Hottest tourist destination in the Kingdom described as the Saudi Maldives

Time: 07 August, 2020

The hidden gem of Umluj gained wide recognition as a tourist destination when domestic travel became highly recommended due to the continued suspension of international flights. (Photo courtesy: Social media)
  • Variety of coral reefs and serene white sands make Umluj a must-see Red Sea coast destination for divers

JEDDAH: With serene white sands, deep blue waters and hidden coral reefs, one Saudi Arabian governorate on the Red Sea coast has become this summer’s hottest destination.

The hidden gem of Umluj gained wide recognition as a tourist destination when domestic travel became highly recommended due to the continued suspension of international flights. Visitors never imagined the Kingdom was home to such a unique destination, boasting both beaches and mountains.

Khalid Khayat, owner of the Royal Tours camp at Umluj, said that the area had actually been known for a long time as one of the best beaches in Saudi Arabia, but it was only when Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman visited and announced the Red Sea Project that it gained global recognition.

“There are 99 islands with beautiful sandy beaches. People call it the Saudi Maldives,” Khayat told Arab News.

Captivating sunset at Umluj. (Social media photo)

“When the crown prince announced the initiation of the Red Sea Project in 2017 and developed the construction plan in Umluj, the world discovered the name and the site,” he said.

What distinguishes Umluj from other beaches in the Kingdom is its variety of coral reefs, which make it a must-see for divers.

“You rarely find reefs in such a variety of colors, shapes and sizes like those at Umluj. Honestly, it’s like diving into paradise,” said Khayat.

Umluj is also an ideal destination for hikers and mountain climbers.

“Less than an hour’s drive outside of the city, you have mountains, where you can go hiking or sightseeing. With volcanos to the east and beaches to the west, Umluj boasts a combination of natural features that is rarely found elsewhere,” Khayat added.

Umluj is like a mesmerizing painting. Its over 100, picturesque islands, with their palm trees, soft white sand, crystal clear waters, and abundant, diverse marine life, are a photographer’s dream — and it’s right in our backyard. The islands have kindled my enthusiasm as a photographer and a nature lover and moved me to pack my bags and head to the heart of this enchanting place to discover its beauty for myself. I also want to have a hand in promoting local tourism through beautiful images.

Huda Bashatah, Arab News photographer

Aalia Fathima, 29, who is currently visiting Umluj with her husband, said: “We have been looking for different places in Saudi Arabia to visit on the Eid holiday, and we came across Umluj. I could hardly hide how excited I was to see the location! The sand is as soft as cotton, and the water is crystal clear.”

She added: “There are so many species of crab and beautiful shells that dot the beaches. We enjoyed it greatly.”

In addition to being enchanted by the site’s natural beauty, Fathima was impressed by the kindness of the local people.

“Being here, away from the sounds of the big city, was lovely,” she said.

Khayat said that ever since the announcement of the Red Sea Project, the number of visitors to Ulmuj has increased from hundreds to a thousand per week. Royal Tours receive 40 to 45 guests a day.

Umluj boasts of a variety of coral reefs, which make it a must-see for divers. (Social media photo)

He said the number of international visitors sometimes exceeds the number of Saudi visitors, with some traveling from the other end of the world only to visit the volcano sites at Umluj.

“I received people about nine months ago who had come all the way from New York to Jeddah airport. They waited a few hours and took a flight to Yanbu, then drove all the way to Umluj just to see the volcanos. One was a lady from the US who had never been to Saudi Arabia before. She got a tourist visa just to come to Umluj,” Khayat said.

Paris Verra, 25 and from the US, has been a resident in Saudi Arabia for almost two years and has been to Umluj twice.

“I kept seeing photos of Umluj and hearing people say it looked like the Maldives. I was so curious to see what it looked like in person. I knew a few friends who were going there, so at the last minute I decided to go, and I couldn’t believe that this water was in Saudi Arabia,” she said.

“I am surprised at how untouched this place is. I have traveled the world, and it is very difficult to find somewhere that is so pristine and that has not been damaged. Umluj had the most beautiful reefs I had ever seen,” she added, joking that if she could live in Umluj, she would.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi village is a treasure hidden above the clouds

03/08/20

Located 25 km from Abha city, the region has become a top tourist destination due to its rich heritage, history, culture and all-year-round good weather. (Reuters)
  • Al-Souda overlooks the Tihama mountains with their stunning valleys and quaint villages dotted along the plains and slopes with terraces hanging from the steep cliffs

ABHA: Saudi Arabia’s southern Al-Souda mountains harbor one of the Kingdom’s most prized hidden treasures.
At 3,000 meters above sea level, a hidden village above the clouds gives spectacular views on the world below. The village of Al-Souda offers panoramic 360-degree views of the surrounding paradise on Earth consisting of mountains covered in sheets of greenery, dense forests, peaks and valleys.
Located 25 km from Abha city, the region has become a top tourist destination due to its rich heritage, history, culture and all-year-round good weather.
Al-Souda  overlooks the Tihama mountains with their stunning valleys and quaint villages dotted along the plains and slopes with terraces hanging from the steep cliffs. The villages are less crowded than other sites but unique in its location.
In the summer, temperatures can drop below zero degrees and rain clouds provide awesome sights as the higher peaks break through them.
Ahlam Mash’hadi, a physiotherapist and artist, said the mountains provided an inspirational and perfect environment for her work.
“I felt completely energized and meditation helped me relax and enjoy the natural scenery. The sight of the clouds sparked my imagination and I’m sure it would do the same for any artist who loves to create unique works.

Some people will be impressed with the beautiful scenery while others will enjoy the cold weather on the top. Some will stand in awe because of the overwhelming feeling of the place.

Abdulrahman Al-Zahrani, Psychology consultant

“The memories of visiting Al-Souda are etched on my mind because of the pure beauty of the place — very inspiring.”
The serene thick vegetation and clean air of the mountains offer an experience to visitors and those looking for inspiration or “escape therapy” to rejuvenate.
Another visitor to the village, psychology consultant Abdulrahman Al-Zahrani, said: “Some people will be impressed with the beautiful scenery while others will enjoy the cold weather on the top. Some will stand in awe because of the overwhelming feeling of the place.”
The area is a photographer’s dream and Nasser Al-Shehri said he gained immense joy from taking shots of the clouds and valleys from the mountaintop. One of the best times was at sundown, he added, when visitors could stand with a blanket of clouds at their feet and watch the reflected moonlight change the look of the landscape.
Al-Soudah’s countryside and mountains offer a plethora of opportunities for trekkers as well who would like to wander and get lost in the beauty of the forests overlooking breathtaking views of the world below.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Makkah museums tell story of holy city’s past and present

02/08/20

Each of the 10 museums has its own distinct exhibitions with specialties including Islamic currencies, Makkah crafts, regional folk heritage and displays documenting the Kingdom throughout its history. (Shutterstock)

Part of the historic door display at the Museum of Makkah. (Shutterstock)

Islamic currencies

Each of the 10 museums has its own distinct exhibitions with specialties including Islamic currencies, Makkah crafts, regional folk heritage and displays documenting the Kingdom throughout its history. (Shutterstock)

The historic center of Muslim pilgrimage is a treasure house of rare artifacts that showcases the striking culture and heritage of Saudi Arabia
Historic Makkah has welcomed pilgrims for thousands of years and detailed records of its past and present are contained in the holy city’s museums.

Ten museums housing many rare artifacts showcase the culture and heritage of the city through fascinating collections and displays.

Each center has its own unique exhibitions with specialties including Islamic currencies, crafts of Makkah, regional folk heritage and general displays documenting the Kingdom down the ages.

The Two Holy Mosques Architecture Exhibition is one of the most prominent museums in Saudi Arabia and is home to treasures and artifacts dating back more than 1,400 years.

Opened in 2000 during the reign of the late King Fahd, it contains seven main halls highlighting Islamic civilization.

Tourist guide, Eitimad Ghazzawi, said the exhibition contained treasures and relics from the era of the Prophet Muhammad’s companions. “The museum also houses in its corridors the art and history of the Kaaba and the Grand Mosque.”

Dr. Fahd Al-Malki, general supervisor of the museums department at Umm Al-Qura University. (Supplied)

In addition, it features paintings of the Two Holy Mosques and a maquette of the expansion of the Grand Mosque in Makkah throughout the eras. The oldest item in the museum from the time of the Prophet Muhammad’s companion, Abdullah bin Al-Zubair, is a wooden column that was one of the inner pillars of the Kaaba and is almost 1,300 years old.

Ghazzawi added that there was also a copy of the Qur’an written during the reign of Caliph Uthman ibn Affan, containing drawings, letters, and elegant calligraphy.

Dr. Fahd Al-Maliki, the general supervisor of the museums department at Umm Al-Qura University, said: “Museums have a great mission no less important than other cultural bodies in terms of urban development and improving the public’s tastes.

“They are also a service that every member of society should enjoy to acquire knowledge and culture provided by any museum, which captures culture in a visual manner. For children and youth, a visit to the museum plays an important role in moving emotions and enlightening minds.”

He noted that the role of museums was not limited to preserving artistic riches but also deepening artistic culture. “Museums are places that help visitors, whether scholars or ordinary people, enjoy, study and benefit from their artistic and cultural components.

“The mission of these museums in Makkah is providing the opportunity to achieve artistic richness by contemplating its contents, which include excellent creations of its artistic value, because of its authenticity in conveying the emotions and thoughts of the people of Makkah, thus reflecting Saudi society and helping establish spiritual and cultural values.

“Museums in Makkah today are a cultural center reflecting the country’s culture and history, contributing to raising educational and cultural awareness, developing a sense of belonging among members of society, and conveying an educational and cultural message to visitors about the history of their ancestors,” he added.

“The importance of the museums in Makkah are due to it being the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad’s message. The prophet’s story took place in Makkah, and from it the light of truth traveled to the whole world.

“Makkah’s museums reflect the transformation in the museums industry today and their central roles, in addition to contributing to the enlightening of society. Moreover, museum activities are developed to fulfill their mission professionally,” Al-Maliki said.

Owners of private museums also showcase Makkah’s civilization and development.

The Museum of Human Heritage, owned by Majdoua Al-Ghamdi, tells the stories of the Kingdom’s leaders. Its exhibits include household appliances used in Makkah before electricity was introduced, a section on Saudi tribes, and displays on the role of the city’s residents in serving pilgrims and the history of the ancient Madrasah Al-Sawlatiyah, one of the oldest schools in the Arabian Peninsula.

Al-Ghamdi said that the museum included Byzantine and Roman coins of all kinds — gold and various metals — and the Islamic dinar, silver, and gold used during the Umayyad era, in addition to weapons such as cannons, knives, daggers, swords and guns.

“The private museums of the holy capital integrate with each other to provide knowledge and cultural diversity, in addition to being an important source reflecting the cultural and historical balance of Makkah, which God has blessed with great heritage ingredients during different ages,” he added.

He noted that the museums provided a knowledge portal that reflected the values of the present and the beauty of the past while immortalizing the stories, literature and lives of people through the ages. “They also provide inspiration for the cultural and knowledge depth that we have continuously experienced since the dawn of history and until the abundant Saudi era, which did its utmost to serve the Two Holy Mosques,” he added.

Al-Ghamdi pointed out that the exhibits of the private museums reflected visitor preferences. “This makes us more in harmony with their tastes, and we strive to simulate the visitors’ cultural vision and stimulate their creative passion.”

Sami Kurdi, another private museum owner, said that he spent 40 years collecting metal objects and his exhibits told the story of the struggle of Makkah’s ancestors and their great civilization.

Al-Kurdi Museum houses more than 100,000 artifacts, some of which are at least 200 years old. There are displays of old prints of the Holy Qur’an, manuscripts, books, coins and paper money from 140 countries, home utensils, ancient wooden artifacts, stamps, pictures, maps, newspapers and magazines.

The museum also contains various pavilions showcasing clothes, utensils, crafts, communication devices and audiovisual equipment, in addition to a number of old models of classic iron and wood cars of various shapes. There is also an area featuring weapons including rifles, pistols, swords, daggers, janbiyas, spears, gunpowder, knights’ clothes and belts of ammunition.

Kurdi said that he started his heritage museum project by collecting postage stamps from post offices, the Philatelic and Numismatic Society, and extracting them from letters. It then developed into collecting old coins and paper notes.

This article was first published in Arab News

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ThePlace: Al-Muftaha village in Saudi Arabia’s Abha region, dates back to 260 years

Time: 01 August, 2020

Photo/Saudi Tourism
  • Al-Muftaha dates back 260 years, its houses built according to the Asir region’s traditional construction style

The village of Al-Muftaha in central Abha has become one of the most significant historical and tourist attractions in the city, especially after the rehabilitation of its beautiful heritage buildings, theater and tourism services.
The village is a beautiful little quarter around a mosque daubed with calligraphy. There are galleries that showcase the work of regional craftspeople and artists whose work is often colorful and figurative.
Al-Muftaha dates back 260 years, its houses built according to the Asir region’s traditional construction style.
Small museums either side of the mosque tell the story of Abha’s artistic heritage, including how the status of local families was defined by the quality of the murals in their homes.
This photograph was taken by Fatma Al-Shuaily as part of the Colors of Saudi competition.

This article was first published in Arab News

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The Place: Tabuk Castle, a stopover of pilgrim caravans on their way to Makkah and Madinah

25/07/20

TABUK: Tabuk is one of the largest and most important cities in the Kingdom’s northern region, with a heritage dating back to the fifth century B.C.
There are spectacular fortresses all around Tabuk, but this imposing castle in the center of the city might be the oldest, with some experts claiming there was a fortress on the site as early as 3,500 B.C.
Inside its walls, two mosques are linked by courtyards, stairwells and watchtowers. A small museum details the history of the castle and the wider city — from the great explorers who visited, such as Ibn Battuta, to the caravan of pilgrims who would stop to drink from its wells on their way to Makkah and Madinah.
This photograph was taken by Dhafer Al-Shehri as part of the Colors of Saudi competition.

This article was first published in Arab News

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ThePlace: Qasr Al-Hukm, where citizens can meet the king since the reign of Imam Turki bin Abdullah

Time: 18 July, 2020

Photo/Saudi Tourism
  • The interior spaces are largely composed of courtyards and wide corridors that provide a sense of openness

Qasr Al-Hukm Located in Riyadh, Qasr Al-Hukm’s design draws on the traditional architectural styles and consists of two sections.
The southern section of the palace has six floors and four towers and takes the form of a fortress that symbolizes strength. There is a fifth tower at the center for lightning, as well as for ventilation of the courtyards and offices below.
The northern section of the building consists of five floors and stands as a single dramatic façade with few windows.
The interior spaces are largely composed of courtyards and wide corridors that provide a sense of openness.
Qasr Al-Hukm has been the residence of the ruler and the place where citizens can meet the king since the reign of Imam Turki bin Abdullah. This photograph was taken by Hisham Shamma as part of the Colors of Saudi competition.

This article was first published in Arab News

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French restaurants in Saudi Arabia

Time: 14 July, 2020

If a trip to France seems improbable this summer, you can always channel Parisian flair at our favorite French restaurants in the Kingdom.

  • La Cuisine

    Located in Jeddah, this dining space is one of the oldest French restaurants in Saudi Arabia. The menu boasts an array of popular French dishes, including escargot.

  • Le Traiteur

    With a menu that changes every four months, this Jeddah-based restaurant offers visitors a chance to indulge in their favorite French dishes while also trying something new.

  • Paul

    The authentic French dining bakery is mostly known for its breakfast and coffee, and features a wide selection of soups, salads, sandwiches and entrees.

  • Le Grenier a Pain

    This Riyadh-based restaurant, which opened its doors in 2018, boasts a French-inspired interior that will surely transport guests. Don’t forget to try its famous crusty baguette and cheese platter.

  • Rococoa

    Situated in Riyadh, Rococoa — a play on the words “cocoa” and “Rococo” — is part ice-cream parlour, part chocolaterie and part patisserie.

  • Verdure

    This aptly titled restaurant draws inspiration for its name from the Latin word, which means fresh and tasty food. The menu includes French-inspired dishes such as baked aubergine and brioche cake.

This article was first published in Arab News

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ThePlace: Naseef House, residence for King Abdul Aziz in 1925

Time: 11 July, 2020

Photo/Saudi Tourism
  • Today, Naseef House is a cultural center offering exhibitions, lectures and and a variety of visitor attractions

Naseef House is one of Jeddah’s architectural highlights, and a favorite with tourists and visitors.
The restored coral house in the historic Al-Balad district became a royal residence for King Abdul Aziz after he captured the city in 1925. Inside you can see ramps that were installed to allow camels to walk all the way up to the upper terrace.
A beautiful neem tree at the entrance was once believed to be the only tree in Jeddah.
Today, Naseef House is a cultural center offering exhibitions, lectures and and a variety of visitor attractions.

This article was first published in Arab News

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The Place: Assafah Plaza in Riyadh

04/07/20

Assafah Plaza has been landscaped with date palms
Assafah Plaza is located between Riyadh’s Imam Turki bin Abdullah Mosque and Qasr Al-Hukm (known as the Justice Palace) and overlooks Al-Adl Plaza in the west. The royal entrance to Qasr Al-Hukm is at the southern end of the plaza and two pedestrian bridges cross eastward and westward connecting the palace to the capital’s grand mosque. Assafah Plaza has been landscaped with date palms.
This photograph was taken by Hisham Shamma as part of the Colors of Saudi competition.

This article was first published in Arab News

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‘In Saudi Arabia, one finds his soul in the desert’

04/07/20

Desert tourism will play a massive role in the growing tourism sector. (Supplied)

A group of adventurers and history enthusiasts is opening new horizons for tourists in Saudi Arabia
JEDDAH: In our hectic world, nature escapes have become a growing trend, attracting different types of people with a range of experiences and adventures, and creating new business opportunities and nature-based adventure tourism.

Now, after months of lockdown, residents of the Kingdom are seeking new ways of experiencing life’s adventures and there is no better place than our own backyard.
In Saudi Arabia, desert adventures are gaining increasing popularity among citizens and residents, as well as international tourists seeking the ultimate desert experience to discover the culture, customs and nomadic way of life.
Delta Adventures, a Saudi-based adventure excursion business that opened in 2018, offers unforgettable adventures to the beautiful unreachable destinations in the Arabian Peninsula, including the Empty Quarter, for a varied clientele.
Though it may suggest emptiness, loneliness and a lack of basic needs, deserts are diverse and they attract different types of tourists.
Some people look to the desert for a digital detox and to escape the bustle of demanding city life, while others, such as hikers, campers and nature lovers, seek fun adventures. Deserts also offer something for archaeology and history enthusiasts.
Muhammad and Eddie, sons of Sheikh Abdullah bin Khamis and founders of Delta Adventures, were inspired by their father, a Saudi intellectual and historian who influenced the geographical and historical documentation and research of the country’s deserts.
Bin Khamis has written over 50 works of literature, poetry, criticism, and history.
“We have a long accumulated experience and knowledge about desert trips for more than 40 years, as we used to accompany our father,” Muhammad bin Khamis told Arab News.

After their father died, the two brothers continued planning trips with friends and families, as well as diplomats, and by the end of 2018 had established their company in Riyadh to provide their services to travelers and break new ground in the area of desert tourism.
Delta Adventures designs trips in accordance with their clients’ requests, and is the first in the country to specialize in organizing trips to Rub’ Al-Khali (the Empty Quarter), also known as “The Abode of Emptiness.”

BACKGROUND
● Delta Adventures, a Saudi-based adventure excursion business that opened in 2018, offers unforgettable adventures to the beautiful unreachable destinations in the Arabian Peninsula.

● Muhammad and Eddie, sons of Sheikh Abdullah bin Khamis and founders of Delta Adventures, were inspired by their father, a Saudi intellectual and historian who influenced the geographical and historical documentation and research of the country’s deserts.

The vast area of desert located in the southern half of Saudi Arabia was not unexplored until the 1930s. Though the name suggests a barren, desolate place, many explorers consider it the ultimate resemblance of nature’s sheer beauty and power.
“Considering that desert tourism is an emerging market in the Kingdom, this gives us an opportunity to invest our experience in these type of projects to develop domestic tourism,” bin Khamis said.
“We aim to take advantage of the facilities provided by the Saudi government to contribute to the advancement of this sector in the country, in accordance with Vision 2030 that aspires to make tourism revenues contribute 10 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.”
Desert tourism is a perfect choice for visitors looking for tranquility, rest, and connection with nature.
It will also appeal to cultural visitors as well as gastronomic and nature lovers. Delta Adventures offers a wide range of long and short trips to different destinations with natural and historical value around the Kingdom, with a wide range of prices, too.
“By the end of our trips to unreachable places, we want to make our customers permanent ambassadors of Delta Adventures in their communities,” Bin Khamis said, adding: “We have been keen in choosing diverse sites for our trips to meet all tastes and aspirations. Until now, residents in Saudi Arabia have been our main customers, and we have previously taken five ambassadors and three of their wives on a 10-day trip to the Empty Quarter.”
He added: “There is also an increasing interest in such activities from overseas tourists and citizens. This season was our biggest so far, and it is encouraging us to offer our best.”
Bin Khamis said that desert tourism will play a massive role in the country’s growing tourism sector, especially with the Kingdom’s deserts’ enchanting and diverse beauty.

Tourists are coming to Saudi Arabia, bored with the cities’ huge buildings and manifestations of civilization in their countries. They usually come wanting to see a different nat ure and live a unique experience, and this is what our wonderful desert offers them.

Muhammad bin Khamis, Delta Adventures

“Tourists are coming to Saudi Arabia, bored with the cities’ huge buildings and manifestations of civilization in their countries. They usually come wanting to see a different nature and live a unique experience, and this is what our wonderful desert offers them.”
According to Bin Khamis, desert tourism is possible over three seasons of the year and varies from one region to another. For example, the Empty Quarter trips start from the beginning of November till the end of February, while trips to the northern regions such as Hail, Al-Jawf and Al-Ula begin from mid-September to mid-May.
Bin Khamis said the spirit of adventure and exploration is part of human nature, but has shrunk in modern life.
He said that people traveling in Saudi Arabia find their souls in the silent world, far away from any polluting sight, under the deserts’ night sky.
“People have the right to fear leaving their lives’ welfare, but as the Tunisian poet Abu Al-Qasim Al-Shabbi said: ‘He who doesn’t like to climb mountains will forever live among the hollows,’” said Bin Khamis.
He added that adventure tourism is different from any other type of travel, and is a fuller experience, as it relates to suspense, enjoyment, self-exploration, and discovering and learning new things.
Bin Khamis agreed that adventure tourism had become one of the most prominent tourist trends in recent years, and is more popular among young people.
Delta Adventures welcomes anyone who is in good health to join its trips.
“We provide participants with everything from a sleeping tent and bedding for each participant, in addition to meals, refreshments, as well as care and assistance.”

This article was first published in Arab News

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