Winter vignettes

Alisha Shinde
Sunday, 8 December 2019

Phillip J Jones, chief destination marketing officer,Royal Commission of AlUla, gives us an insight into the Winter at Tantora festival and states why one must attend it

Following a successful debut in 2018, Winter at Tantora, the cultural festival celebrating incredible art, music, culture and history against the timeless backdrop of AlUla, will return on December 19 with an exciting new line-up of performers, experiences and events. The festival invites arts and culture aficionados from around the globe to enjoy and experience a unique event that is rooted in AlUla, home to Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site; Hegra. 

Now in its second year, the Winter at Tantora festival features an array of activities and excursions for fans of music and culture as well as adventure seekers, history lovers and sports enthusiasts. The festival will also host the AlUla Balloon Festival, vintage aircraft flights, the second largest endurance horse race in the world, culinary experiences curated by Michelin starred chefs, traditional souks as well as luxury brand pop-ups. Complementing this will be tours of over 2000 years-old sites that will be brought to life using state-of-the-art AR technology.

Phillip J Jones, chief destination marketing officer, Royal Commission of AlUla, gives us an insight into the festival and states why one must attend it. 

Jones explains that Winter at Tantora is a one-of-a-kind cultural festival held in AlUla County in North-West Saudi Arabia which is home to archaeological treasures, natural beauty and magnificent monuments that span millennia. AlUla is a place of extraordinary natural beauty and rich cultural heritage. The festival is a haven for all art, culture, food and travel lovers, he says.

Talking about the experiences at the festival, Jones says that there is a little something for everyone. “The festival offers an array of activities and excursions that pertain to history, culture, gastronomy, adventure, sports, arts, and unique experiences like vintage aircrafts, vintage cars, balloon festival, and the second largest endurance race in the world — Fursan Endurance Race. While all these elements of the festival are breath-taking, it also includes the star-studded line-up at the dazzling Maraya Concert Hall, which would host legends like Andrea Bocelli, Il Divo, Lionel Richie and Enrique among many more and I feel most would enjoy the hospitality and true ingenuity of the people of AlUla,” adds Jones. 

He explains that the festival offers a plethora of activities like the hot air balloon festival, vintage aircraft flights, desert x, immersive heritage site tours, eco-trail and desert polo among others. “One could also enjoy cultural experiences at Wadi Al Qura and the farms that show you the local way of life. There are experiences curated to enjoy meals created by Michelin starred chefs, devour local street food from around the world, and savour wold-class cuisines from some of the biggest restaurants and cafés in the world,” says Jones.  

The diverse festival programme also includes Egyptian composer, pianist and conductor Omar Khairat (December 27) and Greek pianist Yanni (February 7) as well as a number of chart-topping international artists. All performances will take place in the Maraya Concert Hall, a state-of-the-art 500-seat facility with a mirrored facade, which emerges like a mirage in the ancient rocky landscape. 

The venue will host the headline performers as well as the Celebration of Beethoven (January 4- 6), a homage to the great German composer on the 250th anniversary of his birth and the multi-media theatrical production Jameel Buthainah (February 14), a caracella dance inspired by the glory and history of AlUla.

When asked what the itinerary should be like while visiting AlUla, Jones points out that since the festival has something for everybody, every weekend will be different. “Experience a bit of everything from history to culture, from art to fashion, and from various cuisines to breath-taking adventures through our diverse activities, though we’d recommend always having enough time to lay back and unwind by the gorgeous landscapes of AlUla and immersing oneself in the wonderful sound of silence,” he says. 

Since the festival will be held on every weekend between December 19 and March 7, 2020, people should consider these dates while booking the travel essentials. 

Jones points out that AlUla is easily accessible by road and air. By car, the trip is around 3 hours from Al Madinah, and 4 hours from Tabuk and Hail. Commercial flights are just 1.30 hours from Riyadh and 1.10 hours from Jeddah. “You can stay at Sahari Desert Camp, Shaden Resort or Ashar Resort which allows you to enjoy the majesty of AlUla’s landscape from your doorstep while enjoying five-star comfort. Sahari is great if you have a pre-defined budget and Shaden gives a calm and quaint vibe,” Jones concludes.

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