Nofa Riyadh: An Ideal Saudi Staycation
Nofa Riyadh: An Ideal Saudi Staycation
With its safari experience and range of activities, the luxe, lush oasis makes for a memorable getaway
Words: George Charles Darley
If you fancy an African safari experience this Eid but aren’t keen on long flights, bumpy dirt roads or the threat of being consumed by a hungry lion, one attractive and easy solution is Nofa Riyadh, A Radisson Collection Resort.
The luxury destination, some 100km west of the capital, was originally a private weekend retreat, inspired by the owners’ visits to upscale safari parks in South Africa. Converted in 2018 to a commercial property in partnership with Radisson Collection, Nofa maintains the African theme with its bungalows, villas and common areas designed in the thatched circular style as seen in villages across Kenya, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. Yet it offers all the mod cons to be expected from an experience that ranges from SAR2,500 to SAR15,000 per night.
It takes me only an hour to reach Nofa from central Riyadh, passing through the dramatic manmade gorge of the Tuwaiq escarpment and entering the property directly from the highway. The imposing gates slowly open, and I drive through the biggest expanse of cultivated grass I have ever seen – some 500m of green carpeting on either side of the private road. This continues for at least 2km and leads to an open range populated by herds of zebra, giraffe, elephants and buffalo. Ostriches roam around in their dorky fashion, and I spot a feline creature in the distance – perhaps a cheetah.
A second gate, decorated by oversized elephant tusk sculptures, provides access to Nofa’s residential area with its profusion of flowers, bushes and trees. The reception and adjacent sitting room is a showcase of all things African, featuring an array of well-curated antiques. Details include armchairs upholstered with alligator and zebra skins, animal sculptures and cowhide mats. Not exactly in tune with contemporary ideas about conservation… but certainly impressive and beautiful.
After my car was whisked off by a valet, I was taken to my bungalow on a little electric buggy – an essential means of transport in Nofa. Occupying no less than 25 sq m, the zippy vehicles are only a phone call away at any time of day or night.
The one-bedroom bungalow has a rustic and high-end feel, with a queen-size bed under a white cotton canopy, thatched roof supported by interconnected tree trunks, spacious bathroom and a host of African-themed paintings and sculptures. The private bamboo-walled garden outside is just delightful, with its little dining area, abundance of climbing bougainvillea and kidney-shaped pool.
Within minutes I’m submerged in the cool blue water. Under the balmy late afternoon sun, surrounded by greenery and lulled by a gentle cacophony of birdsong, the concrete jungle of Riyadh seems like a million miles away.
For all its comfort and sophistication, this is only entry-level. The luxury villas offer a living room, choice antique furniture, outdoor terrace with comfortable seating and bigger lawn – not to mention the swimming pool featured in every one of the guest houses. Top of the range is the two-bedroom Royal Villa with its private kitchen, dressing room, whirlpool bath, goldfish pond and 510 sq m garden.
All of this clearly requires a great deal of water to maintain. Fortunately, the property is situated above a natural underground aquifer and is supplied by piped tap water from Riyadh.
As evening descends, I embark upon on a meandering buggy tour of the property. I’m shown the conference and banqueting halls – each with a capacity of 1,000 – and after pausing to witness a flock of elegant pink flamingos, I continue to the big outdoor swimming pool and its adjacent waterfall. The pool is surrounded by canopied mattresses, and stairways in various directions lead through lush greenery to a hookah lounge, a tea room and a breakfast room, each with indoor and outdoor seating. As with all the bungalows and villas, everything is on ground level, easing access for the disabled.
Reclining at sunset on a brightly patterned armchair with a cup of Earl Grey tea, I’m charmed by the sight of guinea fowl madly chasing one another around the manicured lawns. There is a sense of all being right in the world.
Next, I inspect the entertainment centre with its indoor swimming pool, cinema (showing several movies a day), bowling alley, huge climbing frame for kids and games room, featuring table tennis, pool tables and video game consoles. There really is no shortage of fun pastimes for all the family – but it’s the spa I’m in the mood for. Run by Amani of South Africa, whose mission is “the empowerment of wellness, enhancing physical, mental and emotional wellbeing,” the ladies’ and gents’ areas offer massage and steam rooms, plunge pools, a curative salt room and chillout areas.
In a state of physical bliss after my half-hour deep tissue massage, I’m ready for dinner. I have the choice of an international buffet in the casual African eatery, Tswalu, something more carnivorous at The Butcher’s Den, or fine dining at the Aji Sushi Lounge. I can’t resist the Japanese option. The tuna sashimi and prawn sushi are fresh and succulent, and their aesthetic presentation, in lacquered bowls and intricately carved wooden vessels, lives up to Aji’s mission to “reinvent Japanese dining.”
Back at my bungalow, I enjoy an after-dinner poolside espresso, the subtle lighting giving the garden a bewitching night-time vibe. And after a good long sleep in that oversized bed, I’m served a generous al fresco breakfast spread of cheese omelette, toast, fresh fruit slices and filter coffee. This all gives me the energy I need for the various activities in store: safari excursions, horse and camel riding and the 18-hole golf course, to mention just a few.
So close to Riyadh, and yet a universe away, it’s no wonder that Nofa is popular with families, honeymooners, corporate groups and solo travellers in search of a memorable experience, or a unique Eid staycation.
Hotel Address: Riyadh-Makkah Highway, Exit 857, Riyadh, 66223
Price from: SAR2,500 per night
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