AlUla’s Dar Tantora The House Hotel: Architect Shahira Fahmy discusses revamp of Saudi heritage site

AlUla’s Dar Tantora The House Hotel: Architect Shahira Fahmy discusses revamp of Saudi heritage site
Egyptian architect Shahira Fahmy reconstructed an existing archaeological site — Dar Tantora The House Hotel in AlUla Old Town historical village. (Supplied)
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Updated 16 February 2024
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AlUla’s Dar Tantora The House Hotel: Architect Shahira Fahmy discusses revamp of Saudi heritage site

AlUla’s Dar Tantora The House Hotel: Architect Shahira Fahmy discusses revamp of Saudi heritage site

DUBAI: Building a hotel from scratch is tough, but Egyptian architect Shahira Fahmy faced an even bigger challenge: reconstructing an existing archaeological site — Dar Tantora The House Hotel in AlUla Old Town historical village.  

Fahmy, who has worked on projects in Europe and the Middle East, is a three-time recipient of Harvard fellowships for her ground-breaking and award-winning architectural work: an LOEB fellowship at the Graduate School of Design GSD; a Hutchins fellowship at W. E. B. Du Bois Research Institute at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences FAS; and a Berkman Klein fellowship at Harvard’s Law School. 




Shahira Fahmy was selected by The Royal Commission for AlUla to turn multiple old mud-brick buildings into the boutique hotel. (Supplied)

She has been hailed as an “Architect Building the Arab Future,” and featured in the book “100 Women: Architects in Practice” by Monika Parrinder, Naomi House, Tom Ravenscroft and Harriet Harriss, published by the Royal Institute of British Architects.  

Fahmy was selected by The Royal Commission for AlUla to turn multiple old mud-brick buildings into the boutique hotel.  




Fahmy was selected by The Royal Commission for AlUla to turn multiple old mud-brick buildings into the boutique hotel.  (Supplied)

“I was dealing with heritage. It’s an (ancient) Islamic city, so, it’s an archaeological ruin. I was not working on empty land without context in the desert or near the mountains,” Fahmy told Arab News. “You have context, where buildings are built between stones, mud bricks and farms. You are restoring something that already exists.”

It was no easy task, then, but Fahmy and her team embraced it, dedicating themselves to the project and completing it in just six months. The hotel opened its doors to guests on Jan. 21. 




Fahmy and her team restored 30 buildings in total. (Supplied)

“We molded on the bricks on site. All the mud bricks were made from local materials, looking at what was existing, and how we could (replicate) it today,” Fahmy said. “There were stones. The ground was generally stone. That was the structure of the building and the buildings were two floors. It was a city of two stories.”  

Fahmy and her team restored 30 buildings in total. The architect said the early inhabitants in the city used the ground floor as a workplace and to meet with family and friends, while the first floor was for bedrooms and bathrooms.  




‘Once you enter this 12th-century room, you are transported into another place completely,’ the architect said. (Supplied)

“That’s how we laid out the 30 rooms of Dar Tantora,” she said. “Once you enter this 12th-century room, you are transported into another place completely. The whole hotel is candlelit. We have minimal electricity.  

“(The inhabitants) used to use cross-ventilation for optimal airflow, with one window higher than the other and one larger, so we have replicated that too,” she added. “They kept cool on terraces, so our rooms are terraced.”  

People who lived in the city 800 years ago whitewashed the interior walls and adorned them with red and blue murals, Fahmy said. Her team managed to preserve the existing designs in collaboration with the archaeological team. 




Fahmy and her team worked with local artisans and researchers, alongside a team from Egypt. (Supplied)

“They also had no electricity, but here we had to compromise for the sake of our guests,” Fahmy explained. “The rooms have Wi-Fi, one outlet for charging your phone, one socket in the bathroom for shaving or for a hairdryer, but that’s it. The food for guests is cooked on wood fires.”  

Fahmy and her team worked with local artisans and researchers, alongside a team from Egypt who came from Siwa to help on this project, as they had experience of working with mud bricks and palm materials. 

Some of the hotel’s many paintings were created by a group of young local artists.  




For Fahmy, visiting the site after its completion gave her “a beautiful feeling.” (Supplied)

“We wanted people who knew how to paint on wood, because all the doors — not only the walls — used to have drawings and paintings on them too,” she said. “We also sourced a few items from Al-Dirah Art School. They did a lot of research, which helped us a lot. They created a palette of what the colors of AlUla are. They did a lot of work on the pigmentations and the colors that the people in Old Town used to paint with.” 

For Fahmy, visiting the site after its completion gave her “a beautiful feeling.” 

“It’s even more beautiful when people start using the spaces and you start hearing feedback,” she said. “We all work towards this point when you see it filled with people and you see how they’ve activated it.”  


Saudi conceptual artist Filwa Nazer discusses highlights from her career so far 

Saudi conceptual artist Filwa Nazer discusses highlights from her career so far 
Updated 12 April 2024
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Saudi conceptual artist Filwa Nazer discusses highlights from her career so far 

Saudi conceptual artist Filwa Nazer discusses highlights from her career so far 

DUBAI: For as long as she can remember, the conceptual Saudi artist Filwa Nazer — who was born in Swansea, Wales, in the 1970s but grew up in the Kingdom — has always loved art. She says that she spent her time as a youngster drawing, painting, writing notes, and reflecting on life in a Saudi Arabia which, back then, lacked art education. “As a young artist, you don’t realize that all the challenges you face eventually inform your creative process,” Nazer tells Arab News.   

In the 1990s, Nazer moved to Milan, where she studied fashion design and later trained with the acclaimed Italian fashion designer Gianfranco Ferré.  

“He was quite an intimidating character, so I was a little bit in awe of him, but I was fascinated by the fact that he was an architect originally. His white shirts were quite structural,” says Nazer.  

Saudi artist Filwa Nazer — who was born in Swansea, Wales, in the 1970s but grew up in the Kingdom — has always loved art. (Supplied)

At the Ferré company, she was particularly drawn to the archival department, where all kinds of vintage garments were stored. She also learned about embroidery. Those experiences feed into her recent work, which focuses heavily on fabrics, but with an emotional touch.  

There is something sentimental about Nazer’s artwork, which is inspired by emotions, spaces, life transitions and memories. “For me,” she says, “the work always comes from a personal place.” 

Here, Nazer talks us through six significant works, from a large-scale installation in the desert to an intimate fabric piece addressing women’s bodies.  

 

‘The Skin I Live In’  

This installation from 2019 was one of the first ever textile works that I made, setting me on this journey of working with textiles. It’s two meters high and looks like a big skirt from the front. Inside, there are layers of embroidered muslin cotton, which is cut according to the floor plans of my flat in London. Covering the muslin is a layer of green polyethylene — a type of plastic mesh that you see in construction sites. I use these materials in a conceptual and symbolic way. I wanted to see if I could use sewing as a language and create landscapes of emotions through stitching. This work was about a particular time when I needed healing and protection, and that space provided a container for me to explore all of that.   

 

‘Preserving Shadows’  

This was part of Desert X AlUla this year. I’d never done something on this scale before — and in such a challenging environment like AlUla desert, which made me feel blocked. But I like to get out of my comfort zone and see what can happen if I work in a different way. Through my research, I came across this paragraph about plants in the desert and the supernatural. Suddenly, there was a lightbulb in my head and I started thinking that my blockage and discomfort in this environment could become my concept. I wanted to create a journey that is about a moment of transition; you walk through shadows and, as you walk, you are ascending and the shadows recede until you reach the end. It’s a journey of metaphorically overcoming darkness. 

 

‘The Hands Want To See, The Eyes Want To Caress’ 

This body of work was shown in an exhibition called “Saudi Modern” in 2021. A few artists were commissioned by Bricklab to create artworks that responded to a particular building from the modernist era of architecture in Jeddah. I created these five pieces as my response to a private residence, the Bajnaid House, in Al-Kandarah area. It was the epitome of modernist, trendy Jeddah in the Fifties and Sixties. It’s completely lost that status now. The works kind of explore what happens to a space or a house as it degrades — as it’s abandoned. Some of these pieces are about how I connected to the aesthetics of the house and the other pieces, the ones with the wood and fabric, are about how this house made me feel and how my body reacted to it. It asks: “Is a discarded house not attractive anymore? Or do you find beauty in the way it is now?” 
 

‘Five Women’   

This was a very special series. It was commissioned for the first edition of the Diriyah Biennale in Riyadh in 2021. It literally tells five stories of five Saudi women from my generation — women that I have spoken to privately and anonymously. Each woman told me a story and gave me a dress that related to one particular story about an event that changed this woman’s relationship with her body. The stories were about pain, coming of age, and the flamboyancy of showing off beauty in society. This work was also shown in the Lyon Biennale in 2022.  
 

‘Missing A Rib’ (2019) 

This 2019 piece is about my house in Jeddah. It’s a transparent sculptural piece, within it hangs a structure that resembles a broken rib cage. Prior to the conception of this work, I injured my ribs and was in bed for such a long time. Besides alluding to the symbolism of Adam and Eve, with Eve being created from Adam’s rib, it also connects to the theme of exploring spaces under the influence of patriarchy. The white strips (a type of thread-pulling technique decorating the hemlines of undergarments of men in Saudi) are a metaphor for masculine energy controlling a woman’s space. 

 

‘Topoanlysis’ 

This is one of my latest works that I made for Selma Feriani Gallery in 2023. It’s part of a seven-piece series that explores patterns of personal garments in relation to personal living spaces. You can see the outline of a floor plan. The red patches are made of layered stitching. I revisited that kind of abstract stitching that I use symbolically as landscapes of emotion. Nevertheless, when you look at it; the duality of it gives it the feel of a body or a chest. The green that I always use is symbolic of Saudi Arabia, so it links to society and environment. It’s quite philosophical in exploring space, but also in relating to emotions, memories and socio-political influences. 


The Roundup: Pop-culture highlights from across the Arab world

The Roundup: Pop-culture highlights from across the Arab world
Updated 12 April 2024
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The Roundup: Pop-culture highlights from across the Arab world

The Roundup: Pop-culture highlights from across the Arab world

DUBAI: From art and fashion to Egyptian electro, here are pop-culture highlights from across the Arab world.

 

Farah Al-Qasimi 

‘Toy World’ 

The acclaimed Emirati artist’s latest exhibition, which runs until April 19 at The Third Line in Dubai, includes her first black-and-white image series. “Black-and-white images automatically historicize,” Al-Qasimi told Sarah Chefka in an interview for promotional material. The series includes this image, “Camel Bones,” of which Chefka writes: “I know that the camel bones lying in the barren grass are innocuous victims of the cycle of life, but all I can think of are anonymous human remains, lying forgotten in battlefields that will never bear another rose.” 

 

Weam Ismail 

‘Ala Belady’ (Remix) 

The latest release from the Egyptian producer is a remix of his popular track “Ala Belady.” According to his label, Universal, Weam “invites listeners on a transformative journey where artistry and spirituality intertwine.” His blend of electronic music, Afro-house beats and Arabic sounds has connected with fellow artists in the region and in Europe, and his upcoming album should be one to look out for. 

 

Majdulin Nasrallah 

‘Hadatha Ghadan’ 

Zawya Gallery announced a series of new prints from the Palestinian artist Majdulin Nasrallah last month, in which, according to the gallery, she “takes us on a journey through the urban landscape of Palestine, offering a fresh perspective on power dynamics” and sparks conversations about “the role of built environments in perpetuating or challenging systems of control.” The series, including this image, titled “The Hole Hanging,” is typical of Qatar-based Majdulin’s work, which focuses heavily on life and the built environment under occupation. 

 

Odeem 

The Dubai-based luxury accessories label recently launched its latest handbag collection, ranging from elegant clutch purses to practical tote bags. “Whether you're seeking a sophisticated companion for the office or a chic accessory for a night out, our drop caters to the diverse facets of your lifestyle,” the label stated in a press release. “Each piece in this new line up exemplifies our unwavering commitment to quality, functionality, and contemporary aesthetics.” 
 

Mohammed Suliman Al-Faleh 

‘Kara tribe’ 

The Saudi photographer was one of the winners of March’s Hamdan Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al-Maktoum International Photography Awards’ Instagram competition, which was held under the theme “Culture.” The striking image is one of a series of photographs that Al-Faleh has taken of members of the Kara tribe in Ethiopia. This one was shot on the banks of the Omo River. 

 

Salama Hassan 

‘Kanji’ 

This piece by the self-taught Saudi conceptual calligrapher was featured in “Senses and Spirituality,” an exhibition curated by Saudi designer Amar Alamdar at Riyadh’s Centria Mall. In “Kanji,” Hassan used Chinese typography characteristics to reproduce Qur’anic verses. “I love Eastern cultures like Japanese and Chinese and their calligraphy, as well as Arabic,” she told Arab News previously. “I wanted to prove that the Arabic letter is valid in any time and space.” 


Arab-American Heritage Month: LA-based artist Aneesa Shami Zizzo talks tactile medium of fabrics

Arab-American Heritage Month: LA-based artist Aneesa Shami Zizzo talks tactile medium of fabrics
Updated 12 April 2024
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Arab-American Heritage Month: LA-based artist Aneesa Shami Zizzo talks tactile medium of fabrics

Arab-American Heritage Month: LA-based artist Aneesa Shami Zizzo talks tactile medium of fabrics
  • The second in this year’s series focusing on contemporary Arab-American artists in honor of Arab-American Heritage Month

DUBAI: Aneesa Shami Zizzo is a Los Angeles-based artist and researcher who has devoted herself to the tactile medium of textiles and fabrics. She grew up watching her grandmothers quilt and crochet. “I feel like it’s there in the DNA. I love hand-sewing and the feel of the fabric,” she tells Arab News.  

Born in Kansas to a Lebanese father and an American mother, Zizzo says her creativity was “fostered at a very early age.”  

“I knew I really wanted to be an artist; I remember falling in love with this ability to create something from nothing,” she says. ,

Aneesa Shami Zizzo’s ‘Goldmine.’ (Supplied)

As an adolescent, she was drawing, painting and making collages (the latter became “a main outlet for a lot of teenage angst and anxieties”). It was at the Kansas City Art Institute that she first began to focus on fiber art. “It really speaks to me on a subconscious level,” she says of the medium.  

Her textile works are put together using scraps. “I use a lot of industry waste,” she explains. “It’s incredible the amount of textile waste there is in this world. It’s frightening, quite frankly.”   

From her youth, Zizzo remembers her Arab grandmother’s cooking and grandfather’s furniture-making skills — he once designed a desk for her. But she says she has only recently started to incorporate her Arab ancestry into her work, which has always been influenced by personal memories and close family members. 

“Growing up in Kansas, post 9/11, it was hard being Arab-American and embracing my heritage,” she says. “Now, I’m trying to embrace it and bring it into my daily life, especially since I have a two-year-old son, Yuri, and I want to share that with him.” 

In 2017, Zizzo visited Lebanon. “It was so amazing to be there in person and see where my dad grew up,” she recalls. “We saw the country and toured in a little bus with all my cousins together. We went to Baalbek. It changed my life. Coming home from all of that, I’m changed.” She referenced the ancient Roman columns of Baalbek in her work “Baba’s Goldmine.” 

“It was my first and only trip to Lebanon,” Zizzo, who will soon take on a residency at the Arab American National Museum in Michigan, says. “I wanted to commemorate it.”  


Saudi film ‘Norah’ selected for Cannes, first from Kingdom in festival’s 77-year history

Saudi film ‘Norah’ selected for Cannes, first from Kingdom in festival’s 77-year history
Updated 11 April 2024
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Saudi film ‘Norah’ selected for Cannes, first from Kingdom in festival’s 77-year history

Saudi film ‘Norah’ selected for Cannes, first from Kingdom in festival’s 77-year history
  • Film premiered in Saudi Arabia in December at the Red Sea Film Festival in Jeddah
  • Will be included in prestigious “Un Certain Regard” section at Cannes

LONDON: A Saudi film has been named in the Cannes Film Festival’s official selection for the first time, it was announced on Thursday.

The Kingdom’s first selection is called “Norah,” filmed entirely in AlUla, directed by Tawfik Alzaidi and set in 1990s Saudi Arabia when conservatism ruled and the pursuit of all art, including painting, was banned.

It follows the story of Nader, a failed artist who becomes a schoolteacher, played by Yaqoub Alfarhan, who assists the eponymous young girl, played by Maria Bahrawi, to realize her artistic potential in an oppressive rural setting.

Maria Bahrawi on the set of ‘Norah,’ in AlUla. (Supplied)

The film premiered in Saudi Arabia in December at the Red Sea Film Festival in Jeddah and it will be included in the prestigious “Un Certain Regard” section of the French film festival, which recognizes new talent and unconventional narratives and runs alongside the famous “Palme D’Or” competition.

“Norah” will be in competition with 19 other films from around the world.

Speaking to Arab News in November last year before its premiere, Alzaidi said that he hoped it would inspire future generations to never let a dream die.

“I don’t think this is a film that’s trying to have one message — art is subjective, after all,” he said. “But when audiences of the next generation see this film, I want them to remember one thing: Believe in yourself. And if you have a voice, never stop fighting for it.” 

Saudi filmmaker Tawfik Alzaidi’s masterful directorial debut 'Norah' is the first Saudi film to be shot entirely in the Kingdom’s historic AlUla region. (Supplied)

Bahrawi echoed Alzaidi’s sentiments, adding that playing Norah in the film inspired her to not allow anything to dissuade her from fulfilling her potential.

“(Norah) taught me to be myself, to be true to my own spirit, and stand up for myself despite all the challenges,” she told Arab News in an interview. “From now and for the rest of my life, because of Norah, if I don’t find support, I will support myself. I want to find success, and I’ll do it against all odds.” 

Saudi Arabia lifted its 35-year ban on cinema in 2017 and has since seen its burgeoning film scene go from strength to strength, including building a strong relationship with the Cannes festival since first having a delegation there in 2018.

The 2024 festival will run from May 14 to May 25.


Eid escapes: A guide to relaxing holiday destinations in the Kingdom

Eid escapes: A guide to relaxing holiday destinations in the Kingdom
Updated 11 April 2024
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Eid escapes: A guide to relaxing holiday destinations in the Kingdom

Eid escapes: A guide to relaxing holiday destinations in the Kingdom
  • Saudi Arabia’s diverse landscapes beckon adventurers to explore its natural wonders
  • Saudi Arabia’s renowned tourism project, The Red Sea, is welcoming guests with the opening of The St. Regis Red Sea Resort

JEDDAH: After a month of worship, many people during Eid Al-Fitr break seek fun and relaxation. For those looking for a serene and rejuvenating destination, Saudi Arabia offers an array of options. From luxury resorts to sustainable desert getaways, the Kingdom provides diverse choices to suit all preferences.

Here is a curated list of destinations for a perfect Eid getaway.

The St. Regis Red Sea Resort

Saudi Arabia’s renowned tourism project, The Red Sea, is welcoming guests with the opening of The St. Regis Red Sea Resort. Situated on the Ummahat Islands in the Al-Wajh Lagoon, this luxurious resort features 90 beachfront and overwater villas, each boasting private pools and stunning views. Designed by architect Kengo Kuma, the resort’s aesthetic reflects the beauty of coral reefs and dunes. Guests can dine al fresco at five beachside venues and enjoy Japanese-inspired cuisine at Gishiki 45 and Tilina. The resort offers a spa, gym, and outdoor lap pool, all powered by renewable energy. Rates start from $1,866 per night.

Six Senses Southern Dunes

Nestled amid rolling dunes and the Hijaz Mountains, Six Senses Southern Dunes offers a unique retreat. With rooms, suites, and villas designed under tent-like roofs, the resort blends modern luxury with traditional charm. Guests can enjoy spacious accommodations with outdoor terraces and private pools. The resort’s spa spans 4,000 square feet and offers a range of treatments. Activities include cooking classes and fishing tours, and dining options cater to diverse palates. Rates start from SR4,380 ($1,168) for a Wadi King Room, with a commitment to sustainability.

AlUla: A haven of history and natural beauty

Located in the northwest of Saudi Arabia, AlUla is renowned for its rich history, stunning landscapes, and archaeological wonders. Home to UNESCO World Heritage Sites like the Nabatean tombs at Hegra and ancient rock art, AlUla offers visitors a glimpse into ancient civilizations. The region is undergoing extensive development to enhance its tourism infrastructure while preserving its cultural heritage and natural beauty.

Here are some top accommodations in AlUla for an unforgettable Eid escape experience:

Habitas AlUla: A sustainable desert resort offering luxury accommodations amid the desert canyons of the Ashar Valley, Habitas AlUla features 96 guest villas, each designed to blend seamlessly with the surrounding landscape. Guests can enjoy a range of facilities, including wellness centers, dining options, and a large infinity swimming pool.

Caravan by Habitas AlUla: Caravan provides a unique luxury camping experience in the picturesque Ashar Valley with exclusive Airstream trailers offering either an oasis or mountainous view. Each of the 22 deluxe trailers features panoramic views, air conditioning, WiFi, a queen-size bed (or two single beds), an indoor lounge, a kitchenette, and a private shower and bathroom. Prices range from SR1500 to SR2500 per night.

Ashar Tented Resort: Nestled amid the sweeping desert sands and rugged rock formations of the Ashar Valley, this luxury camping experience immerses guests in AlUla’s spectacular scenery. With access to five-star facilities at the neighboring Banyan Tree Hotel, guests can enjoy a comfortable and memorable stay.

Banyan Tree AlUla: Offering breathtaking views of the Ashar Valley, Banyan Tree AlUla features 47 elegant tented villas adorned with authentic Arabian-inspired details. Committed to sustainability and well-being, the resort advocates for environmental conservation and cultural preservation.

Whether you seek luxury, tranquility, or cultural immersion, AlUla offers a range of experiences to suit every traveler’s preference.

Explore the region’s rich history, breathtaking landscapes, and unparalleled hospitality for an unforgettable Eid getaway: www.experiencealula.com.

Adventures and sightseeing

Many seek the perfect getaway to unwind and connect with nature. In Saudi Arabia, adventure-seekers have a plethora of options thanks to the diverse terrains that span the Kingdom. From sandy deserts to rugged mountains and lush valleys, there is something for everyone to explore.

Guiding adventurers across the Kingdom

Saudi Trips, a leading adventure agency, offers a range of trips and hikes across the Kingdom. Founded by Ibrahim Saad, the agency aims to provide visitors with the best Eid experience, tailored to their preferences and budget.

Saad highlights some of the prime camping and hiking spots, including the iconic AlUla region, the mysterious Dark Cave in Tabuk, and the picturesque Wadi Al-Disah in Jazan.

“In my opinion, the best destinations during Eid break are the sandy areas, caves, and valleys,” Saad told Arab News. “Activities vary according to the terrain, including walking on the sand, mountain climbing, and descending.”

Other notable destinations Saad mentioned include Lajab Valley, the Caravans Trail along the Tuwaiq Mountains, Thumama, and Mount Qarah in the Eastern Province.

Happy escape

For those seeking a unique experience, Ahway, a Saudi tourism project, offers well-equipped caravans in scenic locations. Founded by Saeed Azhar, Ahway aims to promote local tourism while providing visitors with a chance to disconnect from city life and immerse themselves in nature. Starting in Taif, the project plans to expand to other regions like AlUla and Tabuk, offering guests a chance to explore Saudi Arabia’s stunning landscapes.

Diverse landscapes

Khalid Al-Rabiah, CEO of Ghamra Adventures Agency, spoke to Arab News about the allure of Saudi Arabia’s diverse landscapes during Eid.

“Being in a large city like Riyadh, the nearby areas, especially Thadiq National Park and the dunes and valleys of Rughabah Village, are considered prime destinations for Eid escape, especially with their unique nature and the presence of hiking trails and mountain ridges spanning over 70 km.

“There is also a growing trend of camping in the unique natural environments of Hail and Tabuk, known for their peculiar mountains with strange formations and golden sands.”

Ali Al-Abdali, a tour guide in Jazan, describes the region as a haven for hiking and wilderness enthusiasts not only for the Eid holiday but throughout the year.

From stunning beaches along the Red Sea to rugged mountains like Al-Ardah and Al-Rayth, Jazan offers diverse landscapes for outdoor activities.

As Eid approaches, Saudi Arabia’s natural attractions beckon adventurers, both local and international, to explore and create unforgettable memories amid breathtaking scenery.