A glittering cultural event has been launched in Saudi Arabia in a remarkable setting.
The Winter at Tantora Festival is presently running at Al Ula, an area north of the Arabian Peninsula, that is home to a number of stunning archaeological wonders.
Running under the auspices of the festival is a number of events that include concerts, a Hot Air Balloon Festival and a high profile horse race.
Dating back to over 2000 years, Al Ula was the capital of the ancient Arabian kingdom of Lihyan. Renowned for their economic prowess, the city was part of the famed Incense Trade Route which stretched from the Mediterranean to North Africa and the Levant to India and South East Asia.
The city also holds deep historical significance in Islam with the Prophet Muhammed reportedly passing through the city in 630 as part of his military expedition to the north-western Saudi city of Tabuk.
Al Ula is also home to Madain Saleh, an archaeological site that in 2008 became Saudi Arabia's first UNESCO World Heritage Site. The key features responsible for such a distinction are the well preserved remains dating to the Late Antiquity period in addition to the 131 rock-cut tombs that are linked to the Nabatean Kingdom.
An intimate concert series, dubbed Stars Under the Stars, will take place at the site during weekends and will feature an eclectic array of international and regional stars.
With only 500 tickets available for each gig, booking early is essential. Various packages are available, with tickets beginning from SR 712.50 (Dh697) that includes a pick up and drop off bus service from the cities of Riyadh (9 hour and 40 minutes) and Jeddah (7 hours) to Al Ula in addition to lunch and dinner.
Here is are the concerts coming up:
December 28 will see Lebanese chanteuse Majida El Roumi performing in the outdoor stage.
She will be followed by UAE favourite, the French violinist Renaud Capucon who will play on January 4.
He should set the tone nicely for the arrival of one of the Arab world’s most famous composers, Egypt’s Omar Khairat, who will bring his orchestra to AL Ula on January 11.
Another virtuoso will arrive on January 18, with Chinese pianist Lang Lang booked to perform a recital.
She may have died 47 years ago, but the appeal and mystique of the Egyptian diva Um Kulthum remains strong amongst the young and old in the Arab world. January 25 will see the late singer performing her hits in hologram mode and backed by a real life orchestra. This is not the first time Um Kulthum appeared in such a format, the debut appearance of the hologram was in in 2013 as part of high profile launch of the MBC Egypt channel in Cairo.
This will be followed by an appearance by popular Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli, who will make his debut concert performance in Saudi Arabia on February 1.
The concert series will be wrapped on February 8 by the legendary world music star Yanni. From the Pyramids in Egypt and China’s Forbidden City to Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the Greek pianist and composer made a career of performing in breath-taking settings and Al Ula’s desert mountain backdrop will surely be another notch on his exotic touring belt.
Fun in the sky
Get those phone cameras out for the Hot Air Balloon Festival. Running from January 31 to February 9, there will be plenty of colourful and evocatively patterned hot air balloons taking to the sky to beautify what is already an enchanting backdrop.
The Big Race
The inaugural The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Endurance Cup will be held on February 2. The horse race is set to feature over 80 riders vying for what organisers promised to be one of the largest prize pots for such a race in the region. More details on the race will be announced soon.
For information regarding tickets and packages go to www.winterattantora.com