"With every touch of your stones and dunes, the grains of sand whisper welcome," states the first ever tourism brand campaign for Saudi Arabia's Al Ula.
With the kingdom set to reopen for international travel on March 31, the historic site of Al Ula in the country's north west has released a new video designed to showcase the region to travellers.
Entitled The World's Masterpiece, the almost all-female film features a young Saudi woman visiting key sites across the historic region.
Some 1,100 kilometres from Riyadh, the main character explores Hegra, Saudi Arabia's first Unesco World Heritage Site and the main southern city of the Nabataean Kingdom. She also visits Dadan, one of the most developed cities of the Arabian Peninsula dating back to the first millennium BC, before taking in the wonders of the thousands of ancient rock art sites and inscriptions at Jebel Ikmah.
Al Ula's Old Town – which will reopen to visitors in February – and Jebel Al Fil (or Elephant Rock) also star in the cinematic campaign. At times wearing traditional clothing, and at others in modern clothing with her hair flowing free, the heroine of the story is played by Saudi actress Futun Abdullah Al Jarallah. Viewers can watch Al Jarallah visit the famed mirrored architectural site of Maraya, and wander through the winter oasis in Al Ula.
"The World's Masterpiece is a play on both the skilful artistry of ancient civilisations who carved elaborate artworks into the rocky outcrops, as well as the pure and unspoilt beauty of the geological rock formations and landscapes sculpted by nature," said Phillip Jones, chief destination management and marketing officer at Al Ula Royal Commission (RCU).
Directed by renowned French filmmaker and photographer Bruno Aveillan, the video aims to capture the emotion, beauty and historical importance of the adventure and heritage tourism site.
"An historic and important destination as this needed the appropriate gravitas. We wanted to convey feelings of nostalgia and the emotion of seeing the destination for the first time. Al Ula is a unique place in the world, we needed to make the first ever destination film with a style that no other place could imitate," said the French filmmaker.
Al Ula is the first of the big Saudi Vision 2030 initiatives to start welcoming visitors. It re-opened key heritage sites in October 2020 and is now open year-round. Saudi Arabia's 2030 initiative consists of several other giga-projects set to increase tourism to the country. These include the Maldivian-like Red Sea Project and the futuristic city of Neom.
Travellers advised to plan ahead
Ahead of Saudi’s reopening, travellers thinking of visiting Al Ula are advised to plan head. While more accommodation is planned and being added, there's a limited number of rooms available
"We are already receiving a lot of interest from international travellers excited to explore a new destination with such history including ancient civilisations from the Dadanites to the Nabataeans and the Romans," said Melanie de Souza, executive director marketing at RCU.
Al Ula is huge and spans an area of more than 22,000 square kilometres. Highlights include an oasis valley, towering sandstone mountains and ancient heritage sites dating back thousands of years. It's also set to be home to three new hotels by Aman Resorts International, the luxury hoteliers' first in the Middle East.
"The travel landscape has been irreversibly altered, but as travel slowly resumes, research tells us people will be looking for meaningful travel, vast open spaces and close to nature experiences. Al Ula is well-positioned in the domestic market for all of those reasons and internationally as a new and significant boutique heritage and culture destination," added de Souza.
What to see and do in Al Ula
Open year round to visitors, Al Ula offers a variety of experiences to offer domestic and international travellers an intriguing itinerary. From nature-filled walks to arts festivals, food trucks and more, here ares some of the highlights:
A play ground for adventure travellers, those looking for high-octane fun can trek the the Adventure Trail and Al Ula Oasis View Trail, or explore on two wheels along the Cycling Trail and the recently opened Al Ula Bike Park. The Harrat Uwayrid zip line whizzes over the desert and the Stargazing tour at Al Gharameel rocks makes the most of the midnight sky.
History in the Old Town
Reopening in February, the Old Town gives visitors a glimpse into days gone by. Travellers can explore the well-preserved streets accompanied by a rawi (an Arabic storyteller) who will shine a light on some of the stories of the sites. There's also live performances of cultural dances, a busy bazaar and handicraft stalls. The former Al Ula Secondary School for girls near Al Ula Old Town is being transformed into an arts and traditional crafts hub set to open in 2021.
The Winter Park
The hub of Al Ula, Winter Park is home to the Visitors Information Centre where guests can book sightseeing tours and experiences. Close to Elephant Rock, the park is surrounded by greenery and has different cafes and food trucks for refuelling on the go. Popular with locals and tourists, it's a place for people to gather, eat and enjoy the outdoor surroundings and is open year-round from 9am until midnight.