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Published June 24th 2019
Forget any fears and see all the spendours of Israel
A trip to Israel and the Holy Land is to experience a veritable 'who's who' of places forever associated with the Bible. From Bethlehem, where Christ was said to have been born, and Nazareth and Capernaum, where he lived, to the fantastic ancient city of Jerusalem which was the setting of the Last Supper and also the place where Jesus was crucified. But as spiritually uplifting as the Holy Land undoubtedly is for devout Christians, as well as those of the Jewish and Islamic faith, you don't have to be especially religious to derive huge pleasure and fulfilment from a visit to Israel due to the thousands of years of history on offer.
Our amazing and extremely knowledgeable local guide Raya, in thanking us for visiting her country, said family and friends had probably questioned why we had come to Israel, not only because of the perceived safety threat but also because of the political situation that has sadly given rise to anti-Semitism around the world. But the only harm I came to was when I lost my balance trying to stand in the Dead Sea, which is a bit like trying to manoeuvre through porridge, while the only time I felt remotely insecure was when two men in Arab dress approached my wife and I in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem but who turned out to be on a pilgrimage from Manchester and Stoke-on-Trent respectively.
The story of the Bible is never far away wherever you go
I would certainly have no hesitation in recommending a holiday in Israel, and not just to the Red Sea beach resort of Eilat in the southern most tip of the country. Our seven-night Jerusalem, Galilee and The Dead Sea tour, booked with Riviera Travel in Staffordshire, saw us pass close to the northern border with Lebanon, skirt much of the eastern boundary with Jordan - the border also passes through the middle of the Dead Sea - and took us into the West Bank within the disputed Palestinian authority region which includes Bethlehem, as well as Jericho and Ramallah. We began our fabulous trip with a direct flight from London Heathrow to Tel Aviv before commencing our coach tour bright and early the following morning, first to the Roman ruins in Caesarea and then on to the Crusader fortress city of Acre, which later became an Arab port in the 16th century. From there, it was on to Nazareth and the Church of the Annunciation, where Christ's birth was foretold, before arriving at Tiberius on the Sea of Galilee.
The following day began with a private boat trip on the Sea of Galilee, which is actually a lake, before heading to Tabgha, regarded as the site of the miracle of the loaves and fishes, and on to the nearby Church of the Beatitudes. Then it was on to Capernaum, where Jesus is said to have recruited his first five disciples, before arriving at Newe Zohar on the Dead Sea, which lies nearly 1,400 feet below sea level and is sadly shrinking due to the lack of rainwater entering it. As a result, the Dead Sea is also increasing in salinity, although the water also contains potash, magnesium, bromide and sulphur which makes it all the more important that you don't do what I did and get it in your eyes. After recovering overnight it was on to another major highlight in the form of Masada, the mountain fortress built by Herod the Great in 43BC which infamously fell to the Romans in 73AD following a three year siege culminating in all but six of the 964 inhabitants committing suicide.
Our final, four night stay in Jerusalem provided opportunities to visit surrounding areas as well as the Old City itself. This included a trip to Bethlehem, but also visits to the deeply moving Holocaust memorial at Yad Vashem - said to be the largest in the world - and the Shrine of the Book where the ancient Dead Sea Scrolls, dating from 69AD and found by chance by a shepherd in 1947, are displayed. All in all, a truly absorbing holiday destination. For more information about this holiday please visit www.rivieratravel.co.uk or call 01283 744300.