On board Flynas’ first international flight to AlUla

Direct flights from the United Arab Emirates to the historic destination of AlUla in Saudi Arabia were launched over the weekend, opening one of the Gulf’s most mysterious and untouched destinations, dubbed ‘the world’s largest living museum’.

Carrying around 80 passengers, including Emirati media, dignitaries and influencers, Flynas’ inaugural flight XY219 departed from Dubai International Airport Terminal 1 at 11:30 a.m. on Friday and landed at AlUla at 1:40 p.m. There will be three direct flights per week between Dubai and AlUla.

The region’s Hegra, made up of Nabataean rock formations, offers a glimpse of history hard to find in the region and has been listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site. Over 110 well-preserved tombs, ancient inscriptions and engravings give visitors a glimpse of a bygone era in the country’s dramatic orange and red desert landscape.

Features such as the giant geologic Elephant Rock formation have also tempted visitors to the area in recent years, but accessibility has been a challenge, with travelers having to travel long distances from the kingdom’s main airports to reach the area. distant. More than seven hours from Jeddah and 10 hours from Riyadh, AlUla has so far been an isolated adventure.

The new three-hour flight from Dubai with Flynas gives international visitors a taste of this unspoiled destination, where they can also indulge in experiences such as dining at local farms and learning about ancient rock art.

Roman influence is apparent in AlUla in the form of defensive walls, gates and towers that once encircled the city. Pilgrims, travelers and permanent settlers have passed by and gathered in the old town of AlUla since it was first inhabited until the 12th century.

Not yet ready for mass travel, the area has only a handful of hotels, as well as campsites for the more intrepid visitors, but independent travel is not recommended. The modes of transport available are limited and group travel remains the recommended way to visit the region.

AlUla has established itself not only as a historic destination in recent years, but also as a cultural destination, with a multitude of international artists performing at open-air concerts such as the Winter at Tantora Festival and in the majestic Venue. Mirrored Maraya concert, where Andrea Bocelli recently performed a sold-out concert.

The concert hall is also home to Michelin-starred chef Jason Atherton’s brand new restaurant, Maraya Social. Located on the roof of the futuristic structure, it is open for dinner from Wednesday to Saturday. Its menu is inspired by AlUla with produce sourced from local farms, “all served in signature Atherton style.”

Flynas is a no-frills airline, but the three-hour flight offers the thrill of finally discovering the Mystical Zone. The airline plans to operate three flights per week, Thursday through Saturday.

Other routes recently launched from Flynas include two weekly flights that will connect Kuwait to the recently upgraded AlUla airport, which in February achieved “international” status. Although it can now accommodate 400,000 passengers per year, it is more of a large hall than an airport with a small team of staff, which means things can take time and services are limited. .

In terms of accommodation, the international brand Habitas opened a boutique eco-resort two weeks ago in AlUla, offering a range of cultural and well-being programs to its visitors. The villa property is set amidst the spectacular rocky landscape.

A Banyan Tree property will open in 2022 and Hegra station, a relic from the Ottoman era, will be transformed into a boutique hotel.

The Royal Commission for AlUla has big plans for the region. The Journey Through Time master plan launched by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, chairman of the commission, plans to welcome two million visitors per year by 2035.

In February, the AlUla Arts Festival will pay homage to the destination’s position on the Silk Road, bringing together arts and culture from around the world, and in March, the Cultural Oasis will launch its first AlUla Wellness Festival. .

With most of AlUla’s sites only a 20 to 30 minute drive from each other, it’s easy to spend a long weekend here. There is a sense of unique authenticity, with local residents, mostly women, serving as guides. It is a wonderful sight to see the benefit to the local labor market that tourism now offers to men and women.

The region is also suitable for outdoor adventure. With hot air ballooning, ziplining, stargazing, biking, and hiking, it’s currently the best time of year to explore.

Reflecting recent reforms in the country, women can visit AlUla without wearing an abaya or hijab; modest western clothing is sufficient.

While it might not quite compare to Petra in Jordan, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, AlUla offers a powerful gateway to the kingdom and will appeal to travelers of all types.

Visitors must show both PCR negative status and vaccine status, by registering online and downloading the local Covid-19 app. A negative PCR test is also required for non-Emiratis returning to the United Arab Emirates. Visas can be purchased easily and quickly online for many nationalities.

More information is available at experiencealula.com

Updated: November 20, 2021, 13:28

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Corina C. Butler