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Good company on the Med

24 January 2014

What is it like to go on holiday with a Christian company? Jack Philips dips his toe in the water in Turkey

Overlooking the Aspat Beach Hotel private resort

Overlooking the Aspat Beach Hotel private resort

"WHAT do you think St Paul would have made of the fact that the best football team in Turkey is from Galatia, and the best beer is from Ephesus?" asks Christopher, a retired IT engineer, over dinner. A conversation breaks out that concluded that perhaps Colossae and Philippi had let the side down.

We are dining in the open-air beach-side buffet restaurant at Richmond Holiday's chilled-out Aspat Beach resort, half an hour's drive from the throbbing town of Bodrum, in Turkey, in the company of 50 other people, who, three days before were total strangers. Now, we could easily be mistaken for family.

Conversation is animated and easy: people are reflecting on their days, setting the world to rights, and discussing plans for the coming year. Among the free-flowing chatter we tuck in to a sumptuous spread of meats, vegetable dishes, and salads, with a tempting selection of unfamiliar-looking puddings soon to follow. The wine is flowing, too.

Making merry among the throng - identifiable only by their white polo-shirts and rather more substantial tans - is a smattering of Richmond staff (holiday reps, windsurfing and sailing instructors, and management, plus a few lucky summer jobbers).

RICHMOND offers year-round holiday options, including skiing in the French Alps, winter sun in Malta, Gozo, or Tenerrife, and summer jaunts in Greece, Italy, France, Austria, Croatia, and, of course, Turkey. There are special interest weeks, too, based on activities such as painting, walking, and photography. Holidays are half-board, and include optional daily worship and prayer, led by an on-staff Richmond pastor, as well as an evening entertainment programme.

Food and accommodation is of a high standard. At Aspat Beach, at the foot of Mount Aspat, I am holed up in my own semi-detached Caribbean-style beach house with balcony. Outside, hammocks tempt me to snooze away the time. There are also two beach-side bars to relax in (one offering a lunch menu of local and Western food), as well as access to free watersport equipment at the RYA Recognised Training Centre, with paid-for sailing and windsurfing lessons from instructors also available.

Daily outings and excursions include trips to nearby towns for cultural and shopping trips. As well as a chance to visit the Graeco-Roman ruins of Ephesus, where St Paul lived, and the location of one of the churches mentioned in Revelation, visitors can opt to visit Turkish baths, or go on scuba diving, jeep safaris, and boat trips.

I spend a glorious day on a large converted fishing yacht off the Bodrum Peninsula, stopping off in tucked-away bays for swims, meals, and a floating ice-cream van (actually, a small power boat that spends the day delivering ice-cream refreshment). But it is also wonderful to spend the day relaxing on the resort's private beach, with a good book.

I GREW up with family trips to the countryside, visiting friends and family in larger cities, or going off for something more adventurous with friends. As it turns out, this "Christian holiday" experience feels something like a mix of all three, where an instant "family of families" forms, bonded by faith, and, at least in part, through sharing the fun of the activities on offer.

What is striking is the holiday's broad appeal. Edward, in his fifties, with grown-up children, is a regular Richmond guest. "It's great for the family," he says, "as the children can have their independence, and we can gather for meals, meetings, and other times."

Eighteen-year-old Robbie seems to concur. "It's great to be out with family, meeting new people, and yet having the freedom to do my own thing most of the day," he says.

For Christopher, who is in his eighties, it is the sense of Christian community that is the big draw. "My wife died 12 years ago. Where can I go on holiday on my own? I used to be a hill walker, but it's no longer practical. It's marvellous: since Richmond began, I've not been on another holiday."

Also striking is the number of young adults who are enjoying a holiday with their parents (maybe it helps if they are paying?). I am in my twenties, and have not holidayed with family for years; but, having been here, I can see the appeal.

Richmond's holidays appeal to all ages, but some weeks cater for specific needs: entertainment for young children is provided in the peak summer weeks, and for certain ski weeks; there are weeks specifically designed for those in their twenties and thirties who are looking for people to share a holiday with; and other weeks tend to be for families with teenagers.

I had been unsure, when setting off, what the week would have in store for me. As it happens, I have a blast. Aside from the summer sun, I meet an interesting range of people, spend loads of time playing on surfboards, sailing boats, or kayaks, and wile the evenings away playing silly games and getting way too competitive at table tennis.

But the highlight is definitely sitting down at the end of the day to a delicious meal, not far from the water's edge, discussing the day, laughing, and being laughed at (particularly after my team's triumph in a hard-fought sailing regatta).

You never know - next year, I might even bring the rest of the family with me.

Jack Philips travelled as a guest of Richmond Holidays.


TRAVEL details
A week's holiday to Aspat Beach Hotel starts from £441 pp.A guided day trip to Ephesus costs £42; boat trip, £26; Turkish bath trip, £12; private watersports lessons start at £25. Richmond prices do not include flights or transfers, but transfers can be arranged at extra cost. The company advises reserving room(s) (without cost or obligation) before booking flights.


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