Saudi's Winter at Tantora Festival: Season in full swing at Al Ula

Three-month celebration will showcase concerts, arts and culture events connecting East and West

This picture taken on January 5, 2019 shows a view of the new purpose-built Maraya (Arabic for "Mirror") concert hall hosting the first "Winter at Tantora" music carnival in the ruins of Al-Ula, a UNESCO World Heritage site in northwestern Saudi Arabia. - Bathed in light, musicians belt out melodies among pre-Islamic desert ruins in northwestern Saudi Arabia, a heritage trove at the centre of efforts to put the kingdom on the tourism map. Hosted by the Al-Ula governorate -- where Nabatean tombs and rock art are chiseled into caramel-hued cliffs -- "Winter at Tantora" is the latest music carnival in the Islamic kingdom, where such events were unheard of just two years ago. (Photo by FAYEZ NURELDINE / AFP)
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The second Winter at Tantora Festival in Al Ula in North West Saudi Arabia is officially under way.

The three-month celebration that will showcase concerts and art and culture events connecting East and West - just as the Al Ula county has done for thousands of years.

It comes just months after Saudi Arabia introduced tourist visas to citizens from 49 countries, making the kingdom more accessible than ever with the Unesco World Heritage site at Hegra in Al Ula among those featured in a global marketing campaign.

The festival is part of the Cultural Manifesto launched by the festival organisers, the Royal Commission for Al Ula, in Paris in October as part of a long-term strategy to transform the region into global living museum and place of culture, heritage and the arts. Covering 12 weekends beginning from 19th December, Winter at Tantora will host a wide range of events from the world-famous Dakar Rally, an international ballooning festival, the world’s second longest endurance horse race, the world’s first desert polo tournament and pop-ups from globally renowned restaurants.

The spectacular mirrored wall Maraya Theatre with its 500-seat capacity and pristine sound quality will be home throughout the festival to some of the world’s leading performers who range from Egyptian composer Omar Khairat (Friday, December 27) and Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli (Friday, January 31) to pop-star Lionel Richie (Friday, February 28).

Festival visitors will also be able to meet and engage the Al Ula community who are benefitting from a diverse range of training programmes in hospitality; culture; nature and the environment. Also participating are 24 aspiring Saudi chefs who are presently studying at the prestigious Ferrandi Paris culinary institute in France.

These will work alongside Michelin-starred experts during the festival creating cuisine using local ingredients from the fertile Al Ula valley and blending traditional recipes with modern cuisine.

“Festival visitors will be given a unique opportunity to visit and experience one of the world’s undiscovered places and its spectacular heritage sites before we reopen them to the world in October 2020,” says Royal Commission for Al Ula chief executive Amr Al Madani.

“They will get a tantalising glimpse of a place that been a cultural crossroads for thousands of years and the chance to see it from the serenity of a hot air balloon; the adrenaline of soaring over the desert and mountains in an open seater biplane or exploring hidden canyons in traditional vintage Land Rovers.”

To cater for the growing number of visitors, the Royal Commission for Al Ula completed major infrastructure work at Al Ula Airport – increasing capacity fourfold to 400,000 visitors a year and upgraded a series of local mountain resorts.

More information on Winter at Tantora Festival is available on