AlUla hosts an innovative photographic exhibition

From romantic getaways to last-minute gifts, Saudi Arabia has Valentine’s Day covered

JEDDAH: Valentine’s Day, the annual celebration of romance and love, is upon us, bringing with it the usual flurry of greeting cards, dinner reservations, huge boxes of chocolates and lavish bouquets of roses.

Once firmly banned in Saudi Arabia and seen as inconsistent with Gulf Arab values, the holiday is now celebrated in the Kingdom with romantic gestures, an abundance of gift options and commercial travel deals designed to make the momentous occasion.

From dining experiences in world-class restaurants to scenic getaways and getaways in the Arabian wilderness, the Kingdom now offers couples courting a vast selection of romantic adventures, right on their doorstep.

The island of Farasan in the province of Jazan, in the south-west of Saudi Arabia. (Shutterstock)

While many might consider Paris, the original ‘city of love’, the obvious destination for a last-minute Valentine’s Day excursion, Saudi Arabia offers its own romantic retreats, where couples can get away from it all. hustle and bustle of big cities and focus entirely on each other.

Take the Farasan Islands for example. With over 170 islands spread across the southwest Red Sea, it’s a playground for nature lovers looking for a long weekend without having to leave the region.

An old mosque stands in an old village in the Farasan Islands. (Shutterstock)

Bright blue waters are complemented by pristine, pristine beaches, mangrove forests, spectacular coral reefs and abundant wildlife. Dubbed “habitat hotspots”, the islands were the first place in the Kingdom to be listed as a protected biosphere reserve.

Visitors who take the opportunity to snorkel in the crystal clear waters may see dolphins playing in the waves, spot flocks of flamingos paddling through sparkling shallows, and perhaps even spot giant but serene dugongs drifting between the mangroves.

The islands are not entirely untouched by humans. Ruins of an ancient Ottoman fortress, stone remains resembling Roman columns and old whitewashed houses built in the unique local style have, like all good relationships, stood the test of time.

However, the islands remain largely untouched by modern development and so hotel options are limited. But what better way to truly enjoy the area’s natural beauty and the company of your loved one than by camping on an unspoilt beach under a blanket of stars.

If a cooler climate is more your thing, then heading north to the majestic AlUla Valley and mountains might be more appealing. Indeed, it is the land of the timeless story of Jamil and Buthainah’s forbidden love.

Extraordinary sandstone landscapes are home to extraordinary cultural and natural heritage, surrounded by unique beautiful rock formation that you can only find in AlUla. (Shutterstock)

Since the region opened up to the world in 2018, accommodation options have sprung up throughout AlUla, sensitively designed to blend in with the natural surroundings.

From Harrat’s viewpoint, visitors can take in sweeping vistas of the area’s former farming communities and catch a beautiful sunset over AlUla’s old town. For more active and adventurous travelers, attractions include ziplining, scenic desert sand rides, and a chance to explore ancient monuments from the Dedan and Lihyan civilizations.

Caravan sites and designated campgrounds offer visitors the opportunity to experience an atmospheric night under the stars. If you prefer the comforts of home, AlUla also offers luxury hotels and exceptional dining experiences at Annabel’s, Al-Mahkar, Circolo and Myazu.

For those who left too late to book a weekend, many Saudi gift services are available at the click of a button. Flowers, chocolates and balloons, for example, can be delivered using smartphone apps such as Floward, Joi Gifts, Little Flora, Arabian Flora and Ferns N Petals. Meanwhile, bespoke gifts can be ordered through messaging apps such as The Chefs, Marsool and To You.

Inside Annabel’s restaurant in AlUla. (Provided)

Then, of course, there’s the traditional option of a romantic meal for two. One of the main recommendations is the Greek cuisine offered at Opa, the new restaurant to open in Riyadh Oasis in the heart of the Nafud desert.

Meanwhile, serving locations from London to Jeddah, Novikov offers some of the best Asian cuisine in the region, prepared in an open kitchen that allows diners to watch the talented team of chefs create exquisite dishes before their very eyes.

With so many Valentine’s Day options available for Saudis in love to make that big romantic gesture, Cupid’s arrow certainly can’t fail to hit the mark.

Stewart C. Hartline