Luxury, adventure await visitors as Saudi Arabia’s AlUla serves up fresh feast of flavors

Luxury, adventure await visitors as Saudi Arabia’s AlUla serves up fresh feast of flavors
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Dune buggies will take participants on a journey through peaks and dunes on a designated track designed to showcase the beauty of the desert landscape without disrupting its ecosystem. (Supplied)
Luxury, adventure await visitors as Saudi Arabia’s AlUla serves up fresh feast of flavors
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Luxury, adventure await visitors as Saudi Arabia’s AlUla serves up fresh feast of flavors
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Luxury, adventure await visitors as Saudi Arabia’s AlUla serves up fresh feast of flavors
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Luxury, adventure await visitors as Saudi Arabia’s AlUla serves up fresh feast of flavors
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Luxury, adventure await visitors as Saudi Arabia’s AlUla serves up fresh feast of flavors
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Luxury, adventure await visitors as Saudi Arabia’s AlUla serves up fresh feast of flavors
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Luxury, adventure await visitors as Saudi Arabia’s AlUla serves up fresh feast of flavors
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Annabel's AlUla. (Supplied)
Luxury, adventure await visitors as Saudi Arabia’s AlUla serves up fresh feast of flavors
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Annabel's AlUla. (Supplied)
Luxury, adventure await visitors as Saudi Arabia’s AlUla serves up fresh feast of flavors
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One of Annabel's AlUla themed private dining rooms. (Supplied)
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Updated 07 April 2021

Luxury, adventure await visitors as Saudi Arabia’s AlUla serves up fresh feast of flavors

Luxury, adventure await visitors as Saudi Arabia’s AlUla serves up fresh feast of flavors
  • RCU to position AlUla as a leading boutique heritage and cultural destination with the help of its natural assets

JEDDAH: Since Arab News’ first visit to AlUla in 2017, a lot has changed and the scene keeps on evolving rapidly. New dining experiences have been added as well as exciting entertainment activities for adventure-seekers.

One of the latest dining destinations at the heritage site is the renowned private members club, Annabel’s, which opened during the Winter at Tantora event and now returns with a distinguished theme, the Arabian leopard.
The entire club was transformed with a rainforest theme for an event last year to raise funds for the Brazilian rainforest. Coming to AlUla, the club decided to bring a little bit of the rainforest to Hegra to transform the heritage site into an oasis, with a series of themed private dining rooms.
Setting up home within the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Hegra, this club is promising diners a memorable experience. Annabel’s AlUla is open for dinner daily, serving its signature menu favorites and bespoke mocktails inspired by AlUla.
The other dining experience, Suhail, gathers different local dishes on a single table for those craving a taste of authenticity. The restaurant is named after the shining star Arabs relied on in the past when navigating long journeys.

You’re not going to see a big skyscraper coming in. We have stringent requirements on what can and can’t be built, and how it is developed. Everything will fit into the environment, both from a natural and an aesthetic perspective, without superimposing anything that does not.

Phillip Jones, RCU’s chief destination marketing and management officer

Suhail is a high-end Saudi dining concept combining tradition with luxury, serving traditional home-style food that revives the authentic taste, while offering the genuine Saudi hospitality in an inspired modern design environment.
All dishes have been selected by the restaurant’s executive chef, Rakan Al-Oraifi, who enjoyed media success, appearing on “Top Chef Middle East” and in his own cooking shows in the region. He was named Best Saudi Chef 2018 by the Saudi Tourism Excellence Awards, Best Saudi Chef 2019 and Ambassador for Riyadh Season 2019 by the Saudi General Entertainment Authority.
The third eatery is the Pink Camel, a sweet and traditional style bakery at the entrance of the Wadi near the Oasis. Diners can grab a sweet treat or savory snack, a cup of coffee, and enjoy the scenery surrounded by the perfumes and swaying palms.
For adventure tourists, the Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) has added an array of activities, including a thrilling zipline, which reaches speed of more than 100km/h while offering views of the surrounding Hijaz Mountains.
Adventure junkies can also enjoy a high-adrenalin, low-impact ride. Dune buggies will take participants on a journey through peaks and dunes on a designated track designed to showcase the beauty of the desert landscape without disrupting its ecosystem. Rides are offered by experienced guides, who drive visitors through narrow canyons, high sand dunes and challenging areas of Wadi Rum.
While dining and entertainment are part of RCU’s campaign to attract travelers, hospitality and luxury are also part of the commission’s mission.
Arab News spoke to Phillip Jones, RCU’s chief destination marketing and management officer, who walked us through the commission’s plans to position AlUla as a leading boutique heritage and cultural destination.

HIGHLIGHTS

• One of the latest dining destinations at the heritage site is the renowned private members club, Annabel’s, which opened during the Winter at Tantora event and now returns with a distinguished theme, the Arabian leopard. \

• The entire club was transformed with a rainforest theme for an event last year to raise funds for the Brazilian rainforest. Coming to AlUla, the club decided to bring a little bit of the rainforest to Hegra to transform the heritage site into an oasis, with a series of themed private dining rooms.

• The other dining experience, Suhail, gathers different local dishes on a single table for those craving a taste of authenticity. The restaurant is named after the shining star Arabs relied on in the past when navigating long journeys.

• The third eatery is the Pink Camel, a sweet and traditional style bakery at the entrance of the Wadi near the Oasis. Diners can grab a sweet treat or savory snack, a cup of coffee, and enjoy the scenery surrounded by the perfumes and swaying palms.

Arab News was one of the first to experience RCU’s phase zero development. “You’re going to see more development in the Wadi area. This will be our tourism district. You will see a big emphasis on arts and culture in the fall. That will be another asset that will be introduced to visitors, with galleries and exhibits and festivals,” Jones said in an exclusive interview with Arab News.




172 new hotel rooms will be added to AlUla’s inventory by August this year.
Phillip Jones

He added: “What we’re trying to do is use all these amazing natural assets and then build infrastructure and put it together in an authentic way. That will invite visitors who are interested in culture, heritage, adventure, culinary offerings and the arts as well.” From a tourism development perspective, Jones said that the commission focused for the last 18 months on putting in place an ecosystem to support the visitor industry. “We didn’t have a really good airport, hotels and restaurants. We didn’t have a renovated and restored old town.”
The RCU also focused on activating adventures for the tourists, including ziplining, hiking, mountain biking, stargazing and horseback riding — all of which has been put in place in the last six months.




For adventure tourists, the Royal Commission for AlUla has added an array of activities, including a thrilling zipline, which reaches speed of more than 100km/h.

Next on the commission’s agenda will be new hotels and spas. “In the next three years we’ll have three Aman resorts that are very high-end. We also have a Banyan Tree, a Sofitel brand, and Habitas, which is a Mexican and US brand that is being built as we speak.”
According to Jones, 172 new hotel rooms will be added to AlUla’s inventory by August this year. The hotels and resorts will include spas, restaurants and outdoor pools for people to enjoy in the summer.
Although AlUla’s activities are year-round, Jones recognizes that the peak seasons will be from October through April, and then the summer will be the low season.
“Think about if you go to the South of France, they’re open from the spring through the fall, and then in the winter they’re closed. During low seasons, visitors will get really good rates,” he added.
“We’re also looking to activate some endurance activities like bike racing and endurance races in the desert to encourage a different type of visitor to come over the summer, and then also students and in educational tours.”
Another major attraction AlUla hosts is the Maraya Hall, which is used for special events and activities during summer. “Good news is it’s beautifully air-conditioned.”
Jones said that everything being built in AlUla is focused on sustainability, and protecting and preserving the natural environment.
“You’re not going to see a big skyscraper coming in. We have stringent requirements on what can and can’t be built, and how it is developed. Everything will fit into the environment, both from a natural and an aesthetic perspective, without superimposing anything that does not.”
Adding in Aman’s reputation for luxury, Jones said that between 2021 and the end of 2023, the commission’s primary focus will be luxury premium travelers.
“However, we don’t want people to come and stay in a luxury hotel that can be anywhere in the world. It has to be authentic and real,” he added. “So you don’t have to worry about checking in and thinking that this could be London or Arizona — it will be very much local and authentic to AlUla.”


Chips with everything: Saudi restaurant where waiters are robots

Chips with everything: Saudi restaurant where waiters are robots
Updated 21 April 2021

Chips with everything: Saudi restaurant where waiters are robots

Chips with everything: Saudi restaurant where waiters are robots
  • Room is fitted with strategically placed sensors that allow the machines to move about and take food to customers

MAKKAH: We’ve all been there … you order a meal in a restaurant, and the waiter arrives with a pasta salad instead of a chicken biryani.
There are no such issues at Restaurant Robot in Jazan. As the name suggests, the waiters are not fallible human beings, but robots powered by sophisticated artificial intelligence.
Six robot assistants are operating in the city center restaurant to deliver trays of Asian dishes to patrons. The system was originally set up as a precaution to reduce human contact during the coronavirus pandemic, but it has proved a hit with visitors.
In a system designed by young Saudi engineer Reham Omar, the restaurant interior has been fitted with strategically placed sensors that allow the robots to move about and take food to customers.
“Thanks to the sensors, the robots can sense anything standing near them, allowing them to stop walking or change their routes accordingly,” she told Arab News
“Each robot has had a map of the restaurant interior and the location of each table programmed into their memory. When the robot gets to the targeted table, customers can pick up their food and order the robot to leave.”
Omar said the idea had been developed by drawing on the experiences of other countries, and with support from the Saudi government for the food industry.
“We are proud of our project, as small as it is,” she said. “Customers are loving the robots and are impressed with the idea.
“Cultures are changing, and people are now eager to discover new technologies that can improve their quality of life.”


Saudi Arabia re-elected to Chemical Weapons watchdog’s Executive Council

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) held the 25th Session of the Conference of the States Parties in The Hague, Netherlands. (Twitter/@OPCW)
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) held the 25th Session of the Conference of the States Parties in The Hague, Netherlands. (Twitter/@OPCW)
Updated 21 April 2021

Saudi Arabia re-elected to Chemical Weapons watchdog’s Executive Council

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) held the 25th Session of the Conference of the States Parties in The Hague, Netherlands. (Twitter/@OPCW)
  • OPCW oversees the implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention
  • The Kingdom has been a member of the council since 1997

LONDON: Saudi Arabia has been re-elected as a member of the Executive Council of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), in the Asia section, until 2023.
It happened at The Hague, in the Netherlands, on Tuesday during the 25th Session of the Conference of the States Parties, which oversees the implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).
Ziyad Al-Attiyah, the Saudi ambassador to the Netherlands and the Kingdom’s permanent representative to the OPCW, thanked the nations that supported the re-election of his country, and said that it is a reflection of Saudi Arabia’s status under the leadership of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. 
The Kingdom looks forward to working with the rest of the council’s members to enhance the implementation of the CWC, he added.
Al-Attiyah affirmed his country’s desire to strengthen cooperation as part of the efforts to prohibit weapons of mass destruction and prevent their proliferation, and to ensure the Middle East becomes a region free of such weapons to enhance international peace and security.
He added that the Kingdom’s chemical industries sector is one of the largest in the region and growing steadily, which makes it one of the leading countries in this field among the membership of Executive Council.
Saudi Arabia has been a member of the council — the main body of the OPCW — since its inception in 1997. It’s membership is made up of 41 countries, representing five geographic areas, that are elected for terms of two years at a time.


Saudi Arabia calls for Iran to engage in talks, avoid escalation

Saudi Arabia calls for Iran to engage in talks, avoid escalation
Updated 21 April 2021

Saudi Arabia calls for Iran to engage in talks, avoid escalation

Saudi Arabia calls for Iran to engage in talks, avoid escalation

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia renewed its call for Iran to engage in ongoing negotiations in Vienna, avoid escalation and not expose the region to more tension.
This came following a council of ministers meeting, chaired by King Salman on Tuesday.
The cabinet also urged the international community to reach an agreement with stronger and longer determinants that are implemented through monitoring and control measures to prevent the Iranian regime from obtaining nuclear weapons and developing the necessary capabilities.

 


Saudi Arabia’s virus cases surge past 1,000

Saudi Arabia’s virus cases surge past 1,000
The authority reiterated that it was continuously monitoring the safety of the vaccines available in Saudi Arabia by studying cases of side effects. (SPA)
Updated 21 April 2021

Saudi Arabia’s virus cases surge past 1,000

Saudi Arabia’s virus cases surge past 1,000
  • The ministry said 940 people recovered from the virus over the past 24 hours, meaning 390,538 people have made full recoveries

JEDDAH: The Saudi Food and Drug Authority (SFDA) on Tuesday confirmed 34 cases of blood clots or thrombosis and low platelet count among people who received the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.
“The authority suggests the existence of seven possible cases of thrombosis that are related to the vaccine, due to the absence of other reasons for the appearance of clots in them,” the SFDA said in a statement.
However, the authority also said that thrombocytopenia and blood-clotting immune response associated with the AstraZeneca vaccine is yet to be confirmed in these cases.
It said based on the local reports received, the rate of occurrence of these symptoms in conjunction with the administration of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in the Kingdom is “very rare.”
The SFDA said that all approved vaccines for the coronavirus (COVID-19) being used in the Kingdom are safe. It stressed that the desired benefits of the vaccine in question outweigh the potential risks.
The authority reiterated that it was continuously monitoring the safety of the vaccines available in Saudi Arabia by studying cases of side effects along with the local and international scientific evidence and data available.

FASTFACTS

• The Kingdom reports a 55 percent increase in the number of cases among women.

• 1,070 new infections were reported on Tuesday.

The SFDA advised recipients of the vaccine to consult a doctor or go to the nearest health center if any of the following symptoms appear or continue for more than three days after receiving a vaccine: Dizziness, severe and persistent headache, nausea or vomiting, issues with vision, shortness of breath, severe pain in the chest or abdomen or coldness in the extremities, swelling of the legs, small blood spots under the skin other than the injection site.
Dr. Abdullah Asiri, an infectious diseases consultant at the Saudi Ministry of Health, allayed public fears following the reports.
“How can a wrong conclusion deduced from a generalization become the most circulated news?” he wrote on Twitter. “In short, not every blood clotting after vaccinations is due to vaccinations. Thanks to vaccines, lives are saved every day. We have not yet had confirmed cases of platelet deficiency and blood clotting immune responses associated ‘hypothetically’ with COVID-19 vaccines.”
Dr. Mohammed Al-Abd Al-Aly, a Ministry of Health spokesman, said: “We are still monitoring an increase in the number of COVID-19 infections, which is the highest since the beginning of this year. There has also been an increase in cases among females by 55 percent.”
The Ministry of Health reported 1,070 new confirmed cases in the Kingdom over the past 24 hours, meaning 407,010 people have now contracted the virus. Of the 9,626 active cases, 1,105 were in critical condition. There were 12 fatalities, which brought the national death toll to 6,846.
The ministry said 940 people recovered from the virus over the past 24 hours, meaning 390,538 people have made full recoveries.


Experts say Ramadan is the best time to shape up and gain fitness

Experts say Ramadan is the best time to shape up and gain fitness
The Saudi Sports for All Federation launched a campaign encouraging people to walk or run 20 kilometers for 20 days during Ramadan. (SPA)
Updated 20 April 2021

Experts say Ramadan is the best time to shape up and gain fitness

Experts say Ramadan is the best time to shape up and gain fitness
  • The Saudi Sports for All Federation launched ‘Step Together’ campaign to help people stay active during the holy month

JEDDAH: While consuming excessive food during the month of Ramadan goes against the purpose of the holy month, for many Saudis and people of the region, it is a time to indulge in special foods, which often leads to overeating.

For years, Saudis have been facing problems with obesity, with unhealthy diets leading to a variety of poor health conditions. While numerous campaigns have been launched to combat this issue, including by the Saudi Sports for All Federation (SFA), their advice seems to fall on deaf ears during Ramadan.
Arab News spoke to experts — nutritionists and fitness trainers — who discussed their tips to help curb hunger and maintain a healthy weight.
Saudi fitness trainer Nouf Hamadallah, 37, explained that there is no best time to exercise during Ramadan; rather, the time and intensity of the workout can vary from person to person.
“Exercising during Ramadan depends on the flexibility of one’s schedule. There’s no specific time to work out. Most people who believe this are misinformed by what they read,” she told Arab News.

FASTFACTS

• A nationwide cross-sectional survey conducted over phone interviews across 13 regions of the Kingdom in June 2020 showed that the national weighted prevalence of obesity was 24.7 percent.

• It highlighted that obesity was significantly associated with Type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and hypertension, among other diseases.

“One common bit of advice in popular articles says that if people work out before iftar, they will burn calories and lose weight. But this depends on their goals and calorie
intake. Some people cannot work out while fasting because they feel sick and nauseous, and their blood sugar drops. Then they become discouraged from exercising, not knowing that all they have to do is change the timing and nature of their workout. There is no one-size-fits-all approach.”
She added that it is easy to lose muscle mass if people do not choose the right foods for iftar and sahoor, also stressing that it is essential to hydrate during breakfast. Should one choose to work out right before iftar, a protein shake and a nutrient-dense meal with few carbs are advised in breaking fast.

If anyone wants to adopt healthy habits or break bad ones, Ramadan is an excellent chance to do so.

Arwa Bajkhaif, Dietician

“What you eat for sahoor will determine your energy levels for the next day, too. It should be a meal with a good amount of protein and vegetables,” said Hamadallah. “When your body is depleted of energy, the first thing you look for is sugar, and that’s what we want to avoid.”
Digestive problems such as acid reflux also occur due to poor eating habits in Ramadan, she added, and people with such digestive issues need to take note of the specific foods that irritate their stomachs.
She recommended that they avoid these foods if they are planning to exercise and instead have a few dates, soup and maybe a cup of coffee before beginning their workout, saving a full meal for afterward.
Iftar and sahoor also need to be divided into portions to avoid digestive problems, she added.
Saudi clinical and sports dietitian Arwa Bajkhaif, 29, said Ramadan is a “golden opportunity” to fast and practice self-control. If anyone wants to adopt healthy habits or break bad ones, Ramadan is an excellent chance to do so.

What you eat for sahoor will determine your energy levels for the next day.

Nouf Hamadallah, Fitness trainer

“People should know their dietary requirements and follow a suitable diet for their particular health situation during the holy month of Ramadan,” Bajkaif told Arab News
“For individuals with chronic diseases such as diabetes, I recommend seeing an endocrinologist for insulin and medication adjustments and a clinical dietitian for follow-ups to adjust the amount and type of carbohydrates accordingly.”
As for changing one’s eating habits, she suggested that people should not adopt more than three easy and healthy habits. “Being realistic and specific is key to achieving health goals.”
Saudi dietitian Alaa Gotah advised people to drink plenty of water between iftar and sahoor, avoid sugary drinks especially during iftar to maintain insulin levels, and eat plenty of hydrating food such as salads while limiting the intake of carbohydrates and sweets.
She stressed that fasting cleanses the body of toxins and forces cells into processes that are not usually stimulated when a steady stream of fuel from food is always present.
“Sahoor should include a healthy amount of fiber, which stays for a long time in the intestines. To reduce the feeling of thirst and hunger, it’s recommended to eat fruits that contain dietary fiber and magnesium, such as bananas, dates and watermelon,” Gotah told Arab News.  
A nationwide cross-sectional survey conducted over phone interviews across 13 regions in June 2020 titled “Obesity in Saudi Arabia in 2020: Prevalence, Distribution, and its Current Association with Various Health Conditions” showed that the national weighted prevalence of obesity was 24.7 percent.
The study highlighted that obesity was significantly associated with type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and hypertension, among other diseases.
The Saudi Sports for All Federation launched a campaign to help people stay active during the holy month, presenting the Ramadan edition of “Step Together,” where people are encouraged to walk or run 20 kilometers for 20 days during Ramadan.