As everyone begins to rediscover the joys of planning a vacation post-Ramadan, we take a look at one MCC member’s culture-filled visit to Medina
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With travel firmly back on the agenda this year, thoughts are turning to post-Ramadan and summer vacations. But where to go? You could try starting with one of the nicest historical cities in the country, just a short hop by air from the capital.
Riyadh resident and MCC member Khalid Salman, 26, is already a keen walker who records his favorite routes on his instagram page for others to follow, but in January 2022, he traveled to Medina, an hour and a half from Riyadh by air or about eight hours by car. This historic holy city is home to the Prophet’s Mosque and the Quba Mosque, both built by the prophet Muhammad and both of immense importance in Islam.
There are also many other sights to see in this ancient place, and Khalid wanted to see as much as possible, so he asked MCC to help him plan the trip. One of the great advantages of being an MCC member is the chance to use its bespoke concierge service, covering shopping, travel and exclusive partner benefits both at home and abroad. We caught up with Khalid after his return, to ask for his impressions.
How did you get there and how long was your trip?
We flew from Riyadh – a very smooth journey – and stayed for three days and two nights.
Where did you stay?
At the Oberoi. It has direct access to the Prophet’s Mosque from all floors via a separate lift and entrance. We had specifically asked to stay there but we also had a look at the Intercontinental Dar Al Iman which was nice, and I think MCC recommends it as well – it also has direct access to the Mosque.
The Oberoi’s service was really good. It is perhaps a little dated but they mentioned that they are working on a complete renovation which had been delayed due to covid.
Where else did you visit in Medina?
Apart from the Prophet’s Mosque, we visited Quba Mosque. Quba road which connects the Prophet’s Mosque and Quba mosque is lovely for a walk. It is really picturesque, fully pedestrianized and has many traditional shops and cafés. It is also very lively at night. We also went to Jabal Ohud garden where you can get great views of the city.
Are there any cafés or restaurants you would recommend?
Medina is known for its local delicacies which I would really recommend. Shreik bread is really popular. It’s a bagel-like bread made from chickpea flour, crispy on the outside and very soft on the inside! The best place to try it is at local favorite Kaki Bakeries. Medina is famous for traditional sweets and desserts, many of which have been inspired by flavors from all around the world as a result of the pilgrims visiting the city. We went to Bardisi Sweets which was delicious. I would also recommend HBQ Café which specializes in tea. Medina is celebrated for its mint leaves and ‘habaq’ leaves. This cafe incorporates these flavors into its own speciality teas. For our main meals, however, we ate in the hotel most of the time.
What was the highlight of your trip?
Undoubtedly the Harrat Khaybar lava field tour that MCC arranged for us. There is so much to see – the stunning Umm Jirsan cave is a destination within itself. The guides MCC organized really made the trip special as we wouldn’t have known many of the places and how to access them without them. To be shown the cave by the team that discovered it was an experience unlike any other. It was like being in a National Geographic documentary!
The Umm Jirsan cave was amazing. It is a 1,500-meter-long lava tube cave in Harrat Khaybar which dates back 7,000 years. It is around an hour and a half’s drive north of Medina.
I had read about the caves online and was eager to visit. The tour exceeded our expectations, as it included much more than we had anticipated. Our guide was excellent and he recommended that we stop at the pre-Islamic Sahba dam on the way, which was amazing. He explained about the history of the dam and the significant historical incidents that happened in the area from Prophet Muhammad’s time. We then continued to the cave where we met members of the Saudi Geological Survey, including Mahmoud Al Shanti, who discovered the cave itself. They guided us through the cave and explained all about its geological features, wildlife, and historical civilisations that interacted with the cave over the years.
They also took us to different parts of the lava field and explained about its minerals and natural properties. We even stopped by a dormant volcanic crater! Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to stop by Jabal Al Abyad (the tallest volcano in Saudi Arabia) which is unusually white due to its minerals. We did manage to see it from a distance and it looked like a large snow peak in the middle of the black lava field. The guides said they would be very happy to show us around the volcano during another visit.
Would you recommend a guided visit to the caves?
Yes definitely, if you are in Medina for a couple of days it is very much worth it. The fact that it is in a volcanic field makes it a completely unique environment in which to spend some time. Our guide, Kayed, was really friendly, helpful, and informative. He catered to our schedule and even brought along refreshments and all the necessary walking and hiking gear.
Tell us about your experience with the MCC Bookings Team
The team (specifically Houria) was excellent. We decided to plan the trip at very short notice yet despite that, I did not feel I was in a rush. They were very flexible and gave me enough time to go back and forth with my group before securing the booking. Based on my experience, I am certain I would get the best service and insight from MCC for my next trips without the stress of looking for nice places to go and stay.
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