From mucking out chimps’ cages in Spain to acting like a gladiator in Rome, Chloe Berman explores the weird and wonderful world of experience breaks
The European city break brings to mind the usual activities: sightseeing, sampling the local delicacies and shopping.
However, in the current climate, travellers want to squeeze the most out of their holidays.
Luckily, operators and activity providers are coming up with imaginative ways for your clients to learn or experience something new when they travel....
Volunteering with rescued chimps
Where? Girona, Spain
I’ve just spent the last hour sifting through a crate of mouldy apples while the rain pounds down outside, but I’m having one of my best holidays yet.
The Mona Foundation, just outside Girona in the northeast of Catalonia, Spain, is home to 12 chimps and two macaque monkeys.
Most of the primates have been rescued from travelling circuses or from homes where they were kept as pets, then confined to cages when they became too big to control.
Although now safe in the spacious and pleasant conditions of Mona, it takes a long time for the primates to recover from their traumatic pasts.
Head keeper Cristina Valsera explains: “When we rescue them, the chimps are depressed and we have to teach them how to be chimps again.”
The chimps are cared for by a small team of dedicated workers and volunteers, who allow visitors to take part in working weekends.
As I discovered, this is no petting zoo. I spent time preparing food for the chimps, cleaning their sleeping area and observing their behaviour.
The most rewarding part of the day was watching them devour the fresh apples I had picked and chomping down the ball of rice I had rolled up earlier.
Everyone knows about the close genetic relationship between humans and primates, but it is fascinating to see their distinct personalities emerge.
Bongo, who was saved from a travelling circus, will throw hay at people he doesn’t know, while playful Juanito loves to be tickled with a twig.
I may not have come home with a suntan, but the memory of the chimps and their dedicated carers will last far longer.
Book it: Responsibletravel.com offers two days at Mona for €240 (01273 600 030).
Alternative experience breaks
Perfume making workshop in Paris
Ever wondered how your favourite perfume is made? Venture off the tourist trail and travel to the seventh arrondissement of Paris to find out.
Here, experts will share with you the history of eau de cologne, right back to its origin in a convent in Florence.
In the first half of the afternoon’s workshop, you will learn how to recognise and describe the ingredients of a fragrance. Then you can put your new expertise to the test and create your own perfume to take home and impress your friends.
Book it: Activity provider isango.com offers the perfume-making workshop for £88 per person including the materials (020 3355 1240).
Volunteering in a school near Marrakesh
Tour operator Hands Up Holidays’ Moroccan Moments tour allows you to combine a sightseeing city break with ‘voluntourism’.
You fly into Marrakesh, stay at a luxury riad and have time to soak up the atmosphere at the Djemaa el-Fna square or go shopping in the souks.
The next day, it’s off to Talamanzou – a remote community where tourists can spend two days helping build a new library, IT room and reading room at a primary school.
The idea is to give visitors a chance to interact with the locals and get a taste of volunteering, in the hope you’ll come back for more.
Book it: Hands Up Holidays offers the Moroccan Moments trip for £400 per person for four days, not including flights (0800 783 3554).
Gladiator training in Rome
The Rome Cavalieri Hilton hotel has teamed up with the Gruppo Storico Romano – a group dedicated to keeping ancient Roman culture alive – to create the Cavalieri Gladiator Training Programme.
Instructors tell guests about life as a gladiator before teaching them some ancient combat techniques. A gladiator kit is included with a traditional tunic, roman sandals and a wooden training sword - everything a budding Russel Crowe could need.
All students are presented with a medal declaring them a ‘tiro’, or first level gladiator. Afterwards, newly qualified gladiators can retreat to the ancient Roman-style spa for a massage and chill out in the relaxation room.
Book it: The Rome Cavalieri Hilton, which joined the Waldorf Astoria collection last year, offers the one-day workshop in its 15-acre grounds for €500 (0800 626 6700, or visit Hilton's travel agent site).
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