An article for the Guardian’s Travel section about my stay at Trelowarren in Cornwall…

We’re in a corner of Cornwall that has some of the most spectacular beaches, local food and heritage in the county, but all my young children want to do is look at the “big machine that eats trees”, otherwise known as the woodchip boiler. I wish I’d never mentioned it.

The Trelowarren estate on the Lizard peninsula has been welcoming guests since, well, no one’s exactly sure — the residing family, the Vyvyans, have been there for 600 years and their 1,000-acre property is mentioned in the Domesday Book — but in the past few years the estate has become synonymous with a distinctly modern phenomenon, the green holiday. And its seven-tonne state-of-the-art boiler, one of the largest of its type in the country, has a big part to play.

In a familiar tale of son-and-heir-forced-to-think-of-creative-ways-to-save-crumbling-estate, Sir Ferrers Vyvyan, Trelowarren’s 13th baronet, decided to shun the well-trodden route of opening up the house to the cream-tea brigade, or hosting a festival in the grounds, and instead decided to position the estate at the vanguard of luxury eco-friendly self-catering holidays.

“Carbon neutral” is a much abused term, but Trelowarren is now tantalisingly close — a “couple of years”, says Sir Ferrers — to being able to claim that label. At least half of the estate is forested, and Sir Ferrers realised early on in his 30-year, £12m programme to overhaul its fortunes that by reintroducing the art of coppicing he could use the renewable energy source growing all around him to provide heating and hot water to the self-catering cottages scattered across the grounds. In fact, so much heat now flows from the boiler that it also warms the estate’s large outdoor swimming pool. “Guests love using the pool at Christmas,” he says.

The long-term plan is to have 31 self-catering units on the estate, almost half of which are already up and running. This is no building site, though, as the development is being carried out in stages. Nine of the original estate cottages have been renovated — the first opened in 2000 — but are conventionally heated using, for example, oil-fired ranges. So the eco-purists will probably prefer to stay in one of the eight newly built two storey, two- to-four-bedroom houses, which include a raft of environmental innovations, such as twin-frame timber panelling to increase thermal efficiency, non-toxic paints, marmoleum-lined bathrooms, walls insulated with recycled newspaper, pressure-tested windows, low-energy lighting and rainwater harvesting.

Inside, the eco-properties are dressed in the Conran aesthetic — a jolting contrast to the homely (mercifully, chintz-free) charm of the original estate cottages. There’s no scrimping on mod cons, though, for when the fickle Cornish weather makes an afternoon curled up in front of a wood stove and a DVD seem the best option. There are no complementary bikes, but they can be hired from a local firm on request.

That is a minor grumble, though. Trelowarren is about as green as it gets for this sort of holiday in the UK. What is refreshing about it is the way the owners have resisted the usual short cuts, such as carbon off setting, energy purchased via “green tariff s” and so on . And you can literally buy into their vision, because Trelowarren claims to be the world’s first eco timeshare. If you have a spare £4,500, you can invest in, say one week’s use of a cottage every February for 30 years — though prices rise sharply for summer use.

But you don’t go on holiday to talk about U-values, kilowatt hours and price-earnings ratios. Sniffing out the best food available is usually on most people’s minds, and just a short stroll from the new eco-buildings is the estate’s stable block, which houses the New Yard Restaurant. A destination in itself, the restaurant holds two AA rosettes and claims that 90% of the ingredients in its dishes are sourced within a 20-mile radius. We particularly liked the Cornish spring lamb and line-caught sea bass, but the kitchen will also put together a picnic for those wanting to head off and explore the grounds, which offer an undulating jigsaw of lush pastures stocked with rare breed cattle and woodland carpeted — when we visited — with wild garlic. Head north and the estate reaches down towards the tidal inlets of the Helford river.

You could spend two weeks here without moving far from Trelowarren, but one trip worth taking is to Kynance Cove, one of Cornwall’s most spectacular beaches, which lies just to the west of Lizard Point, Britain’s most southerly tip. In keeping with th e green vibe, the beach cafe is accessible only by foot and the power needed to chill the drinks and toast the sandwiches is produced by photovoltaic solar panels on the roof.

A trip to the Lizard isn’t complete these days without visiting Tregellast Barton Farm near St Keverne, where the famous Roskilly’s organic ice cream is produced. If you fantasise about gorging yourself silly on ice cream or fudge made with clotted cream, then this is the place for you. We atoned for our calorific crimes with a walk along the shingle that takes you along the inlet from the beach beneath St-Anthony-in-Meneage, before reoffending at an evening barbecue at the Shipwrights Arms in Helford.

But, despite all the other distractions, talk on the way home was still of that boiler. “How many trees can it eat in a whole day?”

· 01326 222105, From £450 (two-bed cottage, low season) to £2,650 (four-bed, high season) for a week. You can book a biodiesel taxi to pick you up from Truro station, 45 mins drive away, through