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A new three times a week Flynas flight from Dubai to AlUla opens up the ‘largest living museum’ to the world

- Melanie Swan

Direct flights from the UAE to the historical destinatio­n of AlUla in Saudi Arabia launched at the weekend, opening up one of the Gulf’s most mysterious and untouched destinatio­ns, dubbed “the world’s largest living museum”.

Carrying about 80 passengers, including media, dignitarie­s and influencer­s, Flynas’s inaugural flight XY219 departed from Dubai Internatio­nal Airport’s Terminal 1 at 11.30am on Friday and landed in AlUla at 1.40pm. There will be three flights a week on the route, from Thursday to Saturday.

The area’s Hegra has been granted Unesco World Heritage status. More than 110 well-preserved tombs, ancient inscriptio­ns and carvings give visitors an insight into a bygone era in the country’s dramatic orange and red-hued desert landscape.

Features such as the giant geological Elephant Rock formation have also been tempting visitors to the area in recent years, but accessibil­ity has been a challenge, with travellers having to drive long distances from the kingdom’s major airports to reach the remote region. More than seven hours from Jeddah and 10 hours from Riyadh, AlUla has been an isolated adventure. Now the new three-hour flight from Dubai with Flynas offers internatio­nal visitors a taste of this mysterious destinatio­n.

Roman influence is apparent at AlUla in the form of defensive walls that once encircled the city. Pilgrims, travellers and settlers have passed through and congregate­d in its Old Town since it was first inhabited before 12th century.

Not yet ready for mass tourism, the area has only a handful of hotels, as well as camping spots, but independen­t travel is not advised. There are limited modes of transport available and group travel is still the recommende­d way of seeing the area.

AlUla has been establishi­ng itself not only as a historical destinatio­n in recent years, but also a cultural one, with a host of internatio­nal artists performing at outdoor concerts such as the Winter at Tantora festival and at the majestic mirrored Maraya Concert Hall, where Andrea Bocelli recently performed a sold-out gig.

The concert hall is also home to Michelin-lauded chef Jason Atherton’s newest restaurant, Maraya Social. Its menu uses produce sourced from local farms, “all served up in Atherton’s signature style”.

Other newly launched routes from Flynas include two weekly flights that will connect Kuwait to the recently upgraded AlUla Airport, which in February gained “internatio­nal” status. Though it now has capacity for 400,000 passengers a year, it is more of a large room than an airport with a small team of staff, meaning things can take time and services are limited.

On the accommodat­ion front, internatio­nal brand Habitas opened a boutique eco-resort in AlUla two weeks ago, offering an array of

AlUla has been establishi­ng itself as a historical and cultural destinatio­n

cultural and wellness programmes for visitors. The villa property is set amid the dramatic rocky landscape.

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

The Royal Commission for AlUla has big plans for the area. The Journey Through Time masterplan launched by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, chairman of the commission, lays out plans to welcome two million visitors annually by 2035.

While it might not quite compare to Jordan’s Petra, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, AlUla does offer a unique doorway into Saudi Arabia and will appeal to travellers of all types.

Visitors must show both a PCR negative result as well as vaccinatio­n status, and register online and download the local Covid app. A negative PCR test result is also necessary for non-Emiratis returning to the UAE. Visas can be bought easily and quickly online.

 ?? ?? Hegra area at Madain Saleh in AlUla has been granted Unesco World Heritage status
Hegra area at Madain Saleh in AlUla has been granted Unesco World Heritage status

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