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Letter from Liz: 5 Intentional Ways a Resort Can Connect You to Nature

by Liz Vaccariello

Biophilic architects take their cues from the natural world to lock in a strong sense of place and create spaces that promote balance and well-being. To better understand, we toured Naviva, A Four Seasons Resort in the jungles of Punta Mita, Mexico, with Luxury Frontiers, the Johannesburg-based firm responsible for its design.

“Bringing the outdoors in.”

“Connecting you to nature.”

“Making you feel in touch with where you are.”

“Grounding you in the moment.”

This is Nadia Ghillino describing her approach to designing hotels, resorts and nature-based spa experiences all over the world. Definitions of biophilic design, the concepts are the very foundations of mindfulness, which is arguably the foundation of well-being.

Ghillino works for Luxury Frontiers, the design team behind nature-focused projects like Nayara Tented Camp in Arenal National Park (Costa Rica) and Savute Elephant Lodge in Chobe National Park (Botswana). Their latest project is Naviva, A Four Seasons Resort in the jungles of Punta Mita, Mexico. As more of us seek not only a wellness travel experience but also a connection to nature, the Global Wellness Institute named “Biophilic Design” one of its top travel trends of 2023.

At Naviva—named to Conde Nast Traveler’s 2023 Hot List and Travel + Leisure’s 2023 It List for Best New Hotels—the 14 principles of biophilic design were employed from inception to execution. I asked Ghillino, the firm’s head of Interior Architecture and Design, to explain some of the concepts with examples from Naviva. I hoped that by knowing what to look for, travelers could be even more tuned in to their travel experiences. She will be the first to point out the sneaky truth about design excellence in any form: If she’s done her job well, you might never notice she’s done a thing.

Refuge: The resort’s arrival bridge resembles a caterpillar, with guests entering an almost cocoon-like tunnel over a small bridge, creating a sense of respite, safety and comfort. “It’s a delicate balance between comfort and thrill,” says Ghillino. Anything transactional (like a front desk or concierge) has been removed from the arrival experience so guests engage with the natural world first. Likewise, the spa foregoes a “reception desk.” Instead, guests prebook treatments and arrive to their own private garden complete with a hot tub, day bed, outdoor dining area and spa treatment pod with an exterior shower and changing room.

Mystery: Naviva’s buildings and pathways draw inspiration from patterns found in nature, which have no straight lines, so something new is encountered around every corner. As Ghillino notes, you might hear a waterfall before you see it or feel the ocean breeze before the Pacific comes into view. The restaurant has a radial structure, with a show kitchen, outdoor cooking area and bar creating intrigue and interest.

Sensory Connection with Nature: “You can’t just focus on visual connection,” Ghillino notes. “Some spaces consider airflow and sound, first.” At Copal, Naviva’s restaurant, canvas fins have been inserted into the ceiling of the outdoor dining area to create a sense of oceanic movement as they flow in the breeze. The traditional Mexican temazcal and spa pods are inspired by the ceiba tree’s flowers and pods found on-site.

Prospect: Bathtubs in each private tent and villa provide uninterrupted views of the ocean framed in the background. To further enhance the connection to nature, guests can put personal toiletries in the bath’s side table, which is a unique, chiseled rock found on-site, thus linking the textural to the visual.

Connection to Natural Systems: Buildings are tucked into the forest as best as possible, seamlessly blending with the natural landscaping and bringing plant life into various spaces. There are, of course, outdoor showers, but also sustainable systems like on-site solar farms and water treatment plants in view of the guests.

For more stories about biophilic design and how our senses are awakened when we travel, I encourage you to join our subscriber list to receive our inaugural bookazine, The Art of Well-Being, out this October.

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