"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
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
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
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.