Sweltering Saudis escape to mountainous 'City of Fog'

Mist covers the sky at an elevation 2800 metres above sea level at the Jabal Marir Mount Marir park in al-Namas in Saudi Arabia  Asir province on August 16 2022 As Saudi Arabia swelters in temperature
Mist covers the sky at an elevation 2800 meters above sea level, at the Jabal Marir (Mount Marir) park in al-Namas in Saudi Arabia's Asir province on August 16, 2022. (Photo: AFP)
AL-NAMAS, Saudi Arabia — As Saudi Arabia swelters in sizzling desert temperatures, some escape to the "City of Fog" — a mountainous oasis of cool where warm clothing is needed even in summer.اضافة اعلان

Sitting with friends on a picnic blanket under light rain and a thick, swirling mist in Al-Namas, Abdullah Al-Enizi wears a body warmer over his traditional white robes to guard against the chill.

The retreat, 2,800 meters above sea level in Saudi Arabia's rugged south, starkly contrasts to other parts of the vast, desert country where summer heat of up to 50 Celsius is an annual challenge.

At Al-Namas, humid monsoon weather keeps temperatures below 30 degrees Celsius, dropping as low as 15 degrees Celsius at night as fog blocks out the sun over verdant hills.

"It's 46 degrees in Riyadh and only 20 here, it's 26 degrees lower," says Al-Enizi at the holiday destination, about 850 kilometers southwest of the Saudi capital.

"We're escaping the heat. Here, it's cool, and the rain and fog are here nearly all the time," added the semi-retired Saudi, 45, who drove about 12 hours from Riyadh.

Around his group of friends, families enjoy the breeze as their children run around in the fresh air rather than being cooped up in their air-conditioned houses as usual elsewhere in the country.

Clusters of holidaymakers in raincoats and woolly hats sip Arabic coffee and crowd under umbrellas while kites flutter in the wind.

"Before we came, we packed all our winter things!" says Nouf, who did not want to give her surname while cleaning up her daughter's coat.

Tourist authorities have built a "fog road" for hikers and cyclists traversing a high summit that overlooks the mist-shrouded mountains.

Khalaf Al-Juheiri traveled to Al-Namas with his wife and children from Tabuk, in Saudi Arabia's north, to enjoy the "cool weather."

"We really miss this weather when the temperature goes over 40 degrees in summer" in Tabuk, said the 33-year-old civil servant, covering his head against the rain.

Visit Saudi
In 2020, a study published by Science Advances magazine showed that the Gulf region has the hottest and most humid climate on the planet.

Because of global warming, some Gulf cities could become uninhabitable before the end of this century, experts say.

Al-Namas escapes the worst of the increasing heat thanks to its altitude and strong winds, says Hassan Abdullah, a Jordan-based official from the WASM weather technology company.

It has become a prized destination at a time when Saudi authorities, searching for additional income streams apart from oil, are heavily promoting domestic and international tourism. 

The 'Visit Saudi' promotion is in full swing just three years after tourist visas were first made available for foreign visitors in 2019.

As plane fares surged after the pandemic, Saudi families spent around $21.3 billion on domestic travel last year, a 30 percent increase from 2019, ministry of tourism figures show.

"Summer is the peak tourist season, going from May to October," says Abdullah Al-Shahri, a hotelier at Al-Namas, where winter temperatures sometimes plunge to zero degrees.

At the top of a hill that overlooks the green valley, Mushabab Al-Omari sits next to his wife.

"I've been here nearly three months," says the retiree, "and I'm ready to stay another four or five months if the weather stays like this."

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