Saudi Arabia - Al Ula - Part 2

The monolithic Tomb of Lihyan - Hegra Credit:

As I mentioned yesterday Saudi Arabia is a dry country, mostly desert and little rain.

Dry in another way too as alcohol is banned, hence coffee takes centre stage. All the big names are here - Starbucks, Costa, Tim Horton’s and a myriad of cafes in shopping malls and the souqs all over the country. I expected Arabic coffee to be like Turkish coffee - but it’s completely different

Historians trace coffee back more than 1,000 years, when legend has it a 9th Century Ethiopian goat herder noticed the energizing effect that the bright red berries had on his flock. Chewing the fruit himself, he experienced a high and delivered the berries to a nearby monastery.

The monks disapproved of this stimulant and threw the berries into a fire, releasing an enticing aroma. Quickly salvaging the now roasted beans, the monks ground them and dissolved the powder in hot water - the rest, as they say, is history.

Saudi coffee is usually brewed with saffron, cinnamon, cardamom or cloves and served with great panache from a dallah (coffee pot) into a tiny finjal (cup). To balance its bitter flavour, coffee is usually served with something sweet, such as dates, nuts or candied fruit.


There is even a coffee shop set up at Elephant Rock - one of the astonishing rock formations located around Al Ula - we enjoyed the atmospheric music wafting through the air, relaxing on casual seating scattered about.

Top Left - The monolithic Tomb of Lihyan - Hegra’s largest at 72 feet tall, it was left unfinished with rough, unsmoothed chisel marks skirting the lower third; a natural rock formation takes the shape of a face in profile; Various rock formations including Elephant Rock and cafe. Photos: Jane

The 2.5 minute video below gives you an idea of the vast expanse of the landscapes, rock formations and incredible tombs carved into the rock faces.

Before leaving Al Ula we spent some time strolling through Old Town Market Street, mud brick buildings lined a wide boulevard following the footsteps of merchants who once traversed this ancient trade route.

As with everything in Saudi, the area is well designed and an attention to detail preparing for the huge expected boost in tourist trade, it will become just as busy as Petra.

Strolling through Al Ula old town. Photos: Jane

All too soon it was off to the airport for our flight to Riyadh. There are always a few camels about, we spotted some by the side of the road. Aziz stopped and we opened the window for photos. One inquisitive dromedary popped its head in - alas we didn’t have any tasty morsels to share with her!

Join me soon to explore Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia.