It’s 32km along the twisting road from Birkat al Mawz up to the plateau – a journey of around forty minutes. Some 6km beyond Birkat al Mawz, the road up to the Saiq plateau begins to climb in earnest. There’s a police checkpoint here, and if you’re not in a 4WD you’ll be forced to turn back – a shame, given that the wide and beautifully engineered road up into the hills would be perfectly feasible in a 2WD.

From here the road begins to hairpin dramatically upwards into the hills, with huge sweeps of rocky mountainside dotted with the small, hardy shrubs and trees – butt, wild olive and the occasional stately juniper – which manage to suck a living out of the bare rock. The mountains are a study in naked geology, formed out of huge slabs of limestone which have been tilted sideways over millions of years to produce the evenly sloping mountainsides and neat right-angle summits you see today, and whose colour changes according to the light from a sere, green-grey with occasional splashes of brownish-orange – a striking contrast to the much smaller and more irregularly shaped reddish ophiolite hills below. A series of viewpoints on the road up allows you to stop and admire increasingly expansive views.

 

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