A trip to another universe.
The first peak at Al Ula is from above, where you can watch the breathtaking AlUla rock formations from your plane window, where you will then land in what resembles a dream world unlike any other. You feel as though you are stepping into a different universe.
As you step out of the airport, you are welcomed with a live Qanun performance and an exquisite view of a horizon packed with the symbolic and picturesque Al Ula rock formations.
Our first stop was the luxurious Shaden Resort, which is a 25-minute drive from the airport. This gave us enough time to ask our driver some basic tourist questions in order to get a sense of what to expect. Upon reaching the resort, your first step into a stunning reception tent, where coffee is served as you complete your check-in.
The rooms are all equipped with a small balcony overlooking a mesmerizing backdrop that makes for a remarkable morning view. The resort is also equipped with golf cars that can escort you wherever you need around the resort, which also contains a restaurant serving breakfast and dinner buffets with a variety of cuisines available.
On the first day, we explored the historical old town in Al Ula, where we walked along the streets alongside the Al Ula rocks on your right, and a view of the old homes on the left. The market street in the old town now includes shops and restaurants that give you the authentic traditional experience, while serving Saudi delicacies and selling traditional souvenirs. The little boutiques sell a variety of souvenirs and antiques, however, you can also find more modern establishments like Virgin Megastore and Dunkin Donuts, giving you a good mix of the old and the new!
After our walk through the old town, we headed to the exciting opening ceremony of the Winter in Tantora festival. Included was a riveting theatrical play that aimed to highlight the history of the city and its culture. The actors were dressed in traditional winter attire and even featured a few Arabian horses and camels.
The opening of the festival was accompanied by various booths where locals were given a chance to sell their authentic and hand-crafted products. From fruits, sweets, souvenirs, and even soap bars, the booths had local women showcasing their products and engaging in friendly conversation with each passerby, offering product samples and plenty of Arabic coffee.
After checking out the booths, the organizers took us to a small land near the festival area in order to partake in the planting of seasonal plants such as rosemary, mint, and basil, where we were able to learn more about the agricultural specifics of these plants.
We then headed to Sadu Escape, a spot between exquisite rocks that had a series of tents with their own individual themes such as scents, old practices, kashtas, and more. The welcoming tent takes you on a sensory journey with the traditional Bakhoors and natural scents they produce in themselves at the Sadu Escape. The remaining tents include traditional sewing practices and a gift shop selling unique accessories and clothing. It is the perfect place to end your night, where you can relax and unwind whilst listening to regional music and enjoying the warmth of the fire pits.
On the second day, after breakfast, we headed to Pangea Safari Club for a safari trip. The cars were vintage Toyota 4×4 cars with no roof giving you the clearest view of the Sharaan Nature Reserve and uplifting your experience in every possible way. There are no words to describe the beauty of the landscapes witnessed. Wherever you look, you will be met with a breathtaking view. If you look close enough at the rock formations, you are bound to see familiar everyday shapes and outlines due to the abstract art found in these mind-blowing rocks.
The trip is around 3 hours long with three stops at different landmarks to learn about the inscriptions on the rocks made by ancient civilizations such as the Nabataeans; who are said to have come up with the roots of the Arabic language we know today.
We were then escorted back to the starting point of the excursion, where we were served coffee and freshly picked oranges, homegrown in local gardens.
Our third and final day made an early start with a guided tour of the archeological wonders of Hegra. We were informed that the size of the tombs of the Nabataeans depended on their social class. The bigger the tomb, the richer the person was, with the longest tomb being approximately 23 meters long!
We also explored Ithlib Mountain, where large rooms were crafted inside the rocks of the mountains where they held their meetings in ancient times. The rooms are as large as they are for one main purpose; the echo. It allowed the speakers to be heard clearly without having to raise their voices, which also created astounding acoustics for singers at the time. We ended our tour of Hegra at the renowned “Face Rock”, a rock formation that has a very clear and distinct outline of a face, which makes it a popular tourist sight for souvenir photos.
Our phenomenal trip to Al Ula was concluded by visiting the famous Elephant Rock, one of the most popular and majestic sights in the city. It is equipped with seating areas in order to enjoy the view of the rock while feeling the cold desert breeze and indulging in your favorite beverage.
Spending the weekend in Al Ula can only be described as a truly magical experience. From the hotel service to the hospitality of the locals, as well as the breathtaking views, the experience is both sensational and extraordinary. A definite must-visit for anyone looking for a getaway from the bustling city life, as well as any history and culture lovers. Head to Al Ula for a relaxing time that will surely leave you wanting more.
The Tantora Festival is ongoing till the end of February and is definitely worth visiting at least once in a lifetime.
Till next time Al Ula…