Warmly welcoming travellers from around the globe, this extraordinary region offers artists inspiration around every corner - from the flourishing green palms and stunning red rock formations to the impressive cultural landscape and contemporary desert installations. A place where ancient spices, time-honoured traditions and local produce blend into sumptuous fine-dining dishes, and spectacular concerts play out at one of the world's newest wonders, the spirit of the arts lives in AlUla's vibrant valleys and cultural heart.
Untouched for centuries, this enchanting region is home to a diverse collection of artists, each finding creative ways to express themselves amongst AlUla's extraordinary landscapes, inspired by the region's storied heritage. From contemporary artists projecting light against the rocks to locals studying traditional handicrafts, artists in this region are finding ways to blend modern magic with time-honoured tradition.
DESERT X ALULA
Since 2017, Desert X has created a series of contemporary art exhibitions that bring desert locations to life through installations that address specific themes, such as ecology, culture, spirit and many others, in a way that engages audiences and amplifies the beauty of the desert environment. After an enormous positive response after the first installation in 2020, Desert X AlUla became a recurring exhibition showcasing local, regional and international artists.
In March 2022, the second edition of Desert X AlUla was a great success, with artworks from 15 artists dotted across an impressive canyon, each exploring the theme of Sarab - ideas of mirage and oasis which are both intrinsic to desert history and culture. Visitors were invited to stroll through the valley and experience spectacular landscapes as they wandered between each unique piece, each created especially for AlUla.
Wadi Al Fann
Set to open in 2024, Wadi Al Fann (meaning 'Valley of the Arts') will be a permanent desert art venue which aims to reshape contemporary art history in AlUla by commissioning large-scale installations by global and local artists at the forefront of contemporary practice. The revival of traditional art and ancient crafts is attracting creatives from around the globe and through the myriad of artwork, it is hoped that visitors will gain a new appreciation for the history and traditions of AlUla.
Marvel at distinctive art pieces such as physician-turned-artist Ahmed Mater's impressive installation, named 'Ashab Al-Lal', which aims to create a mirage effect using a subterranean tunnel and mirrors and lose yourself amongst Manal Al-Dowayan's 'The Oasis of Stories', a coiled labyrinthine structure inspired by the mud homes of AlUla's ancient old town. Meander through veteran artist Agnes Denes' work and take in the sequence of ascending pointed pyramids which will attempt to explore civilization, advancement and achievement before heading to the series of tunnels and stairs housed within the canyon floor, from artist James Turrell, which intends to offer a sensorial experience of space, colour and perception.
However, in contrast to this contemporary movement, many local artisans are attempting to preserve the skills and knowledge of centuries old handicrafts which have been passed from generation to generation. Nowhere better can this be seen than at Madrasat AdDeera, where artists are learning heritage design principles and geometries, while at the same time evolving techniques and modernising them.
At first glance, this is a land of windswept desert landscapes, but an oasis lies within this environment and the abundance of fresh water nourishes the local crops; citrus trees thrive, mango tress bloom and date trees flourish in the fertile soil, providing much needed shade as well as a harvest. With all this and more, the myriad of food and gastronomy available in AlUla is constantly evolving and the easily accessed local produce creates an array of flavours that can be seen throughout local gastronomy.
For an authentic taste of AlUla, head to Merkaz, found in AlUla's Old Town, which offers traditional food inspired by the flavours of the Arabian Peninsula. With a wide selection of delicious main dishes, vibrant soups, fresh salads, sweet desserts, and refreshing drinks to satisfy every taste, Merkaz is the perfect spot for traditional cuisine in a relaxing atmosphere. Don't miss out on their fragrant Arabic coffee, so good the restaurant's logo was derived from this iconic drink.
Alternatively, spend some time at Suhail, which offers an exciting take on traditional Saudi dishes with views in all directions across the Old Town. Enjoy open-air, fine-dining inspired by timeless flavours and authentic local dishes as you relax amid the beautiful outdoor and indoor settings. We highly recommend the Asir Haneeth, a lamb and rice dish inspired by old Arabian Peninsula spices, and the Chicken Saleeq Al Taif, a rice dish cooked in milk and topped with succulent roast chicken, red chilli and a green herb sauce.
For those looking for entertainment, heading to Maraya is a must. A 550-seat concert venue which holds the title of the World's largest mirrored building, set in the desert canyon of Ashar Valley, Maraya is truly remarkable. Designed to blend into the surrounding landscape, it rises from the sand like a mirage and reflects the impressive natural landscapes of Alula, Maraya is the centrepiece of AlUla's growing cultural scene and is just a short distance away from some of our incredible AlUla hotels.
At one with its environment, the venue is a place of culture, commerce and celebration, hosting music events, global conferences and innovative exhibitions. While the building stands alone as an artistic statement, it was also designed to be a fully functioning multi-purpose venue, with performances from global superstars as Andrea Bocelli, Lionel Richie, Enrique Iglesis and Westlife. Hoping to become the centrepiece of AlUla's growing cultural scene, Maraya is set to announce more concerts, pop-up events and art residency programmes for the 2023/24 season.
To find out more about this incredible destination, please view our destination guide or for more inspirational content, make sure you check out the rest of our luxury online travel magazine, Elegant Traveller!