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Al-Ahsa Oasis containing the city of Hofuf boasts a staggering estimate of one and a half million date palm trees, which has turned Hofuf into a leading producer of dates worldwide. The abundance of this sweet fruit isn't its only pride - Al-Ahsa has been inhabited from time immemorial due to its relatively favorable climate and abundance of natural water springs (Al-Jawhariah, Al-Khodoud and Um Sabah, as well as the Al-Harah hot springs), and traces of ancient life can still be seen in the archaeological sites scattered throughout the oasis. Some of the area's main attractions include the mysterious mountain caves of Qara, Ibrahim Palace (the province's main administrative center and architectural monument), the historic Al-Qaisariyah Market (one of the finest souks in the Kingdom) and Al-Ahsa National Park. Hofuf is located only an hour-long train ride away from the coastal town of Uqair known for its pristine beach, which makes for a perfect weekend seaside getaway.
The Al-Ahsa Oasis (Asia's largest) is an attraction of its own - the area has recently been nominated to officially become one of the Seven Wonders of the World due to its unique position at the crossroads of historic trade routes and natural diversity. A great way to get a bird's eye view of the oasis is to climb the Qara Mountain (do not miss the famous Qara Caves en route), from where the incredible sight of hundreds of thousands of date palms unfolds. In Hofuf, the must-dos are the authentic, well-preserved Qaisariah Souq, Ibrahim Palace and (for history buffs) the Al-Ahsa Museum for Antiquities and Heritage.
Grains such as wheat or rice and meats (mutton is common in the Eastern Province) constitute the bulk of Saudi cuisine (pork is normally not served in the country, as its consumption is forbidden by Islam). Milk is often used in local cooking, and dates constitute a dessert staple. A "Kabsa" dish made up of rice, fish and shrimp is typical of the area. There is no shortage of restaurants serving all manner of cuisines in Hofuf; most have separate designated areas for families and singles.
Dates reign king in foods typical of the Eastern Province, and dishes served at Hofuf's cafés are no exception. Molasses extracted from dates is used for preparing porridge (a local diet staple). Menus of most establishments (from small locales to international chains) feature date-based desserts. Much as elsewhere in Saudi Arabia, fruit juices and smoothies are very popular.
The cultural environment in Saudi Arabia is highly conservative. Religious law forbids the sale or consumption of alcohol throughout Saudi Arabia, so there are no bars or nightclubs. Instead evening social activities are centred on shopping or dining out in one of the city’s many restaurants or cafés whilst indulging in a delicious mocktail (a mix of fresh fruit juices) or strong Arabic coffee.
From one of Saudi Arabia's most famous historic souks to high-rise modern malls - there is no shortage of shopping opportunities in Hofuf. Locally produced products include, of course, dates and their derivatives, as well as clothing and textiles, coffee pots and jewelry. Please mind that some stores allow entry to women or families only (a sign will normally be displayed in the front window).
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