Projects: Villages Nature Paris - tourism au naturel
With its power coming from geothermal energy and its buildings being ecologically sound, could a French water park, nestled next to Disneyland Paris, lead the way in sustainable mass tourism?
The Aqualagoon is the architectural highlight of the resort
Can mass tourism ever be truly be sustainable? And if it can, what role can construction play in achieving this? For the past 12 years these have been the core philosophical questions obsessing an iconic global leisure mega-brand whose name may not immediately spring to mind when contemplating sustainable development. And it believes it may have found the answer in a pioneering and highly experimental new holiday resort that has just opened 20 miles to the east of Paris.
Villages Nature Paris (VNP) is a €500m (£435m) joint venture between Disneyland Paris and Groupe Pierre & Vacances Center Parcs. Located three miles from the Disneyland Paris resort at Marne-la-Vallée, it contains 916 flats and cottages in various bungalow and multi-storey formats, set among landscaped wooded parkland containing a 2,500m² open-air lagoon and a covered water park. It started operating last year. Subsequent phases will double the current accommodation.
To British eyes, the format sounds suspiciously like a Center Parcs. But this offer is different, for three reasons. First, UK Center Parcs resorts are owned and operated by a different company from those in Europe. Second, while the Center Parcs model primarily relies on visitors arriving by car, VNP makes use of established public transport facilities for nearby Disneyland Paris, as well as an electric bus system to take residents from the perimeter car park to the their accommodation.
The electric bus system is a clue to the third and most important difference. At Center Parcs the natural environment forms the chief physical characteristic and visual backdrop to the resort, but at the VNP resort nature and sustainability are embedded in the design, construction and operation of its buildings and attractions. As Emilie Riess, corporate and social responsibility manager at Group Pierre & Vacances Center Parcs, says: “It is a resort based on a positive vision of sustainability, where nature can be experienced in a completely accessible way.”