I’ll never forget the first time I encountered beekeeping in my travel adventures. It was in 2013 at Montreal’s Fairmont Queen Elizabeth Hotel. I was there on a press tour to learn about one of the property’s most famous events, a “Bed-in For Peace” presented by John Lennon and Yoko Ono in 1969. During my visit, the staff invited me to check out a different kind of activism currently taking place in the building. An ongoing environmental project was happening on their roof!
As I stood on the hotel’s roof, 22 floors up, I was surrounded by jewel-like heirloom tomatoes, fresh, leafy herbs … and bees! The hotel had transformed its rooftop into a garden and was producing its own honey. I learned that the honey was used in a variety of recipes — and that they were far from the only hotel undertaking such a project. Today, many of the Fairmont Hotels keep bees and they are very much on-trend. Apitourism is now all the rage.
What Is Apitourism?
Apitourism refers to tourism activities linked to beekeeping. You might assume that apitourism activities take place in rural areas but that isn’t always the case. Urban beekeeping, like the kind I saw at the Fairmont, is a huge part of the apitourism industry.
Bees thrive in urban environments. They need as little as a 6-foot diameter to set up a home. In cities like Ljubljana, Slovenia, bees and humans live happily together. During my 2016 visit, I hiked a beekeeping trail and saw city-center vineyards pollinated by bees. Bees in Slovenia enjoy protected status and their hives are a big part of artistic culture. Traditional lore says that painting distinctive patterns on the side of the wooden hives helps the bees recognize their homes, something that modern science disputes but I personally like to err on the side of whimsy.
Apitourism Is More Than Just Hotels
You’ll find apitourism programs at many travel-focused destinations, not just hotels or cities with a long-established tradition of beekeeping like Ljubljana. Bees now reside at some of the world’s most exclusive addresses, including the Paris Opera and Musée d’Orsay!
In Rubona, Uganda, the Bunyangabu Beekeeper’s Cooperative offers candle-making workshops. Just outside Thessaloniki, Greece, the Anel Honey Park is a comprehensive, kid-friendly learning center where you can sample honey and even partake in meditation and “apitherapy.” Many restaurants now keep their own hives, either on-site or in partnership with a nearby farm.
How Travelers Can Get Involved
Apitourism activities are as diverse as the organizations offering them. Many offer guided tours, tasting experiences, and workshops (like candle-making and toiletry-making) for guests. There are spas that keep hives and incorporate honey into their luxurious treatments and rustic farms that offer hiking routes through the bees’ territories. Even if there is no formal tour, it’s often possible to learn and see the bees if you get in touch with the concierge or director of programming in advance and explain your interest.
What It’s Like To Visit With The Bees
Each bee visit is unique, depending on the time of year, the bees’ activities, and the weather. At private farms, you often have an opportunity to meet the bees. Standing on the roof of a hotel, you shouldn’t expect to have the hives opened up.
I enjoyed a private bee tour with Ottawa’s Gees Bees Honey Company as part of a press trip. At their farm outside the city center, I donned a beekeeper’s hat, participated in a tour of the pollinators’ garden, visited the hives, and saw the bees hard at work when the keeper removed a screen from the hive. I was even invited to try fresh honey directly from the hive!
I was surprised by how incredibly peaceful I found the experience. There’s something about the low hum of the bees at work that I found extremely meditative. As the owners told me, the bees don’t know that there’s a pandemic. They keep on being bees! I’m not alone in my appreciation of the bees’ calm vibes. There are even nap programs and overnight stays in Slovenia that allow you to sleep with the bees (or, more accurately, in cabins where the exterior walls are beehives).
While in Montreal, I learned that John Lennon and Yoko Ono ordered a lot of healthy food up to their hotel suite. They favored brown rice, steamed veggies, fish, and orange juice — orange juice with honey whisked in! This was long before the days of the hotel having their own hives but I found it fascinating that two superstars were dining on such healthy, homey fare and seeking out sweet, soothing honey. I’d like to think they’d appreciate the trend of seeing bees around the world as much as I do.
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