The southern endpoint of the Red Sea coast, Abha is the culturally rich capital of the Asir region, and a great base for exploring this mountainous part of the kingdom. The city has plenty to explore, from the mud-walled Shada Palace, now a museum, to the lake and amusement park by the five-star Abha Palace Hotel. There are vibrant traditional markets in Abha and sister city Khamis Mushait, and historic neighborhoods like Al Nasb and Al Basta. More broadly, this is a place to get immersed in the unique culture of the Asir region, whether exploring the Al Muftaha art village or learning about the customs of tribes in the spectacular nearby villages of Al Habala and Rijal Almaa.
One of Saudi Arabia’s more curious landmarks, Jebel Thera — better known as the Green Mountain — is a peak in the south of Abha, lit at night by neon green lights that emit a warm emerald glow across the city. The best way to get to the summit is by cable car, where there’s a Lebanese restaurant and cafe with a terrace and panoramic views.
The hanging village of Al Habala is a curious wonder. A series of sandstone houses perched on the ledge of a sheer cliff, it was built almost 400 years ago by the Qahtan tribe, who reached the village by rope ladder (the name comes from ‘habal’, the Arabic term for rope). They lived here self-sufficiently until the 1980s, working small terraced farms. Today, there’s a cable car to the village from May to October, and visitors are greeted at the top by Qahtani men wearing traditional flower garlands.
Abha’s bohemian arts center, Al Muftaha Village is a beautiful little quarter around a mosque daubed with calligraphy. Little galleries showcase the work of regional craftspeople and artists, whose work is often colorful and figurative. Walls are daubed with bright murals, many nodding to the geometric patterns that Asiri women would traditionally paint their homes with. Small museums either side of the mosque tell the story of Abha’s artistic heritage, including how the status of local families was defined by the quality of the murals in their homes.
Where to stay: Take your pick from the iconic Abha Palace, with its glass pyramid and large spa overlooking Lake Saadd; the contemporary Bayat by Cristal; or the business-friendly Mercure Khamis Mushait in the city’s east.
Where to eat: Opt for Nahran at the Abha Palace for Arabic dishes and lake views; the Green Mountain Restaurant for local classics in an iconic spot; N Lounge for quality western dishes; and the revolving restaurant at the Assalam Palace Hotel.
Learn more: Amazing Tours’ Islands and Mountains trip ends at Abha, including the hanging village, while Bondai’s evening tours feature the Shada Palace and Green Mountain. Alboraq’s five-night tours pass through the city and also take in the famed Rijal Almaa village.
Both Abha and Al Baha will surprise you not only with their majestic mountains rising above 2000 meters and covered in greenery, but also with their cool and humid climate in summer.
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The coastal city of Wajh is famed for its unspoilt beaches to the north and south, and its Hijazi-style old town, which is like an uninhabited equivalent of Jeddah’s famous Al Balad.
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A journey to Al Baha is a journey to a different Saudi Arabia. In a Kingdom that’s often characterized by ochre desert, this high-altitude city is a place of ancient towers, lush forests and winding valleys.
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