The Place: Volcanic Harrats in Saudi Arabia’s Umluj

07/11/20

Photo/Saudi Press Agency

The Umluj governorate has become a major destination due to its distinct, natural features that make it one of the primary landmarks for the tourist path launched by the Saudi Tourism Authority
The famous volcanic Harrats (meaning “stony areas volcanic country or lava field” in Arabic) in the Umluj governorate constitute a striking natural picture for visitors at first glance.
They are mostly formed by sequences of Basaltic lava stacking on top of each other, creating the distinctive topographical shape of the Harrats that appear in the form of volcanic plateaus.
Basaltic lava originates from lava flow through surface fissures that appear on the earth’s surface in the form of scoria volcanoes stacked in belts. The Harrats are considered one of the most important tourist assets in the Umluj governorate. The region’s lava-painted geometric shapes and dazzling colors unleash the imagination and tell stories that attract tourists.
Volcanic craters and lava create a new environment and different colors, shaping an exceptional natural painting that blends mother nature with features augmented by the volcanoes and scattered lava.
The Umluj governorate has become a major destination due to its distinct, natural features that make it one of the primary landmarks for the tourist path launched by the Saudi Tourism Authority.
The path includes diverse destinations that let tourists discover the natural, historical and cultural treasures of the Kingdom. It starts in the city of Tabuk in the northwest and ends in Abha. It also passes through 10 tourist destinations in the country, where the diverse nature and stunning climate attract all kinds of tourists.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Qasr Al-Farid, a largest single rock in Saudi Arabia’s AlUla

31/10/20

The Saudi tourist destination of AlUla reopened its doors to visitors on Friday, and will remain available and packed with outdoor activities throughout the year. Visitors do not have to wait for a season to visit AlUla; they can now visit the ancient site at any time. The destination will be ready for international visitors, too, when travel restrictions are lifted next year.
Qasr Al-Farid, one of the largest existing tombs, is among the main attractions. Its name reveals its uniqueness as a single rock independent of the other palaces or tombs.
The tomb is unique because it was left incomplete and there are no signs of burial sites inside. While most graves have two columns, Al-Farid has four with Nabatean crowns on the front.
The palace contains a pagan symbol, the eagle, in front of the gate. The Nabateans were known to be polytheists.

This article was first published in Arab News

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AlUla unveils new experiences, heritage sites open for bookings

Time: 30 October 2020  

There is an Experience AlUla app for an immersive digital guide, and visitors can speak to a Rawi (Arabic storyteller) for a more personal tour of the sites. (Supplied)
  • From late-December, parts of AlUla Old Town will be open to the public

JEDDAH: AlUla, the historical crossroad of ancient civilizations, has officially reopened for visitors.
The Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) has unveiled the full suite of experiences that are being introduced over the coming months.
Heritage sites, Hegra, Jabal Ikmah and Dadan are the first to reopen for bookings. The Hegra experience includes a full immersion into the Nabataean way of life at the Tomb of Lihyan son of Kuza, including Jabal Ithlib, The Diwan, Jabal Alhamar and the well.
At the ancient city of Dadan, the capital city of the Dadanite and Liyhanite kingdoms and one of the most developed cities in the first millennia BC, visitors will get the chance to become an archaeologist for the day.
Archaeologists began extensive excavations at Dadan in February to explore this relatively unknown period in AlUa’s 200,000 years of human history. From December, a family-friendly 40-minute “Archaeology for Everyone” workshop will have kids digging for artifacts to get in on the action. There will also be live immersion shows, audio tours and visitors will have the opportunity to roam the site in a vintage jeep.
From late-December, parts of AlUla Old Town will be open to the public. While full conservation is ongoing, the visitor experience will include Rawi tours of Tantora Plaza and views from AlUla citadel, experiencing a bustling souq, handicraft pavilions, souvenir shops and new dining options.
Outside of the heritage sites, there will be plenty of other activities to keep visitors entertained.
A new Adventure Canyon area will offer a suite of experiences for those looking for high-energy thrills.

HIGHLIGHT

From mid-November, visitors will be able to appreciate the landscapes, rock art, dunes and peaks of the desert while zipping around in dune buggies, or book a stargazing tour at Al-Gharameel rocks.

From mid-November, visitors will be able to appreciate the landscapes, rock art, dunes and peaks of the desert while zipping around in dune buggies, or book a stargazing tour at Al-Gharameel rocks.
Another trail available from mid-November is a leisurely two-hour cycling trip, which runs through palm groves and citrus trees. A horse riding trail through the oasis is also slated for later in the year.
Available from December, a family bike track is being constructed as well as a zipline at the new Adventure Canyon by experienced operators Warrior.
For a more relaxing experience, the AlUla Fresh Farm visit offers visitors a glimpse into the agricultural life with fruit picking, animal feeding and seed planting. From the 2.3 million date palm trees to the 29 different citrus fruits, farms play an important role in AlUla’s economy and daily life.
AlUla will also welcome new permanent experiences in the arts and cultural space. The former AlUla Secondary School for girls near the old town is being transformed into an arts and traditional crafts hub.
Restaurants have also been given careful consideration and further announcements are to be made in the coming weeks about some exciting new dining options. In the meantime, key local cafes Barzan and Al-Makher are working with the RCU to ensure a year-round offer of fabulous local cuisine.

This article was first published in Arab News

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The Place: Al-Musma mountains, located in Saudi Arabia’s Hail region

17/10/20

Photo/Saudi Press Agency

  • The trips of Uting and Huber documented a number of Arab and Nabataean inscriptions, as well as primitive drawings of animals

The dramatic Al-Musma mountains in the Hail region of Saudi Arabia are known for their distinctive rock formations and engravings from ancient civilizations.
The range surrounds Hail from the west extending 180 kilometers from the peaks of Al-Aarqoub in the south to Al-Nafud Al-Kabir in the north, taking in mountains such as Ghadab, Sahya, Al-Mudhaibeh, Al-Sataiha, Al-Auja, and Makhrouqa.
Formerly referred to as the Mahjar range (meaning mountains surrounded by sand, inscriptions, and historical landmarks), it has been described as one of the best places in the Kingdom to stargaze.
The area is also a popular destination for amateur and professional photographers from throughout the Kingdom, the Gulf region, and the world. The location of Al-Musma mountains, with their unusual rock shapes, caught the attention of many distinguished European travelers including German Louis Uting, French explorer Charles Huber in 1884, Gertro Debel from Britain, Czechoslovakian Louis Mussel, British adventurer Charles Doughty in 1845, and Italian journeyman Carlo Guarmani in 1860.
The trips of Uting and Huber documented a number of Arab and Nabataean inscriptions, as well as primitive drawings of animals. Today, the mountains are a magnet for hikers and play host to numerous other recreational and sporting activities.

This article was first published in Arab News

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AlUla heritage sites reopen to public Oct. 31

Time: 16 October 2020  

Flights are available to AlUla from Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam. (File/AFP)

ALULA: The historical and cultural open-air museum of AlUla in northwest Saudi Arabia will reopen its heritage sites to tourists on Oct. 31.
The Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) has confirmed that the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Hegra, the ancient kingdom of Dadan and the whispering canyons of Jabal Ikmah will be the first sites to reopen to the public, largely having been closed to visitors for more than two years.
RCU has announced that residents of AlUla will have the chance to access the sites exclusively on Oct. 30 for free on a first-come, first-served basis for the entire opening weekend. Visitors can sign up to experiencealula.com to find out about the bookings available for the heritage sites and when other experiences are live.
Visitors will enjoy significant airport enhancements, new comfortable transport options around town and the heritage sites, and information provision at two new visitor centers.
AlUla’s new quality assurance program will also ensure that visitors receive a warm and professional welcome.
Safety measures for the coronavirus pandemic have been put in place in adherence to Ministry of Health protocols, which align with the “safe travels” guidelines published by the World Travel and Tourism Council.
The measures include mandatory pre-booking of tickets, temperature checks at the airport, distancing and limitations of visitors at heritage and other sites, increased sanitation measures and mandatory mask-wearing.
Phillip Jones, RCU’s chief destination management and marketing officer, said that he was delighted that the sites were reopening in October.
“There is no doubt it’s been a challenging year for all industries but our teams have worked hard to deliver this important stage in our tourism journey, and in the next chapter of AlUla’s journey through time,” Jones said.
Activations and immersive experiences at the heritage sites, as well as adventure experiences and events, will be announced over the coming weeks and will be phased in over the winter months, with the full suite of experiences planned for the winter season expected by the first quarter of 2021.
AlUla Old Town will also be open as a visitor experience to the public for the first time from December.
“We are developing engaging, authentic, light-touch tourism experiences that hero the essence of AlUla — our heritage sites, natural assets and of course the AlUla community,” Jones said.
He added: “We have a full team onsite to get the destination ready to welcome those first visitors and we’re excited to give the local community a chance to revisit their heritage sites before the rest of the world, while we continue to build on the experiences.”
“Through our team of travel industry professionals, we are setting up the foundations for a fully integrated booking and travel distribution system to make visiting AlUla an easy, value-driven and seamless experience, and to get international-ready for when visit visas are reinstated,” Jones said.
Flights are available with Saudia airlines to AlUla from Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam.
AlUla is a 10-hour drive from Riyadh, a seven-hour drive from Jeddah, and is just over three hours from Madinah and Tabuk airports. It is a two-and-a-half-hour drive to the Red Sea, which visitors can add on to their trip.

This article was first published in Arab News

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The Place: Raghadan Forest Park, natural beauty in Saudi Arabia’s Al-Baha

10/10/20

Photo/Saudi Press Agency

  • The forest park has undergone major redevelopment with new stone pathways allowing tourists to gain easy access to wooded areas

On arrival at Raghadan Forest Park in Al-Baha region visitors are often taken aback by its breathtaking green landscape and cascading waterfalls.
The forest is located on a rocky slope 1,700 meters above sea level overlooking Tihamah and is known for its tranquility and natural beauty.
Perennial juniper trees cover 90 percent of the estimated 600,000 square meters of parkland and their intertwining branches create large shaded areas that help protect the forest ecosystem.
The forest park has undergone major redevelopment with new stone pathways allowing tourists to gain easy access to wooded areas.
Other improvements include gathering places, entertainment areas, booths, lighting, green spaces, a new communications network, and paragliding facilities.
Special lighting effects have also been used to make standout features of some of the park’s waterfalls.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi Arabia’s Al-Ahsa Oasis registered by Guinness as world’s largest

09/10/20

Al-Ahsa oasis includes more than 2.5 million palm trees extending over an area of more than 85.4 square kilometers. (SPA)

  • The oasis includes more than 2.5 million palm trees feeding on a huge aquifer through 280 artesian springs

AL-AHSA: Al-Ahsa Oasis, in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, entered the Guinness World Records as the largest self-contained oasis in the world.

According to “Guinness” website, the oasis includes more than 2.5 million palm trees feeding on a huge aquifer through 280 artesian springs and extending over an area of more than 85.4 square kilometers (32.9 square miles).

The Heritage Commission undertook the task of introducing the World Encyclopedia to Al-Ahsa Oasis, one of the sites of Saudi Arabia registered in the World Heritage List of “UNESCO,” along with the other registered sites; Al-Hijr in Al-Ula, Al-Turaif neighborhood in historic Ad Diriyah, historic Jeddah, and the sites of rock art in Jubbah and Shuaimis in Hail.

Al-Ahsa oasis includes more than 2.5 million palm trees extending over an area of more than 85.4 square kilometers. (SPA)

Al-Ahsa not only enjoys a rich environmental heritage but also runs back deep in history and civilization, as it witnessed many civilizations and was a strategic communication bridge with the world.

It includes many national heritage sites and the oldest human settlements dating back thousands of years. Its date-palm oasis is the largest palm oasis surrounded by sand in the world.

The “Guinness World Records” had registered the Maraya concert hall in Al-Ula this year as the largest building covered with mirrors in the world, in addition to several record-breaking Saudi achievements.

Saudi Arabia has been placed second in the Arab world in the number of Guinness World Records.

This article was first published in Arab News

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ThePlace: Murabba Palace in Riyadh built by the founder of the Kingdom, King Abdul Aziz, in 1937

03/10/20

Photo/Saudi Press Agency

  • King Abdul Aziz moved into Murabba Palace with his family in 1938, and over the following years hosted kings and heads of states from Arab and Islamic countries there

Murabba Palace was built by the founder of the Kingdom, King Abdul Aziz, in 1937 outside the walls of the old city of Riyadh.
The complex was constructed on a plot of land called Murabba Al-Sufyan, which was used for farming during the rainy season, according to documents at the King Abdul Aziz Foundation for Research and Archives (Darah).
The palace was built in traditional Najdian style, characterized by the highest levels of workmanship and design, and it is surrounded by gardens in the south, the Batha Valley in the east, Wadi Abu Rafie in the west, and rolling hills to the north. It is located just 2 kilometers away from the old Riyadh city, and mud bricks, local stones, tamarisk trunks, and palm-leaf stalks were used in the construction of such palaces.
King Abdul Aziz moved into Murabba Palace with his family in 1938, and over the following years hosted kings and heads of states from Arab and Islamic countries there.
The palace witnessed many historic events and royal decisions including setting up the Ministry of Defense, the launch of Saudi Radio and the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority, issuing Saudi currency, formal schools, and the establishment of the railroad between Riyadh and Dammam.
Other national milestones played host to at the palace included the emergence of oil in commercial quantities, and the issuance of transport, housing, employment, retirement, commercial, and passport systems.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi photographer reveals unfamiliar tourist sites in the south of the Kingdom

Time: 29 September 2020

  • Hassan Haroobi calls for investing in photography to develop visual culture
  • Nature is a divine beauty that encourages creativity and photography

MAKKAH: Hassan Haroobi began taking photographs in 2013, having had a “passion for photography” since his childhood.

“I got my first camera in 2013 and the regions which I took photos of reflect the beauty of the southern region of our beloved Kingdom, especially in the Harub province in eastern Jazan, 110 kilometers away from the city,” he told Arab News.

He has taken many distinguished photos since starting out, including one of a giant moon, and the famous photo of the student that lately circulated on social media. “Nature is a divine beauty that encourages creativity and photography,” he sphaid.

Any person who loves photography seeks to capture everlasting photos to show nature to the whole world, be it plants, animals, seas, soil, water, or air, he said.

“This is why nature is like a treasure granted by God for humans to benefit, and nature is our source of living,” said Haroobi.

He added: “It is from nature that people get natural resources to procure all their needs. It is from nature that they take materials they use in their daily life. This is why life is like a big store for whatever the human needs to live, starting from his food, and ending with things that he produces and uses. The human is an important part of nature and is an extension to it.”

The first thing a photographer needs to think of before going out to take pictures is “what is the best moment to take an extraordinary picture?” he said.

“This is something that some people consider trivial, for we can take photos anytime we want. Yes, this does not contradict reality; however everything has its suitable moments so that it would be done in the best way,” he added.

FASTFACTS

• Hassan Haroobi began taking photographs in 2013.

• He has taken many distinguished photos since starting out, including one of a giant moon, and the famous photo of the student that lately circulated on social media.

• Haroobi considers sunrise or sunset the perfect time for photography.

He noted that photography was a widespread art. Professional photographers, or those aiming to become one, should be organized in everything they do, he said, from planning the location, preparing the camera, and ensuring enough and suitable equipment for every photo session.

As for the best time to take photos, Haroobi said the “golden hour” before sunrise or sunset is perfect, especially with for portraits and landscapes with smooth, easily controlled light.

Photography in Saudi Arabia has become available to everyone through modern mobile devices, and anybody can become a professional photographer, he said.

“Photography does not depend on the type of camera; it primarily depends on the vision and perception of the photographer on how he takes the picture, what he will focus on, and how he will shed light on a certain part while discarding other less important parts,” he said.

He pointed out that taking into consideration the basic conditions of photography rather than the camera itself would turn a picture from an ordinary one to a professional one.

“Although using a professional camera would render the photo more brilliant and professional, it would not alone produce the beauty, for it could give worse results than the mobile if the user ignores photography techniques,” said Haroobi. “Because mobiles and simple cameras are designed to make autocorrections, and it is exactly like in painting where skills lie in the painter and not the pen.”

He advised photographers of both genders not to go out and take pictures during rainy days and storms, especially in mountains, for the southern regions of the Kingdom witness difficult and possibly dangerous conditions.

The photographer also called on increasing investment in the art of photography by organizing competitions for the most beautiful pictures.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Future Hospitality Summit eyes tourism recovery

28/09/20

Hot air balloons fly in the skies of AlUla. The hybrid virtual conference aims to explore big ideas and tackle the challenges facing the hospitality industry and will take place live from Riyadh.

Future Hospitality Summit, a hybrid virtual conference to explore big ideas and tackle the challenges facing the hospitality industry, is set to take place live from Riyadh and around the world, on Oct. 26 and 27. It is organized by the Saudi Ministry of Tourism and the G20 Saudi Secretariat, as part of the International Conferences’ Programme, honoring the G20 Saudi presidency year 2020.

The event, which promises to be one of the most impactful gatherings of the world’s hospitality community, will be delivered on Bench Digital’s tried-and-tested digital event platform, providing an immersive live experience, including a virtual exhibition, one-to-one video networking, and integrated chat features for all participants.

A comprehensive three-pillar program has been developed in collaboration with industry creators, innovators and mentors, with particular focus on understanding the new landscape, collaborating and assessing opportunities, and innovating to recreate the industry’s future. Arne Sorenson, president and CEO, Marriott International; Arnold Donald, CEO, Carnival Corporation; Gloria Guevara, CEO and president, WTTC; Jerry Inzerillo, CEO, Diriyah Gate Development Authority; and Anita Mendiratta, special advisory to the secretary general, UNWTO; are lined up as featured speakers, along with over 100 other speakers and thousands of attendees.

“As a country that is at the forefront of the tourism sector’s response and recovery plans through the G20 presidency, Saudi Arabia is leading the conversation on the future of tourism and will provide an international platform to bring the industry together at the Future Hospitality Summit. Together, we will map out the rebuilding of the tourism and travel sector and strategically plan a sustainable future for stakeholders at every level,” said Mahmoud Abdulhadi, deputy minister for investment at the Saudi Ministry of Tourism.

Jonathan Worsley, chairman and founder of Bench Digital, added: “During this difficult time, it is vital that hospitality professionals across the globe come together as a community to work toward the recovery of our industry. Future Hospitality Summit will not only provide a powerful platform to network virtually, showcase best practice and demonstrate thought leadership, but it will also prove invaluable in ensuring that the industry emerges stronger as a whole from these unprecedented challenges.”

Empowering tomorrow’s workforce and attracting talent into the hospitality sector — imperative factors in sustaining the industry — will be two of the key focus points of the hybrid summit. Developing a skilled workforce is paramount in order to quickly evolve and keep pace with the demand being created from the hospitality sector. In Saudi Arabia, for example, 253 new hotels are coming online by 2030. Consequently, Future Hospitality Summit is a forum to engage with the hospitality workforce of the future and promote the sector as an attractive career path.

This article was first published in Arab News

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