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Top 10 most environmentally pure countries

Worried about the world around you? Us too, and while we want to discover every corner of it, we also want to make sure we’re travelling responsibly. These destinations have sustainability at their core and while the European countries may be leading the way in green tourism, we’ve found a few extras that may surprise you…

1. Denmark

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Denmark sits comfortably in the top five countries of the Environmental Performance Index (that’s the global rankings of sustainability and environmentally aware countries to you and me). For Denmark, it all starts with transport – hop on a bike and join the 55% of Danes cycling in Copenhagen, hire an electric bike from Bycyklen or join a walking tour to Copenhagen’s famous The Little Mermaid statue. You’ll also be able to spy wind turbines around the coast that power over 40% of Denmark’s electricity.

Did you know that Denmark is also a pioneer in organic products? Over 90% of the ingredients used at the Michelin-starred restaurant Ralæ are produced with organic production methods. You’ll only be served food that’s in season, so you can be certain your plate has the tiniest of carbon footprints. After a lean, green meal, rest your head at the Admiral Hotel, a hotel with strong sustainable values: they have energy-efficient insulated glass in all their windows and a conscientious approach to energy and water waste.

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2. France

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Sustainability and city breaks don’t always feel like they go hand in hand, but you don’t need to be high up in the mountains to be green. France is ranked an impressive number two in the world for Environmental Performance, so choose Paris as your next eco break. It’s home to some futuristic transport – no not flying cars – but flying boats (kind of)! The SeaBubbles water taxi uses clean hydrofoil technology to lift and power the boat over the water, which means zero emissions and zero disruptive waves. It’s currently being trialled on the River Seine, so the city’s hire bikes might be a more reliable – if a less cool – method for now.

Look out for the La Clef Verte (Green Key) logo on hotels, this shows they take an environmentally friendly approach to water usage, energy and waste. One such place is the Hidden Hotel where the bed sheets are organic cotton and the breakfast menu used local ingredients. There’s even a yoga wall that includes a comfortable pelvic harness and adjustable straps (the very first in France) so you can start your morning yoga routine upside down – it’s easy to forget you’re in the centre of Paris.

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3. Sri Lanka

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If you want your stay to be as sustainable as possible, check in at Jetwing Vil Uyana in the centre of Sri Lanka. This family-run hotel sits on a man-made wetland and nature reserve for hundreds of species of birds; so don’t forget to pack your binoculars. Built using local materials, there are five dwellings to choose from, each designed with sustainability in mind: the thatched roof, clay-mixed plaster and open architecture helps with air movement and reduces the need for air conditioning. The hotel uses its own water source and treatment plant to combat energy wastage too. Plus if you need a hand getting around, you can do so by bike or zero-emission electric car.

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4. Sweden

Photo credit: Lars Johansson

On the west coast of Sweden, you’ll find the remote Koster Islands. You’ll be using sustainable transport from the start as you can only access the islands by electric ferry from Stömstad. There are no cars on Koster which means you’ll need to walk and cycle everywhere. Bikes will be your new best friend and your primary way of getting around (apart from the occasional golf buggy), so embrace the freedom of cycling without fear of cars and buses overtaking you. Aside from feeling like you’re in an Enid Blyton book as you cycle and explore coves and costal path, you’ll find an array of protected fauna and flora to look at.

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5. Thailand

While Thailand has a way to go in the eco-tourism stakes, some areas are forging their own greener route. A stay at Lisu Lodge is all about being part of the community. The project works with locals to conserve Thailand’s heritage and remain as sustainable as possible. The four guest cottages are built in the traditional Lisu style. Smart and simple, they overlook lush fields and the surrounding hills. We’d recommend booking the classic package, which in addition to your room includes breakfast and dinner, a tour of the village and a traditional performance by Lisu locals. You’ll be happy to know that all your food is sourced locally with rice taken from the on-site paddy field and vegetables are grown in the garden. If you’re eager to work while you travel, help the community with the restoration of the forest ecosystem at the Himmapaan Nursery or volunteer at the nearby Ran-Tong Elephant Rescue Centre where you’ll get to have a water fight with the elephants.

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6. Wales

Photo credit: Kris Williams

Forget the cloud of smog that lays over our cities; the rest of the UK is a lot greener than the capital. According to the Environmental Performance Index we’re pretty green in our biodiversity and habitat protection and we get the top marks for clean water and air quality. You’ll be a greener traveller by hiring an electric car or downloading the Skyscanner app and booking yourself a train ticket to explore some of the UK’s best sights. But it’s Wales with its 20% coverage of national parks that should be high up on your list. Visit Snowdonia in Wales to find a landscape filled with mountains and valleys. Whether you hike your way up Snowdon or choose to take the train you’ll get bragging points for reaching Britain’s second highest summit (and we won’t tell anyone you opted for the train). Feeling more active? Visit the Coed y Brenin Visitor Centre for a variety of mountain biking trials to suit beginners and experts.

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7. New Zealand

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Kaikōura is as green as can be; the district council has been awarded a platinum Global Sustainable Tourism Certificate (ooh la la). This independently verified award looks at how sustainably secure a destination is. So you can be safe in the knowledge that Kaikōura maximises the environmental, economic and cultural benefits on offer while minimising any negative impact on the area. Plus you’ll be able to take advantage of the whale watching and dusky dolphins found in the water – it’s an all-round environmentally top-notch holiday spot. Ditch your standard chain hotel in favour of your childhood dream and sleep 10 metres above the ground… in a tree house with Hapuku Lodge and Tree Houses. These luxury homes have fireplaces, a hot tub and unbeatable views of Kaikōura’s dramatic mountains and the Pacific Ocean. The on-site restaurant also sources 75% of its food from local famers and purveyors of its own organic kitchen garden.

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8. Switzerland

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It probably comes as no surprise that the Swiss have made this list – their innovative, green ideas just keep on coming. An easy hour and half drive from Geneva, you’ll find an outdoor wonderland with unbeatable views of the Alps. Eco-friendly Whitepods give you the chance to get up close and personal with the great outdoors – take a deep breath of the fresh air and hike around the Dents du Midi mountain range. If you want to experience more of this country’s natural environment, hire an electric car and visit the glaciers: at 23km the Aletsch Glacier is the largest in Europe and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Matterhorn Glacier can be viewed from above by using the Zermatt cable car and you should add Rhône Glacier to your list. Although Switzerland may be doing all it can to be the purest country of all, by 2050 the Rhone Glacier will have lost 50% of its present volume, so head there while you still can.

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9. Iceland

Photo credit: Francesco Ricca Iacomino

Iceland isn’t just an aesthetically green country – thick green moss covers much of the landscape – it also leads the way in renewable and sustainable energy. An easy two-hour drive from Reykjavik is the Global Sustainable Tourism Council in the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. It’s as easy as can be; take Route 1 out of the capital and turn onto Road 54 when you reach Borgarnes. Otherwise known as ‘Iceland in a nutshell’, this peninsula has it all. Spend a day in Snæfellsjökull National Park exploring everything from the Snæfellsjökull Glacier to the rugged coast in the shadow of the active Mount Snæfellsjökull. Then check out Búdir Church, an isolated black church with a breathtaking backdrop.

The country grows much of its food using geothermal energy to heat greenhouses. So it only seems right to hit up a sustainable restaurant while you’re in Reykjavik. Kaffihús Vesturbæjar is made out of up-scaled furniture (spot the old pharmacy counter) and promises to serve locally sourced seasonal food.

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10. Costa Rica

Photo credit: Bill Berry Photography

Home to nearly 5% of the world’s biodiversity, Costa Rica is a leader in sustainable tourism. And with green living highly encouraged, you’ll have your pick of environmental hotels to choose from. One of the best is The Finca Rosa Blanca Coffee Plantation that scored a perfect 100 per cent in its certification for sustainable tourism. After you’ve toured the coffee plantation (there’s 30 acres of organic Arabica coffee plants to explore) take to the skies and zip line through the canopy, go white water rafting on the Pacuare River or explore the nearby Poás Volcano on foot. The environmentally friendly vibe continues with locally sourced organic produce in the restaurant and locally made soap and shampoo in your room.

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Rankings were taken from the 2018 Environmental Performance Index and the Global Sustainable Tourism Council.