Saudi Arabia’s 'Gingerbread Village' named in UN list of world’s Best Tourism Villages

Princess Haifa Al Saud received the award in Madrid on behalf of the village chief

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Nestled in the mountainous Asir region of Saudi Arabia, Rijal Almaa is officially one of the "Best Tourism Villages" in the world, according to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation.

Dating back more than 900 years, the village – which is often called the Gingerbread Village because its buildings look like they are made of gingerbread – was shortlisted from 174 entrants across 75 countries.

UN officials said the Saudi village is "an outstanding example of rural tourism".

Located 45 kilometres west of Abha, the village is a pristine example of the kingdom’s diverse heritage and culture. It consists of several towering houses and palaces, each constructed out of natural stone clay and wood.

Rijal Almaa stands at the heart of ancient trade networks that once linked Yemen, the Levant, Makkah and Madinah.

The flowermen of Saudi Arabia

The region is famed for its unique buildings and its Flower Men - locals who traditionally dress in wraparound skirts and adorn themselves with floral wreaths.

The Best Villages Programme was announced by UNWTO in May this year during the Tourism Recovery Summit in Riyadh.

It aims to recognise outstanding examples of rural tourism that combine cultural and natural assets, preserve and promote community values, and sustain traditional lifestyles and production techniques.

Saudi Princess Haifa Al Saud, Assistant Minister of Tourism, accepted the award on behalf of the village chief at the UN General Assembly in Madrid on Thursday.

“This demonstrates the enduring appeal of Saudi’s unique culture and heritage for domestic and international visitors” she said.

“The village is a unique expression of Saudi culture. Nestled in green mountains of the Asir region, in the south of the kingdom. We are proud of the efforts that have been taken to preserve the village and its unique culture and to ensure that these can be shared with the world.”

Unesco – the UN body which recognises and protects unique culture and heritage – has included the Saudi village in a list of tentative World Heritage Sites.

This is not the first time that the Gingerbread Village has received praise for its preservation. Rijal Almaa was previously recognised by the Arab Cities Mudon Award for its architectural heritage in 2017, and it won the Prince Sultan bin Salman prize for urban heritage in 2007.

Updated: December 03, 2021, 1:28 PM