Slow places around Barcelona by DESconnect
After bumping into Jutta Hübener at various sustainable tourism related events over the last few years, we decided it is time to get to know the German online marketing expert and her mission better. Jutta is the founder of DESconnect, a travel site that provides holiday rentals and experiences around Barcelona to more conscious travellers. She hand-picks owners who see their accommodation not just as a business but as a life-long project and invest in eco-friendly innovation. She makes sure to first stay at the location or try the experience personally before recommending them.
Jutta, what is your favourite get-away from Barcelona and why?
It is difficult to choose one, but since I love to combine activities in and around water with culinary experiences, I would say the natural fountain Pèlags del Foix. It is a little watercourse between rocks in the green, where you can freshen up in summertime with almost nobody around. Since it is situated in the heart of the Penedès wine country, it is perfect to combine it with wine tasting.
What do you suggest to someone who wants to experience Barcelona away from the crowds?
Just don’t do what is written in every guide! Forget about Park Guëll and instead go to the Montjuïc Park if you want to relax in the green and enjoy great views over the city and the harbour. Talking about views: I also recommend a walk along the Carretera de les Aigües. If you go when everybody is eating, between 2 and 4pm, you avoid bumping into too many mountain bikers.
And, try to go to places when nobody else is around! Why not start the day at 6am at the beach or even swim in the ocean to watch the sunrise? It is a wonderful experience, we do it every Tuesday morning. You see Barcelona’s beaches literally speaking in another light. (Top photo by Nats Urdaneta) Or, just get on a public bus and leave it spontaneously? And then just walk, walk, walk :-)
Can you explain your specific criteria for selecting holiday rental properties?
First of all, it has to be situated in a great location, for instance near a beach or a lake, which invites to do slow tourism activities out in the green. A place with stunning views into nature but not too far from “civilisation”. The accommodation should be cosy, totally clean and tidy, and up to date in terms of amenities and comfort, no matter whether it is a country cottage or a refurbished apart hotel. The holiday home should be managed in the most eco-friendly and sustainable way possible; the B&B should offer slow food. Last but not least, the owner has to be absolutely service oriented, child- and animal friendly, speak English and all in all just do a great job. If all these criteria match, I go and stay there at least one night to check if they really care for their clients and the environment and describe it on DESconnect. I am the happiest person when guests tell me after their stay that they want to go back!
In your eyes, what makes a business owner an excellent host?
To start, a good communication is key – here I can help a lot since there are different languages involved and different cultures. A family from England can’t stay at a place without having a kettle. So a host should provide it. The same happens with bed sizes, children’s chairs, cafe mugs etc. That doesn’t mean that the house or apartment has to be full of things, it just has to be functional. And of course, provide the guest with a wide selection of proposals what to do in different languages. Some people like to chat with the host and know more about their lifestyle, others rather want to be left alone. So an excellent host has to have that empathy to notice what their guests are really up to, and react asap if there is an emergency!
What is the most creative element to an eco holiday rental you have ever seen?
There are lots of creative and innovative elements in modern construction when it comes to resource-saving. At the eco finca Isla Verde near the Montserrat Mountain, the chill-out area next to the spring water pool has a lovely Ibiza look which I think is awesome! At the same time, the quietest place there is the most innovative: a composting toilet according to the latest generation. After the decomposition process, it is used as fertiliser for trees.
Most owners of holiday lettings in the green try to recycle anything they find in the ruins of their house or even in the garbage. Paco of an eco finca near Ametlla de Mar showed me a drawing with coloured patterns and German words which was out of a catalogue to choose the color for the wall (photo above). Another holiday house in the Penedès is named after a book, Milk Wood, in honour of the radio drama Under Milk Wood by Welsh writer Dylan Thomas. The owners told me that it seemed an apt name due to the house being the perfect place for listening to dreams and inner thoughts. The owners created a whole wall with book titles and named the rooms after authors.
What is your motto?
Keep calm and travel slow – possibly without climate damaging flying!