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Travel and retreats: Adventures are still for the taking

28 January 2022

Companies offering Christian holidays tell Christine Miles what’s new in 2022


The Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque in the Old City, Jerusalem

The Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque in the Old City, Jerusalem

McCabe Pilgrimages

McCABE has been arranging pilgrim holidays for parish and diocesan groups for almost 40 years, specialising in the Holy Land and holidays following St Paul’s missionary journeys.

Owing to pandemic restrictions and general travel uncertainty, in 2021 the company switched its focus to expanding its selection of UK short breaks. In addition to its two UK staples “Over the Sea to Iona”, based on Mull with an Iona day-trip (now from £1095 — all prices quoted are per person, unless stated otherwise), and “In The Footsteps Of The Northern Saints”, based in Durham (now from £845) — the company has offered an Iona-based break for the first time (next available 23-28 October; 21-27 March 2023; 26 March-1 April 2023).

It has also added two Cornish holidays. “The Cornish Celtic Saints”, a five-day retreat walking parts of the Cornish Celtic Way (about six miles daily), with evening talks on the Cornish saints, based at Epiphany House retreat centre, Truro, will run again in August (priced from £1195), as will the coach-based “Celtic Cornwall” (from £1095), “developed to satisfy our regular guests who are not necessarily walkers”, the managing director of McCabe, Paul Ellerby, says.

Oberammergau features strongly on McCabe’s 2022 schedule. From May to October, the company is offering week-long, two-centre holidays in Austria, departing from various airports, including a one- or two-night stay in Oberammergau village with a premium Passion Play ticket (priced from £1670).

There is still availability on the eight-day Church Times Reader Holiday Oberammergau trip, led by the Revd Gillean Craig, flying from London, Birmingham, or Manchester on 14 September (priced from £1785). For those with packed diaries, McCabe might make available last-minute two-night Oberammergau breaks, with Passion Play tickets.

New for 2022 will be the start of a series of McCabe-led tours overseas. “We’ve got a portfolio of tours that we can offer anyone,” Mr Ellerby says. The first is an eight-day “Palm Sunday Pilgrimage”, participating in the Palm Sunday procession in Jerusalem, departing 4 April from Manchester. A second Palm Sunday Pilgrimage group departs 5 April from Heathrow (both priced from £1945). Palm Sunday Pilgrimages for 2023 are also available to book now.

McCabe A group walking the Cornish Celtic Way, on the south coast near Lansallos, with McCabe Pilgrimages

Throughout the year, various opportunities exist for individuals to join eight- or ten-day tours of the Holy Land, and other destinations. All parish-group tours open to others are advertised on the website.

McCabe holidays include a £15 voluntary donation to the McCabe Educational Trust, raising money for Christian-run social-justice projects. ATOL and AITO protected.

Contact: Phone 020 8675 6828, or visit mccabe-travel.co.uk.


JOURNEYING has been offering small-group pilgrim walking holidays in Britain and Ireland for more than 30 years. Many focus on Celtic history and spirituality, as the group walks and stops along the way for guided reflections.

After it cancelled most of its 2020 programme because of the pandemic, in 2021 only one of the walks was taken off the programme. Of these, many were booked to capacity, even if missing some overseas pilgrims.

The 2022 programme begins with St Declan’s Way, 22-28 May (from £995), a fairly new pilgrim route dedicated to the fifth-century saint who brought Christianity to south-east Ireland. The 115km route runs through South Tipperary and West Waterford, from Cashel to the beach at Ardmore — taking in the Knockmealdown Mountains on the way — resulting in daily walks of about 20-25 km.

The trip to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, 23-27 May (from £560), offers easy walking (not only flat, but four miles in a day at most) round the island, as well as a trip to explore the island of Inner Farne, St Cuthbert’s location during his years as a hermit, after serving 12 years as Prior of Lindisfarne.

Journeying’s Three Islands trip, 15-22 June, offers gentle-paced walks over varied terrain (maximum seven miles a day), based on the Scottish island of Mull, including a day’s walking trip on Iona, and one to Ulva.

The Brecon Beacons is the destination of a long weekend of walking, 8-11 July (priced £425), staying at Llangasty Retreat House, overlooking the stunning 340-acre Llangors Lake. Sunday’s walk is the longest, at seven miles, with varied terrain, over the weekend. Alternatively, for the more ambitious, the Way of St David route, following a section of the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path, 24-30 July (from £790), runs from Neyland to St Davids Cathedral, offering 100km of walking over five days.

The last walk of the 2022 programme is back in Ireland, 25-30 September (from £995), retracing the steps of Celtic saints of the area, for a route dubbed the “Irish Camino”, developed in partnership with Waterford Camino Tours.

Journeying started out as Pilgrim Adventure in 1988, and is a not-for-profit venture. Its team of volunteer lay and ordained walk leaders are drawn from across the denominations; holidays offer a rhythm of daily worship and reflection. Groups are usually limited to ten walkers, and have two leaders.

Contact: Phone 07896 285839, or visit journeying.co.uk

Special Pilgrimages

SPECIAL PILGRIMAGES is a third-generation family-owned company, with its origins in Jerusalem and an office still there today.

It has 40 years’ experience of organising pilgrimages and trips for parishes, dioceses, and other groups in Europe, including on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, in the Middle East, and to popular shrines such as the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, in Mexico.

In 2021, trips were largely deferred. A parish tour of Israel ran in October, however, and in November two groups visited to Jordan and the Holy Land.

The managing director, Issa Tahhan, is optimistic for 2022. The company offers groups a range of destinations, but this year it is likely to be promoting church-group trips to Greece, Turkey, Italy, and Spain — destinations that it used to offer before European travel became easy. Trips to sites and shrines in Britain and Ireland, including Knock, Iona, and Walsingham, will also be taking place. In addition, the company still has some availability for the rescheduled Oberammergau Passion Play.

Trips to the Holy Land will also continue throughout the year. “Now is an excellent time to go,” Mr Tahhan says. Pre-pandemic, religious sites were hugely overcrowded: groups had to queue and were herded in and out of many locations. “Because the tourist industry is rebuilding, people visiting during 2022 and 2023 will have an amazing time, with no queuing,” he says.

Mr Tahhan also hopes that Sinai and St Catherine’s Monastery will be open to tourists again, after closure in 2015 for security reasons.

Special Pilgrimages runs several subsidised pilgrimages to the Holy Land annually, to make trips accessible for people who might otherwise not be able to afford to go. Visitors spend five nights based in Bethlehem and two nights in Galilee, taking in the most significant sites, including the Sea of Galilee, the River Jordan, Nazareth, Mount Tabor, Bethlehem, the Old City of Jerusalem, the Mount of Olives, and Mount Sion. Trips are priced from £795.

Special Pilgrimages was awarded an outstanding-service award from the Israeli Ministry of Tourism in 1997. It actively seeks to support Christian communities, particularly in Bethlehem and Jerusalem. Bookings are ATOL-protected.

Contact: Phone 01702 394000, or visit special-pilgrimages.co.uk.

Lightline Pilgrimages

LIGHTLINE offers tailor-made tours for parish and diocesan groups, many of which are advertised on its website for others to join. Trips are often led by Anglican or Roman Catholic clergy, and many include a daily eucharist. In addition, the company offers bespoke family trips with private drivers.

In 2021, the company cancelled all its tours, rebooking instead for 2022 and 2023. Destinations for groups and families include the Holy Land, Egypt, Jordan, Portugal, Spain, Poland, and trips that follow St Paul’s missionary journeys in Turkey, Italy, Greece, and Cyprus. Bespoke family trips start from £2000pp a week all-inclusive for a family of six, including private minibus and driver.

With eyes on 2022, the managing director, René Siva, is optimistic that travel will return to a new normality, although sites may restrict numbers, particularly in the Holy Land. While tours to Europe are on hold until a clearer Covid picture emerges, Mr Siva is expecting Europe-bound trips to resume in the latter half of 2022.

Lightline supports Christian communities and companies in the Palestinian Territories and Israel, in a bid to offer practical, moral, and spiritual encouragement to the Church under pressure. A percentage of its profits supports Christian charities in Nablus, Bethlehem, and Gaza. Trips are ATOL-protected.

Contact: Phone 0845 610 6447, or visit lightline.org.uk.

JC Journeys

JC JOURNEYS arranges trips for Christian groups to pilgrimage destinations and along ancient and modern pilgrimage routes in Germany, France, Greece, Spain, and England. It also specialises in offering “Faith in Art” breaks with expert guides, battlefield tours, and bespoke Holy Land trips.

“2021 was an unprecedented year,” the director, Jane Roberts, reports, and many customers postponed trips.

In 2022, three Faith in Art breaks are on offer: a trip to the Prado Museum, Madrid, and its religious treasures (21-24 April); a long weekend exploring Renaissance masterpieces and architecture in Tuscany, starting in Arezzo with the work of Piero della Francesca (5-9 May); and a long weekend in Siena (7-11 Sept) studying Duccio’s most famous painting, the 12th-century Maestà altarpiece, as well as works by other artists. All trips start at £1095 including flights, based on two sharing accommodation, guides, and half-board.

Bible-inspired tours this year include a trip to explore Patmos, Greece, where St John received the vision detailed in Revelation (13-20 June, from £1375); and a trip to Corinth in the footsteps of St Paul (9-16 September, from £950).

Meanwhile, St Francis is the inspiration behind the company’s Christmas in Assisi and Greccio trip (10-13 December, from £850), where the first-ever nativity commemoration is said to have been produced in 1223. Time will be made to visit the Christmas markets in Assisi.

St Augustine and St Ignatius are the inspiration behind two new trips available to groups in 2022, exploring significant sites in Italy and Spain. Group itineraries are also available touring sites of Christian significance in Georgia, Poland, Romania, Armenia, Egypt, and the Holy Land, among others.

All JC Journeys’ tours include communal dining, and daily talks and prayers. Accommodation is in family-run hotels and guesthouses, or convents and monasteries.

Contact: 01886 812 862; or visit jcjourneys.com.

Richmond Holidays After a day on the slopes with Richmond Holidays, relax in a hot tub at Chalet des Nigres, Three Valleys, FranceRichmond Holidays

RICHMOND offers summer holidays on the Greek island of Samos, at the Zefiros Beach Hotel resort, from May to October annually. In winter, it welcomes guests to Chalet Des Neiges, in the heart of France’s Three Valleys, with access to pistes for skiers of all levels. Both resorts are run by Richmond staff, and accommodation includes breakfast and a three-course dinner, as well as an optional programme of prayer, worship, and Bible talks led by a Richmond ministry leader.

Owing to Covid restrictions in 2021, Richmond ran a shortened season, with the Samos resort opening to guests on 8 July, the managing director, Adam Playfair, says. For summer 2022, the lessening of international travel restrictions has led to very high demand, with many weeks already selling out.

Zefiros Beach features a Royal Yachting Association (RYA) water-sports training centre, offering sailing, windsurfing, paddle-boarding, and kayaking. Use of equipment is free and exclusive to guests, as are sailing and windsurfing classes from Richmond’s qualified instructors. RYA-certificated courses are available at a small extra cost.

At the resort, youth workers offer fun activities for children and teenagers during school holidays, and various themed weeks are available: Greek culture; walking; dancing; biking; and various creative weeks: details are on Richmond’s website.

At Chalet Des Neiges, facilities include two saunas and hot tubs. Themed weeks are on improving “Ski Technique” or “Learn to ski”. Ski school is available throughout the ski season.

“We run different activities to help bring groups together; so all our holidays are really accessible for solo travellers,” Mr Playfair says.

Richmond Holidays is a Travel Trust Association member, and holidays with flights are ATOL-protected.

Contact: Phone 020 3004 2661, or visit richmond-holidays.com.

istock Skala, capital of Patmos, the island where St John received his vision, and one of the stops featured on a tour with JC JourneysTravelink

TRAVELINK (Tours for Christians) specialises in group and individual travel to the Holy Land and to the biblical destinations of Jordan, Turkey, Greece, Italy, and Egypt.

You can book a flight only, join an organised tour, choose a fixed-itinerary package holiday (various itineraries are offered online), or a tailor-make a trip — and now cruises.

Organised Bible-lands tours include bespoke trips for church groups; ministry-led tours by various Christian leaders that are open to all; and historical and archaeological tours led by licensed Holy Land guides.

In 2021, the majority of clients moved their trips into 2022, and the company is hoping that trips will run from summer this year.

Tours of interest this year include an eight-night tour of Israel (Caesarea; Nazareth; Sea of Galilee; Church of the Nativity; Dead Sea; Jerusalem) run by the Bishop of Plymouth, the Rt Revd Nick McKinnel, and the Archdeacon of Plymouth, the Revd Nick Shutt, from 3 to 1 November. The speaker and writer Jeff Lucas is running a trip to Israel and Jordan from 26 October to 3 November. All trips with flights are fully ATOL protected.

New for 2022, the company is offering cruise trips around the Mediterranean for both church groups and individuals. One cruise planned for October will focus on the ministry of St Paul and St John, starting in Athens (including a visit to the Acropolis), with stops/excursions/free time at Thessoloniki, Istanbul, Ephesus, Patmos, and the Corinth Canal. Over the Christmas and New Year period, another cruise will tour the coast of Egypt and Israel, including a stop at Haifa.

Cruise accommodation is equivalent to four-star-hotel standard, and prices for a ten-day all-inclusive, including some excursions (additional excursions and return flights extra), are expected to be similar to standard Holy Land tours.

For clergy thinking of running a church group trip to Israel, Travelink is offering a subsidised familiarisation tour in December/January 2023.

Contact: Phone 0208 931 8811 or visit toursforchristians.com

istockRuins of the ancient city of Ephesus, Turkey, one of the destinations for church groups on cruise trips by Travelink and Norman Allen Group TravelNorman Allen Group Travel

NORMAN ALLEN Group Travel is a family-owned company celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, arranging group trips by coach and by air, including pilgrimages and tours for Christian groups. Popular destinations include Israel, Egypt and Jordan, Turkey, Ireland, Armenia and Georgia, Greece, Italy, Spain, and France.

In 2021, tours stuck to the UK, but international bookings for 2022 are good, and the commercial manager, Andy Holmes, is cautiously optimistic: “There is a great desire to travel, and people are coming to terms with the fact that travel means testing, etc. Making sure people have the right insurance is important.”

Most pilgrimage groups making enquiries are looking to foreign climes, but Knock, Holy Island, Canterbury, and cathedral tours are popular UK alternatives. Holy Land tours are booking well. Pilgrims seem to be hardier travellers than others, Mr Holmes says. The company also specialises in the Oberammergau Passion Play, and is promoting the 2022 season (running May to October).

The company is answering church enquiries for tours in 2023, with those working well ahead able to secure the widest choice of accommodation and activities, Mr Holmes says.

A new brochure, with new destinations and tours on offer, will be published in April, including a ten-day cruise for church groups around the Mediterranean, “Cruising to the lands of Apostle Paul”, starting in Athens. Stops/excursions will include Ephesus, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Limassol, Rhodes, Santorini, and a tour of biblical Corinth.

All holidays are ABTA/ATOL-protected.

Contact: Phone 01432 277666, or visit group-travel.com.

All details correct at the time of going to press.

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