By Victoria Schlesinger
From researching dolphins and wolves to preserving medieval architecture and organic farms, Europe’s top sustainable and responsible tourism programs offer exciting opportunities to travel and help at the same time.
Adriatic Dolphin Project
Imagine yourself at the bow of a small boat, breathing in the saltwater air of the Mediterranean while on the lookout for dolphins…. alright, you may not be at the bow of boat, you’ll probably be seated and wearing a life jacket, but there will be salty breezes and you will be in search of bottlenose dolphins alongside scientists from the Adriatic Dolphin Project (ADP) in Croatia.
Flanked by Italy to the west and Slovenia, Croatia, Albania, and Greece to the east, the Adriatic Sea’s warm waters have been the site of ADP since 1987; they study the sea’s dolphins from the shores of the Cres and Lo inj islands off the coast of Croatia.
As a paying volunteer, you can join researchers for 12 days, taking boat trips in search of the dolphins and living alongside the project’s scientists in the ancient village of Veli Lo inj. You’ll count dolphins, describe their behavior, and assist in recording data, as well as shop, cook, and wash dishes. Eighty percent of the project’s funds come from visitors, and support on-going dolphin research in the region.
La Sabranenque, France
In the hills of southern Provence, in a small town near Avignon, preservation of the local architecture has been going on since 1969. A group called La Sabranenque leads on-going restoration projects, which they invite travelers to join.
Live with other volunteers in one of the stone houses of Saint Victor la Coste, the village whose architecture you will help to restore. Eat homemade family-style meals in the cobblestone courtyard of the La Sabranenque quarters under the shade of trees. Spend your days learning about stone masonry while helping to restore the local castle or other projects. La Sabraneque also offers programs in Italy.
Committed to organic agriculture, almost 100 small farms in Poland now host visitors that want to learn about rural Polish communities, support organic farming, and simply enjoy the outdoors.
Camp, stay in simple lodgings, or join organized tours of the farms; your fees provide diversified income for the farmer and the means for them to pursue ecological farming.
The European Center for Ecological Agriculture and Tourism (ECEAT) is the supporting organization and has been in operation since 1993, fighting to support the rights of local farmers, most of which are run by women. From ECEAT’s website, you can order a catalog that provides a description of each of the farms and its nearby towns and activities.
Imagine pursuing the mission statement of “promoting creative change in Russia’s ecology, environment, education, and youth welfare.” That’s exactly what the Ecologia Trust, a Scotland-based charity, has been doing since 1988. Among their many projects, Ecologia offers travel counseling services for independent travelers coming to Russia.
Liza and Rachel, who work with the trust, will arrange visas, homestays, and counsel on other Russian destinations. All fees help fund the trust’s work, some of which you can also partake in.
Six years ago the trust established Kitezh, a revolutionary ecovillage devoted to caring for, educating, and finding families for orphans. You can visit the ecovillage and help out in a variety of ways, among them teaching English, spending time with the kids, and gardening.
Carpathian Large Carnivore Project
Tromp through the wildflower-dotted (summer) or snow-engulfed (winter), meadows and forests of the Carpathian Mountains of southern Romania while in search of wolves, bears, and lynx. By your side will be the trusty biologists of the Carpathian Large Carnivore Project (CLCP), who seek to study the carnivores and preserve their habitat.
As a volunteer, you can join their daily tracking expeditions, or, if you prefer just a bit of wildlife viewing and more exploration of southern Transylvania’s culture, and even a trip to Dracula’s castle, you can visit as an eco-tourist.
You can book through any of the partner travel agencies committed to supporting the project, all of which are listed on CLCP’s website. A portion of your trip cost, be it as a volunteer or eco-traveler, goes to the project, which is largely supported by the German Wildlife Society and the Romanian State Forest Administration.