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Travel and retreats: In the Middle East, with care

28 January 2022

Sarah Faith takes her pick of tours that are working to benefit the region


Byblos harbour, Lebanon, reportedly the world’s oldest continually inhabited city

Byblos harbour, Lebanon, reportedly the world’s oldest continually inhabited city

Cappadocia walking holiday, Turkey

EXPLORE the lunar landscapes of Cappadocia, in central Turkey, on foot: a low-impact way to travel the water-sculpted rock pinnacles and underground cities of the Akvadi and Gomede Valleys. Christianity dates back to the first century here, evident in the rock-hewn, frescoed churches that you’ll visit. You’ll also explore the fascinating underground city of Kaymakli, with its elaborate system of tunnels and caves — built by early Christians to avoid persecution. Fairly paid guides impart unrivalled local knowledge to help small groups of travellers to explore the valleys and villages, sample the best of Capadoccia’s gastronomic specialities, and meet semi-nomadic tribes en route.

From £1299pp for eight days, including UK flights.


The Grand Mosque, Muscat, Oman: one of the sights on a 12-day holiday
Oman highlights tour

A TAILOR-MADE odyssey into the heart of Arabia. Accompanied by a driver-guide, you’ll explore Muscat’s intricate bazaars and Grand Mosque, before heading into the towering, arid mountains around Nizwa, and the ever-changing dune landscapes of the Wahiba Sands. You’ll also contribute to turtle conservation, visiting the Ras al Jinz Turtle Reserve and Scientific Centre, dedicated to the protection of rare giant green turtles.

From £2795pp for 12 days, excluding flights.


Israel and Palestine Tour

A TOUR of Israel and Palestine immerses you in religious history while opening your eyes to the struggles faced by communities in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Local guides here are invaluable for the insight they offer. You’ll learn more about the political situation and the ongoing peace processes, while also exploring the main religious sites in Bethlehem, Jerusalem, and Nazareth, as well as other destinations with scriptural significance: Jericho, Capernaum, the Sea of Galilee, the Dead Sea, among others. The tenor of this trip is one of tolerance and inclusivity. As such, both a Palestinian and an Israeli guide accompany you to ensure that opinions and viewpoints are balanced and representative of the places you visit.

From £1781pp for eight days, excluding flights.


istock The Moses Memorial at Mount Nebo, Jordan
Biblical history in Jordan

A BESPOKE, fully customisable tour through the desert landscapes, Bedouin culture, and biblical history of Jordan. With an experienced driver and private car at your disposal, you can choose to visit the ancient sites of Jerash and Petra, marvel at Crusader castles, or sleep under the desert stars at a Bedouin camp. You’ll also have the chance to visit Mount Nebo, where Moses viewed the Promised Land, and to view the sixth-century mosaic map of the Holy Land that lines the floor of St George’s, in Madaba. Another highlight is an evening at the Petra Kitchen, a community enterprise that provides an income for women through cookery classes and handicrafts. Learn to cook a traditional Jordanian meal, and enjoy the women’s stories as you eat.

From £1295pp, excluding flights. Price includes transfers, three-star accommodation in B&Bs, some tours, and meals.


London to Cairo overland and sea tour

THIS trip proves that you don’t need to fly to have an epic adventure. Curb your carbon by choosing to travel through Europe to Israel and Egypt by train, cargo ship, and public bus. You’ll explore Jerusalem and Tel Aviv on private guided tours — which can be adapted to take in key religious sites such as Temple Mount, the Western Wall, Mount Zion, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre — before traversing the Sinai Desert to reach Cairo for a private tour of the Great Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx. This trip gives you the perfect amount of independence: you’ll hop on buses and trains by yourself — but with support on hand if you need it — while locally employed guides will share stories and insights everywhere you stop.

From £2400pp for 16 days, excluding some transport.


Family friendly Egypt

WITH gloriously gruesome tales of mummies and pyramids, Egypt is a fascinating option for adventurous families. Camel rides through the desert, felucca trips along the Nile, and beach time on the Red Sea coast provide fun, too. A local driver and guide take the stress out of the logistics on this trip, and will find you family-friendly places to eat, sleep, and explore without the need for a soulless “all inclusive” package.

From £1300pp for eight days, excluding flights. Based on a family of four, with no minimum-age requirement. Child discounts available.


Lebanon small group tour

istock St Paul’s Basilica, Harissa, Lebanon, which can be reached by cable car

THE Middle East meets the Mediterranean in Lebanon, one of the most beguiling countries in the region. Discover Parisian-style boulevards in Beirut — once known as the Pearl of the Middle East — mouth-watering cuisine, world-class wine, and ancient ruins that have miraculously survived years of conflict intact. Life here has been shaped and reshaped by the Romans, Ottomans, Egyptians, Babylonians, and Hellenists. Visit Byblos, which gave its name to the Bible and is reputed to be the oldest continually inhabited city in the world; or make a pilgrimage to the shrine to the Virgin Mary, known as Our Lady of Lebanon, in Harissa, before ascending to the top and the beautiful Basilica by cable car. More recently, you’ll find the markers of French colonists in Lebanon’s architecture and cuisine. Devastating political turbulence has caused fresh scars, but tourism is encouraged to boost the fragile economy and support local producers and guides, in a way that respects both culture and environment.

From £939pp for eight days, excluding flights. As part of a small group of up to 12 travellers.


Kurdistan holiday in Iraq

IT’S been a long time since Western travellers could set foot in northern Iraq. It is still gloriously off the beaten track; but put aside your preconceptions and you’ll find some of humanity’s oldest settlements, lush mountains, bazaars bursting with life, and a long history of textile making. What’s more, Kurdish culture, in all its diversity, is open and hospitable. You’ll be made to feel at home by people keen to welcome visitors back to their land. You’ll visit Lalish, home to Yazidis, one of the Middle East’s most ancient religious groups, and explore the ancient citadel of Erbil. This tour takes responsible tourism seriously: the tour provider is working with the government to help produce a plan to protect the fragile archaeological sites you’ll visit, and environmental policies to preserve Kurdistan’s wonderful natural world.

From £3099pp for nine days, excluding flights.


Sarah Faith works for Responsible Travel, a holiday company offering more than 5000 responsible holidays. For every holiday booked, Responsible Travel offers to fund a day trip for a disadvantaged child.


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