Saudi’s lesser-known Aseer region is a haven of hiking trails and hipster cafes. Book a hotel and a guide and explore Saudi’s tallest peaks – of which there are plenty.
At around 3000 metres, Al Soudah is Saudi’s highest mountain, thriving with luscious greenery. The rewards for treading its winding paths are epic panoramas at every turn.
Lifelong Aseer resident and local independent guide Zaki Al Arifi is as adept at mountain tours as he is at city excursions, revealing authentic Aseer layer by layer, from modern malls and street art to street markets and folk traditions.
Abha: A Culture-rich Capital
Abha, the capital, is a concentration of its finest attractions.
One of the most gratifying ways to experience Abha is by studying its mountaintops from the glass-bottomed Joy Venue cafe, artisan coffee in hand, perched on the cusp of Al Dhabbab Walkway, with baboons tight-roping along the railings.
Rousing vistas and designer cakes fuel further exploration. Art Street, a short drive away, just off King Khalid Road, is lined with yet more trendy cafes and decorated with colourful murals. Framed by rows of thick Jacaranda trees, the street blooms into a dramatic violet hue each May.
A turning off Art Street leads to Abha’s main market, an authentic retail experience serving the local community, but there are souvenirs to be had. Stock up on spices and try on a traditional local dress.
Follow the breadcrumbs of Aseer’s vibrant art history and you’ll find yourself at the Fatima Museum. This institute is dedicated to preserving Al Qat Al Asiri, Aseer’s female-led folk art used to decorate homes in a kaleidoscope of symbolic patterns.
Rijal Almaa: The Gingerbread Village
Further afield, discover the rich history of Rijal Almaa. Around an hour’s drive west of Abha, it’s known as the Gingerbread Village because the red brick buildings, with their icing-like window frames, look good enough to eat.
The resident Flower Men who hold festivals in the summer fascinate visitors with their floral crowns and age-old customs of playing the flutes, a pastime when herding their livestock, and dancing, a time-honoured way a celebrate.
Complete a tour of Rijal Almaa with a trip to the Bees Tower Honey Refinery, a charming honey farm and education centre with an alluring array of free samples. This golden nectar is a key ingredient in one of the local must-try dishes, areeka. Made with hot griddled dough and garnished with local dates, it’s smothered in sweet honey – a quintessential taste of Aseer.