CELEBRATING HISTORY, HERITAGE AND NATURE
The Winter at Tantora festival has been on my wish list for some time, a chance for a new experience in Saudi Arabia. What stirred strong feelings in me was the breathtaking scenery from the pictures of spectacular mountains, and sand I gathered from the internet, which also revealed a rich history of more than 200,000 years.
On receiving a chance to be part of the festival this year, I was eager to enjoy every second. I spent most of my time reading about the adventures and experiences of the legendary Lawrence of Arabia, letting my mind drift to the fantastic world of the Tantora and how awe-inspiring the scenery must have seemed for him when he first set eyes on these spectacular sights.
Well, to be honest, the experience of the festival in itself, as I later came to learn was much more than what I had made up in my mind.
For those of you who might not have had the chance to experience or read about the Winter at Tantora, it is a festival in AlUla County in North-West Saudi Arabia, a place of extraordinary natural beauty and cultural heritage. This year’s festival started from 19th December 2019 and will end on 7th March 2020, bringing 12-weekends of wonder and fantasy to the AlUla Oasis. The AlULa is a popular home to some of the world’s most spectacular archeological treasures, natural beauty and breath-taking monuments, making them sights worth anyone’s attention and awe. In addition to this, AlUla is located on the ancient route between Southern Arabia and Egypt, allowing for people from diverse cultures to meet and interact. AlUla was a hub of commercial and cultural exchange in the early ages as a result of a lush oasis valley that ran through it, allowing for civilizations from different cultures to flourish.
The Winter at Tantora cultural festival debuted last year and this year’s event marked its second season. As usual, the festival played host to regional and international stars performances, allowed for exciting cultural and dining experiences, and add to an amazing variety of great activities.
This year’s festival includes improvements in planning and hospitality that will make it possible for families, friends, couples as well as solo travelers to drop in on the festival for one day with the SAR 300 One Day, Your Way package that covered onsite transportation. With this amazing package, festival goers’ could pick and choose their favorite activities, making it possible for people to enjoy the multiple adventures and pleasures that the AlUla has to offer. From my experience at this year’s festival, here are a few details about the Winter at Tantora festival I thought anyone would be pleased to learn about.
I was one of the few lucky to be invited to this event. A flight was arranged through Saudi Airlines, from Kuwait to the beautiful city of Riyadh. Lucky for me, this was a special occasion for Saudi Airlines as this was their launching flight. All guests traveling on this flight were treated to delicious food, great service and live Oud music.
After an amazing one-hour journey, we finally landed in the beautiful city of AlUla. I was accorded a warm water welcome. Also accompanying this was some piping hot Arabic Coffee and live music.
By that time, the Organizers had their team waiting for me. I had the chance to take a ride in their special SUV. Media were invited from all over the world to witness and take part in this beautiful celebration.
Once we reached the beautiful resort of Shaden, I was greeted by their lovely staff. Situated 28km from Madain Saleh Tombs, Shaden Resort features accommodation with a restaurant and a shared lounge. The resort is quite grand, and each member was given their own private room.
On our first day, I had lunch at the restaurant where I savored from a delicious buffet.
After lunch, we were taken to our first visit, AlUla Old town. It is here that I witnessed the old culture of this place that is steeped in tradition. With National songs playing, I admired the culture imbued in my surroundings that gave me appreciation for the spirit of old Saudi Arabia. I also had the chance to visit the open market, featuring locally made arts and crafts.
Then, we were taken to Tantora. Well-known for being the marker for the changing of the seasons, the Tantora is a triangular feature constructed as the upper part of a wall. It is thus a sundial that has been used by the local population for hundreds of years as a marker for the start of the winter planting season. Our tour guide was happy to explain its history and show us how it worked.
Afterwards, we went on a special ride on land rovers to visit the famous Elephant Rock. This natural sandstone outcrop has eroded over time to create the unmistakable likeness of a giant elephant with its trunk touching the ground. This beautiful example is one of AlUla’s natural wonders that has become one of its iconic images.
The very same night, I had the chance of witnessing the beauty of drone show with nearly 300 drones flying through the night sky, performing a unique light show accompanied by music, which ended up creating a truly magical and timeless moment for all of us.
The place was surrounded by food trucks, serving both local and international cuisine. I would like to call it a ‘Foodie’s heaven’. After the show, we returned to the Resort.
The second day had a lot more surprises in store. I started with a scrumptious breakfast at the Resort and then went on to visit Hegra, Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The local guides pleasantly explained the history behind the site, and really touched on how it is the site of the civilization of the Nabataeans south of Petra in Jordan, and contains many well-preserved monumental tombs.
After this, we went on to visit Jabal Iqma. A short break later, we were on our way to a pop-up by popular London members-only club, Annabel’s. Here, I had the chance to savor world-class menu items which included a seven-course meal, a truly memorable dining experience. The staff at Annabel’s was friendly, attentive and well-trained. My experience could not have been any better.
My third and final day commenced with breakfast, after which we went on to visit two farms, one of which grew abundant citrus fruits and vegetables. As a treat, we had a great time picking fruits and vegetables, which we took home as a gift. The other farm housed ostriches and peacocks, which we were delighted to see.
We then went on to visit the ancient city of Dadan, which boasted of a different kind of historical wealth to be found in archaeological sites such as Al-Khuraybah.
Once we were done for the day, we headed back to the resort. After a short break, I was taken to the airport. My flight back to Kuwait was just as fun.
To wrap this great experience up, I should probably focus on what every festival can’t afford to miss – the music. The Winter at Tantora festival had the Maraya Concert Hall alive with music masterpieces from some of the world’s greatest musicians. This year’s festival saw performances from the disco-soul-funk legends Kool & the Gang, supported by Sister Sledge, headlining getting the people in mood for much anticipated performances by Lionel Richie and Craig David on February 28th.
José Carreras also performed some of his greatest hits during his appearance at the festival on January 10th as part of the Spanish Prestige week. Kool & the Gang, also headlined the event with songs such as “Celebration” and “Cherish”, supported on stage by Sister Sledge, whose chartbusters “He’s the Greatest Dancer” and “We Are Family” created 40 years ago, remains popular to this day. In addition to these two ground-breaking acts, the festival also welcomed the soul and funk music of Jamiroquai and Nile Rodgers & CHIC as well as the Latin Pop beats of Enrique Iglesias supported by The Gipsy Kings featuring Nicolas Reyes & Tonino Baliardo.
The event had fans of classical music cpvered with a whole weekend, (January 2nd – 4th) dedicated to Beethoven who, needless to say, is one of the greatest composers of all time, the German maestro’s work was feted with performances by Renaud Capuçon, Kit Armstrong, Edgar Moreau, Guillaume Chilemme, Adrien La Marca and the Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse. In addition to this, AlUla will also play host to the compositions of Omar Khairat and the genre-defying music of Yanni. On Valentine’s Day, the festival will celebrate “A Love Legend from the Oasis of AlUla” – the enduring love story of Jamil and Buthayna, performed by Caracalla.
For more details about the event and other interesting facts, please follow : @WinteratTantora on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.< Back