We usually leave the world behind us when we check into a luxury hotel. Quite the opposite happens at GAIA Anderson Hotel and Spa, when the environment around us quickly becomes an object of reverence, and even the simple act of adjusting the energy-efficient in-room air conditioning unit causes a moment of reflection.
Built for $14 million, GAIA Anderson Hotel & Spa opened for eco-travelers earlier this year (May 1, 2008). A cutting-edge, eco-operational hotel offering guests the ultimate experience of harmony with nature, GAIA Anderson received the highest LEED certification in the hospitality Industry in the United States. Every material used in the building of GAIA Anderson is recycled, or from a sustainable source. The lobby welcomes guests with monitors reporting real-time consumption of electricity, water and CO2 emissions.
GAIA creates 6-8% of its electricity and saves 14% light. The rest is purchased wind power. This is done creatively and attractively through the use of efficient, double-paned, low energy transmittable windows, solar panels, and Solatube tubular skylights throughout bathrooms, conference rooms, lobby and hallways. Skylights magnify the sun’s rays to deliver abundant light into interior spaces during the day, and cool reflective roofs reflect heat.
As we unloaded our bags, my children explored the room as children do, checking the phone, writing on the recycled-paper stationery with logo pen–made from recycled tires! I looked out our window at the lagoon with its own eco-system, surrounded by $150,000 of native and climate-adaptive perma culture landscaping. I admired the footbridge (made from lumber used for the hotel is FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) and followed the watery trail created by two lovely white swans. Before long, I realized that I was completely at ease, gently contemplative and relaxed; GAIA’s natural setting was working its magic on me. As a mother of two very young children, having just arrived from a 9-hour drive through parts of California affected by wildfires, the opposite should have been the case. Calmness and serenity are inherent to GAIA, making it suitable for stressed-out travelers and meditators alike. Even better, the hotel will soon be offering yoga classes in addition to the in-house fitness center.
- The eco-hotel includes more than 5,000 square feet of meeting rooms, a full-service restaurant featuring California cuisine and local, artisan foods and banquet facilities for local events, weddings and other gatherings.
- 122 environmentally-friendly rooms and suites are painted with low-VOC paints, have recycled carpets, energy-saving air conditioners and heaters that use 15% less energy, and ultra-cool toilets with buttons for half and full flushes. (We found similar ones on eBay and will be installing them at home!)
My children were enthralled with the white swans and kept track of their whereabouts regularly. Owner Wen-I Chang, author, president of Atman Hospitality Group, Inc., and San Francisco-based developer of environmentally-friendly hotels in California, arrived at the hotel with two 6-month-old black swans, and introduced them to the lagoon. He picked each up one at a time, tossing them gently into the air. The birds fluttered joyfully to the ground and immediately waddled over to have him do it again. They had just flown in from Chicago and apparently, sometime along the ride to GAIA, the two decided Mr. Chang must be “daddy”, and followed him about the property. At such a young age, the birds’ feathers and beaks were mottled in color, but when they are full-grown, they will have gorgeous black feathers and deep red beaks. The white swans welcomed them affably.
What does “gaia” mean? In ancient mythology, Gaia is goddess of the earth and mother of Cronus and the Titans. According to Merriam-Webster, gaia is the hypothesis that the living and nonliving components of earth function as a single system in such a way that the living component regulates and maintains conditions (as the temperature of the ocean or composition of the atmosphere) so as to be suitable for life; this system is regarded as a single organism.
Wen-I Chang nodded knowingly when I mentioned this. The living, self-aware, spirit of oneness resonates with the builder/philosopher. His hotel symbolically gathers weary travelers into life’s circle; The hotel’s buildings are designed in circular form.
The region’s climate offers some of California’s most extreme weather; While we live in Southern California (where a slight drizzle means a day off work), the Shasta Lake and Mount Lassen area surrounding Anderson presents nature at its finest, through four distinct seasons. Our summer visit coincided with 95+ degree F heat, so the hotel’s saline swimming pool was our first stop. Our children–both born at home in a birthing tub aided by midwives–are quintessential water babies. The experience of swimming in saline as opposed to chlorine is liberating: unexpected yet utterly familiar.
Mr. Chang welcomed me with a private tour of his hotel. The property is 1/3 mile in circumference; He enjoys walking around three times for 1 mile of exercise. At the entrance of the hotel, an elderberry tree with white flowers struggles to fight extinction. An arborist cautioned him that the tree had only a 51% chance of survival, but Chang is determined to see the species survive. When he planned the hotel, his layout provided protection for every elderberry, oak and pecan.
Architect Mickey Muennig, famous for his design of Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur, Calif., designed the hotel’s striking circular entryway, and had an active hand in Chang’s other green hotel in Napa, GAIA Napa Valley. Wen-I gestured wistfully at the circle’s edge, commenting that when ivy eventually dribbles from the structure, “it will be quite poetic.”
As we strolled about the property, Wen-I Chang stopped to pick up a praying mantis sunning himself on the footpath, placing it safely and gently aside; his compassion for even a small thing is a reflection of his attention to detail in his building projects. He directed me to what will become “Reconnect Circle”, a gathering place for guests to enjoy intimate outdoor concerts of cello and flute music, or bits from visiting comedians. Contruction of a 50×100 wedding site overlooking the Sacramento river is also underway.
In the history of hotel reviews, I may be the first to report on attractive storm drains. GAIA Anderson boasts 16 storm drains, beautifully contructed to become miniature landscaped ponds throughout the property during the rainy season. These “water features” will create temporary places of natural beauty, a gift to the traveler who happens upon one at the correct time, while at the same time preventing hazardous run-off from parking lot oil and tire debris entering the public water system. Chang is looking forward to his first October at the hotel; Directly in the path of migrating birds, the multiple ponds supplied by Autumn rains may invite some fine feathered visitors.
I commented about his creative use of recycled tires for the do-not-disturb signs and logo pens. He chuckled in response; Wen-I intended to diminish his costs by making them “ugly, so people wouldn’t take them.” As you can see, they’re rather stylish in a Dwell magazine kind of way. We didn’t take ours, but we wanted to.
As we toured the brand new event facilities, Mr. Chang welcomed me to view the yoga and meditation room overlooking the lagoon, as well as 5,000 square feet of state-of-the-art meeting space. We had the good fortune of running into the General Manager of Swan Lake Bistro, the hotel’s adjoining restaurant, slated to open in October 2008. The Bistro will feature eight vegan dishes; as we chatted, Mr. Chang urged the manager to begin plans to produce raw (slow food) dishes for the upcoming menu. (This good news means we must return! While I love to experiment in the kitchen with a variety of cuisines, I cannot resist well-prepared food heated to no hotter than 118 degrees Celsius.)
I encourage you to make your reservations for GAIA Anderson soon. Not only are “soft-opening” reduced rates available currently, but as Chang points out, he has a knack for selecting the next hot spot for travel. There are plenty of outdoor activities in the area, ideal for families, hikers, boaters and climbers. In the first three months of operation, the hotel is already turning a profit–a testimony to Chang’s ability to provide the growing “green” traveling niche with a valuble (and sustainable!) product.
GAIA Anderson luxury hotel and spa is the result of collaboration with architects, engineers and consultants with expertise in:
- Recycled and sustainable materials
- Perma culture landscaping
- Water management
- Alternative energy sources and energy efficiency
- Passive solar design and day-lighting
GAIA Anderson is Gold LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified. Recycled materials were used wherever possible in hotel and construction:
- Chemical-free landscaping
- Water conservation features
- Energy efficient heating, ventilating and air-conditioning system
- Solar panels for energy generation
- Specialty zero energy lighting throughout the hotel and public areas
- Cooling system features zero use of chlorofluorocarbons
- All wood used in construction certified as local, new growth wood
- Air quality maximized through low emission paints and adhesives
- And many other features endorsed by Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (www.usgbc.org/LEED)
All photos by Joseph Lacko.