition to the up-close look at the garden, guests can visit the resort’s fourth-floor observation tower for sweeping views of the Santa Catalina Mountains.
Another way to experience the ecosystem is through the half-mile-long Window Walk Nature Trail, which begins at the resort’s koi pond and meanders back to its 80-foot natural waterfall. “From the waterfall, the guests can proceed to a valley view lookout area, which has majestic views of the Tucson valley and the surrounding mountain ranges,” says concierge Timothy Wertz. “The Window Walk then goes to the hummingbird and butterfly garden, and ends at the desert tortoise habitat.”
Along the Window Walk are signs that identify and provide interesting facts about plants and animals of the Sonoran Desert. “You may be lucky enough to spot coyote, javelina, bobcat, elf owl or Gila monster,” Wertz says.
Those who would like to tie in a workout while exploring the great outdoors will enjoy the Parcourse fitness trail, a 1.1-mile round-trip walk or run in front of the resort. Another option, the Ventana Canyon Trail, is a challenging hike that leads to a picturesque natural rock window. Just a few miles away, Sabino Canyon offers trails for hiking in the Coronado National Forest; it also has a narrated tram tour that follows a 3.8-mile road into the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains.
And for foodies inspired by nature and interested in learning more about desert-inspired cuisine, the resort offers a cooking class featuring local vegetation. “Our award-winning chefs take guests to harvest native ingredients such as prickly pear and mesquite pods from the surrounding desert and then teach them how to prepare them,” Cote says. “They make cocktails and unique dishes out of the indigenous ingredients that they gathered themselves.”
West Coast Playground
Located on its own 15-acre peninsula, Loews Coronado Bay Resort offers views of the Pacific Ocean, impressive Coronado Bridge and San Diego lights. The striking visuals, paired with the comforting sound of waves and the aroma of the resort’s herb garden, entice guests to venture outside.
The herb garden tour at the resort is just one way that visitors can experience nature—and it comes complete with a culinary lesson. For those seeking more active options, the resort’s biking and walking trails take guests alongside some of the area’s unique plants and wildlife. Loews also works closely with the nature experts at Silver Strand State Beach to offer a range of informative nature walks, kayak tours, kids’ programs and educational beach activities. “The Silver Strand, our nature preserve, is really quite stunning any time of the year,” says concierge Gordon Berry.
The generosity of guests supports the Silver Strand activities. In 2008, Loews Coronado Bay Resort initiated an optional 1 percent tax to guest-room rates in order to generate financial support to benefit the Silver Strand Beach. “To date, the resort has raised over $1 million to enhance the park’s natural and cultural resources,” Berry says.
Just across the bay, there are plenty of other ways to connect with nature—from learning about local agriculture to exploring exotic wildlife. A short drive south takes visitors to Suzie’s Farm, a 140-acre, USDA-certified organic farm that grows more than 100 varieties of vegetables, herbs, flowers and fruits. Tours of the property include opportunities to harvest and sample crops, plant seeds and meet the chickens.
The nearby Living Coast Discovery Center, a nonprofit zoo and aquarium, teaches guests about the unique plants and animals of Southern California. The center offers a variety of hands-on, interactive exhibits including Turtle Lagoon, home to endangered Eastern Pacific green sea turtles; Raptor Row, featuring native birds of prey such as ospreys and short-eared owls; and Native Plant Gardens, where visitors can discover local vegetation and learn about how to use low-water plants in their own yards.
In addition to these local wildlife experiences, San Diego visitors have the chance to explore the exotic: Loews offers discounted tickets to the San Diego Zoo, which is home to more than 3,700 rare and endangered animals (representing 650-plus species and subspecies) such as giant pandas and tigers, as well as a collection of more than 700,000 plants. Other nature-centric activities in the area include whale watching, kayaking under the Coronado Bridge and stand-up paddling through the Coronado Cays.
After a long day of connecting with the outdoors, there’s one last nature experience to enjoy—a beautiful star-filled sky. “When all of this is done,” Berry says, “just sit out on the Bay Terrace and gaze at the stars at the crest of the famous Coronado Bridge.”
Montreal is said to mean “Mont Royal,” a nod to the mountain that rises in the center of the city. There’s no better way to experience the city’s nature-centric offerings than to venture to the top, and Mount Royal Park, which includes the highest point in Montreal, is just over a half-mile from Loews Hôtel Vogue. The hike from the hotel to the top of the mountain offers guests a unique view of the city’s native species, including maple, oak and ash trees, and animals such as raccoons, birds and foxes.
“It’s the jewel of Montreal’s city parks,” says concierge Arnaud Rossi. “There are many summer and winter activities taking place there. In the summer, you can hike or mountain bike. In winter, you can skate or slide near the [lake] Lac des Castors at the top of the mountain or you can do some cross-country skiing or snowshoeing.”
There are other wonderful parks in and around the city as well. Parc Jean-Drapeau, known for its diverse cultural and sports programming, is just 15 minutes from downtown Montreal. The park is home to Biosphère, an environmental museum that hosts educational exhibitions on major environmental issues such as biodiversity and sustainable development, including “Renewable Energy: Time to Decide,” about global energy in the 21st century, and “Finding Balance,” which discusses how consumer choices impact the environment.
Beyond the parks, the city offers a number of other nature-centric activities. The Montréal Botanical Garden is one of the world’s greatest botanical gardens, featuring 22,000 plant species and cultivars, 10 greenhouses and more than 20 thematic gardens. “The Chinese garden is the largest … in the world outside China,” Rossi says. “The Japanese garden, a very peaceful environment, offers a tea ceremony during summer, and you can even take classes to learn more about it.”
Nearby, the Biodôme recreates some of the most fascinating ecosystems in the world: Gulf of St. Lawrence, Laurentian Maple Forest, rainforest and the sub-polar regions of the Americas including the Labrador Coast and subantarctic islands—all under one roof. Biôdome’s “residents” include 4,500 animals from 250 different species, from anacondas to penguins, as well as 500 plant varieties. The ecosystems function as laboratories for scientists to study the relationship between organisms and physical factors of their environments.
Known as the Pink Palace, the legendary Mediterranean-style Loews Don CeSar Hotel is located in St. Pete Beach on Florida’s Gulf Coast, which hosts myriad wildlife. Following numerous inquiries from guests who were curious about the area’s natural environment, Loews partnered with Tampa Bay Watch to create permanent Sea Life Education Stations around the hotel.
“All eight of the educational signs show pictures beautifully depicting and giving quick facts about their given topics with the goal of educating the reader in the specific topical area,” says Jill Kunesh of Tampa Bay Watch, a nonprofit dedicated to the protection and restoration of the Tampa Bay estuary through scientific and educational programs. “The dunes on St. Pete Beach and the warm Gulf waters are home to a variety of wildlife, and the beautiful beaches bring millions of people from across the country to our coast every year.”
For those visitors, the educational stations are an ideal way to gain insight into the area’s ecosystem. The resort’s manatee station, for example, gives a closer look at the Gulf’s wildlife with life-size replicas of an adult female manatee and a baby manatee. The sea turtle station shows a replica of a turtle nest—including how deep a nest is buried, how many eggs it contains, what hatchlings look like and how hatchlings must climb about 2 feet up the sand to get to the sea. Another stop includes two oyster domes made by Tampa Bay Watch. Other stations explore beach plants, stingrays and sea birds.
“All of the stations’ educational signs talk about, show pictures of and give facts [about] beach inhabitants and about human interaction and potential resulting human impacts on the habitat and creatures that live in it,” Kunesh says. “Each sign includes a ‘What You Can Do’ section with a goal of teaching helpful beach interaction behavior.”
Whether it’s visiting the educational stations or exploring the resort on one’s own, each offers a unique perspective on the area’s natural environment. “The Gulf Coast boasts such an amazing array of marine and coastal life,” Kunesh says. “Guests and other visitors at the Don have a unique opportunity to not only visit one of Florida’s most breath-taking beaches, but they also have an opportunity to truly discover the wildlife around them and ways to protect it for future generations.”