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. The ancient Ghamid and Zahran tribes forged a unique cultural identity in the area, building 1,001 stone qasbah lookout towers that are only found here, as well as setting up a bustling souq. But the real joy is driving out of the city on hairpin mountain bends, past apricot and pomegranate orchards, into the 40 or so forests that surround the city. The road to the famous marble village of Dhee Ayn — through Tolkienesque valleys and past ruined towers — is almost as spectacular as the site itself.
Built on a white marble outcrop in the epic Bidah Valley, south of Al Baha, Dhee Ayn looks like an Arabian citadel has arrived on a Tuscan hillside. Often called the Marble Village, the cuboid buildings were made of stone and slate more than 400 years ago, and abandoned sometime in the 1980s. Exploring its narrow pathways today is an eerily beautiful experience, especially during the golden hours, when the light reflects on the white marble and the colorful mountains in the background.
In the cool Sarawat mountains west of the city, Raghadan Forest Park was once a wilderness area but has been sensitively adapted for visitors, with a paved trail up into forested hills populated by impish baboons. From the top of the path, there are beautiful views of the surrounding mountains and valleys, including the winding road that leads to Dhee Ayn. Food stalls and barbecues mean it’s possible to do as the locals do, and dine up in the hills as the sun goes down.
Nestled halfway to the peak of Jebel Mussala Ibrahim is the hidden village of Sheda, offering dramatic views across the green cliffs and valleys of the Sarawat mountains. The picturesque drive up its slopes passes ancient, stone-made houses that dot the roadside, offering a glimpse of a time and communities past.
Where to stay: Book into the traditional-style Capital O 309 Al-Faleh Hotel near the Alamalad Castle; the modern Saf Hotel amid the wild landscapes south of town; or, further down the road, the slick National Park Hotel, Baljurashi.
Where to eat: Try Fifth Season for sizzling seafood platters; Signature for fresh raw fruit juices; Backyard Cafe for Arabic coffee and local dishes; and 65 Burger for slick, American-style burgers and fried chicken.
Where to have fun: A drive along King Fahd’s Mountain Pass affords some of the best views in Al Baha, taking in scenic villages and deep valleys. For a glimpse of the Al Baha of old, tour the region’s ancient gold mining sites, before camping under the stars in the lush forests of Raghadan National Park.
Learn more: MyTrip’s tours include visits to the marble village of Dhee Ayn and Raghadan forest, while Go Zahid also includes the Al Baha Museum. Bondai’s 4WD trips feature a hike up Shada Mountain.
The northeastern city of Tabuk has long been a resting point for Jordanian and Egyptian pilgrims, with a rich Bedouin culture that can be felt in the bustling Souq Twaheen, which still supplies patterned rugs and goat-hair tent covers for modern nomads.