Visitors to Saudi Arabia will soon be able to get a glimpse of what royal life used to be like in the kingdom, with a stay at one of several historic palaces being converted into five-star hotels.
Unveiled by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the new hotel company Boutique Group has plans to transform some of the kingdom's most prominent palaces into opulent hotels that present a “story of heritage and hospitality.”
Owned by the Saudi Public Investment Fund, the company says it will also create new hospitality experiences, covering everything from dining and wellness to “exclusive services” – although no more information on what these will entail has been given.
Two palaces in Riyadh and one in Jeddah are first on the agenda for the ultra-luxury hotel company, and guests can expect traditional Arabian hospitality at the properties which will showcase the kingdom’s rich culture and heritage to visitors from across the world.
“The Crown Prince's launch of the Boutique Group underlines PIF’s mandate to unlock the capabilities of promising sectors in Saudi Arabia that can help drive the diversification of the economy and contribute to non-oil GDP growth,” said Yasir Al-Rumayyan, governor of the Public Investment Fund.
“The group will enhance the kingdom’s already unique tourism offerings, strengthening Saudi Arabia’s position as a leading regional and international tourism and cultural destination and contributing to Saudi Vision 2030."
Here’s what we know so far about each of the first palaces set to be converted into hotels …
Al Hamra Palace, Jeddah
Originally built in the 1950s during the reign of King Saud bin Abdulaziz for Prince Faisal bin Abdulaziz, Al Hamra Palace was converted into a hospitality palace in 1971.
It became the place where the most prominent international public figures and VIP guests from around the world were received, including former US president Richard Nixon and former Egyptian president Anwar Sadat.
The structure near Jeddah's corniche showcases traditional Arab-Islamic architecture and Andalusian-style influences including arched gateways, slanted roofs and a facade crafted from Riyadh stone, a sandy-coloured limestone that's quarried in the kingdom.
Boutique Group will launch Al Hamra Palace as a 77-key hotel, inclusive of 33 luxury palace suites and 44 luxury villas. With towering palm trees and views over the city's coastline, guests checking in will enjoy first-rate hospitality including their own private butler service.
Tuwaiq Palace, Riyadh
One of Riyadh’s most historical and cultural landmarks is Tuwaiq Palace in the Diplomatic Quarter. Built in 1980 overlooking Wadi Hanifa and the capital's cityscape, the building was originally erected as a cultural club.
Sprawling across nearly 110,000 square kilometres of space, it was a place for recreation, restaurants, conferences, social events and more.
Paying tribute to desert fortresses and traditional Bedouin tents, the palace was awarded the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 1998. The building’s unique design has an 800-metre-long living wall and the striking "heart tent", a mesmerising colourful structure made from pieces of stained glass.
Guests checking in here will be able to see a lot of traditional architecture from Saudi Arabia’s central Najd region, such as the introverted courtyard to help create shade, fortress-like walls to insulate from the summer heat and small window openings to minimise solar gain.
Lush gardens surround the palace, which will open as a 96-key hotel, inclusive of 40 palace suites and 56 private villas.
Red Palace, Riyadh
With its distinctive red exterior, the Red Palace in Riyadh’s Al Fouta neighbourhood was completed in 1944 for Crown Prince Saud bin Abdulaziz, who reigned from 1953 to 1964.
The 16-suite palace was the first reinforced concrete and steel building in the capital and was the royal residence for many years. As a place for greeting heads of states and other important visitors, the walls of this building undoubtedly bore witness to a number of key political decisions and historic events for the region.
After King Saud’s move to Al-Nasriya Palace in 1953, the Red Palace became the office of the Saudi Council of Ministers office and subsequently the Board of Grievances, until 1987.
It is a place of grandeur and history and will operate as a boutique 71-key hotel with 46 luxury suites and 25 guest rooms.