Stag parties launched to Bethlehem - 'for you and your wise men'
'Culture and camaraderie'
A tour operator offering stag and hen weekends to the birthplace of Jesus Christ claims it is “the perfect choice” for an alternative holiday.
Last Night of Freedom, a UK stag and hen party operator, offers a two-day tour to the city as part of a five-night trip to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, billed as the "perfect combination of culture and camaraderie."
The “two-day cultural tour” to Bethlehem, billed as a genteel introduction “for you and your wise men”, includes a visit to Manger Square and the Church of Nativity, which was commissioned by Emperor Constantine in 326.
Groups also have the opportunity to visit Masada near the Israeli shore of the Dead Sea, where King Herod built a palace more than 2,000 years ago, and to float in the highly-saline waters.
But the company said that "partying will not be an option as part of the cultural side of the trip", with nightlife sorties limited to the time spent in Tel Aviv, in lsrael.
Matt Mavir, Last Night of Freedom managing director, said that the Israel trip was part of a trend for more unusual pre-wedding destinations.
He added that stag weekends had seen a “meteoric rise”, with more parties choosing to spend time abroad.
“We’re now starting to get more variation in locations”, he said. “Whilst the more traditional destinations such as Amsterdam, Prague, Budapest and Tallinn remain popular choices, we’re really enjoying offering locations that may never have been considered previously.”
Bethlehem is famed for its connections to Jesus Christ and welcomes thousands of pilgrims every year. Christians come to see what is believed to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, while Jews revere the city as the birthplace and home town of David.
It has a large Arab Christian population, and alcohol, including the potent local aniseed spirit, arak, is widely available, as is locally-brewed Palestinian beer, Taybeh. But how locals – who live in a geopolitically tense region – would react to incoming stag and hen do revellers and potentially raucous behaviour remains unclear.
Last Night of Freedom said that alongside visiting cultural and historical attractions on the tour, stags and hens would move on from Bethlehem to the lively bar and nightlife scene of Tel Aviv.
“Things don’t get going until around 11:00pm [in Tel Aviv]”, Mr Mahir said, “and there’s no last orders policy, so you’ll be able to watch biblical sunrises in the early hours.”
Last Night of Freedom said they would be offering advice on observing local sensitivities and awareness of the political situation around Bethlehem to travellers, who may be expecting a few days of alcohol-fuelled debauchery.
All visitors entering Bethlehem must pass through an Israeli-managed check point, and security at Tel Aviv airport can be strict.
"They [guests] will always be accompanied throughout the full trip, to ensure they aren’t left unaware of expectations", a company spokesperson said.
Israel and the West Bank have seen renewed violence in recent months, with clashes between Israelis and Palestinians in Jerusalem and Hebron and stabbings in Tel Aviv. Bethlehem has been the scene of violence between youths and Israeli troops, with tear gas and rubber bullets fired, according to news reports.
The British Foreign Office and Irish Department of Foreign Affairs advise travellers to exercise caution when travelling anywhere in the West Bank.
“Demonstrations and violent incidents can occur without warning particularly in areas close to refugee camps across the West Bank”, its travel advice says.
It currently warns against all but essential travel to an area south of Bethlehem, around Hebron, which has often been the focus of religious, political and geographical conflict.
The five-night stag tour in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories is one of Last Night of Freedom’s most expensive itineraries, costing £899/€1,230pp for accommodation, a two-day guided tour, and daytime activities, but excluding flights and nightlife.
The company offers more conventional stag and hen weekend ideas, including a “Booze Cruise” weekend in Amsterdam from £183/€250pp, as well as a “Wet & Wild” two-night holiday to Benidorm from £109/€149pp.