When the temperatures on the Persian Gulf reach into the hundreds, there is one spot locals prefer to escape the heat — and it’s not the beach.
The sparkling lake of Zell am See in Austria has become an increasingly popular tourist destination for those seeking to avoid the scorching weather in the Middle East.
In the summer, visitors from Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Iraq, and Oman all flock to this idyllic land of clear mountain lakes, towering icy peaks, and authentic schnitzel. Each year, nearly 70,000 tourists from the Gulf States visit the Austrian Alps, bringing an appreciated economic boost to the region.
Workers and residents of Zell am See happily welcome the yearly influx of Arabic travellers and are eager to share local customs and traditions — and learn a few themselves.
Dutch photographer Marieke van der Velden recently teamed up with journalist Saskia Adriaens to document a summer in this alpine wonderland touted as “the paradise” by travel agencies in the Middle East.
She has shared these stunning images from her series “Das Paradies” with us below, along with captions by Adriaens.
This family comes from Saudi Arabia where it is now 122º Fahrenheit, which is why the family searches for cooler temperatures here. The youngest child does not like the cold.
Khaled (policeman) and his wife Mariam (housewife) come from Dubai. Along with their four children Sumayah, Hamda, Abaid and Rashed, they have come for a ten-day holiday in Zell am See and following that a four-day holiday in Vienna. 'The children keep crying that their hands are cold,' Mariam says laughing.
Mariam is not bothered by the cold and proudly shows her arms which have been beautifully decorated with henna.
Mai from Kuwait is happy with her warm headscarf, she says. She is a teacher at a day-care center and Mohammed is studying for his Masters in Islamic History. Together they are on a three-week trip. 'People here are very nice.'
The 21-year-old Maryan comes from Dubai. 'We have camels instead of sleighs,' she says laughing. She is here along with her brother and his family.
Ahmad and Mona, both twenty and both lawyers, come from Kuwait. They are on their honeymoon and are having the time of their lives. 'This place is very famous! Everyone wants to come here!' They say that sometimes they feel that they're in Kuwait because there are so many Iraqis here.
Ali and Samira from Saudi-Arabia are having their picture taken with some of the local residents during the traditional feast 'Zell Edelweisen'. He is a mathematics teacher and she is a geography teacher. At first they thought that this was a wedding party, but when they got closer they could see that there were also tourists. 'We love it here because it's so nice and cool and there is no traffic in the city center.' Later on they will he headed for London to go shopping.
The 26-year-old Turki and his 22-year-old wife (not pictured) come from Saudi Arabia and are celebrating their fourth anniversary on this holiday. This is their first time going on holiday together. Turki: 'This is the best place I have ever been!' He had heard from his friends that he should come to Zell am See, but it far exceeds his expectations. One hour later Turki wins the second prize in the yodeling contest.
At the weekly traditional feast 'Zell Edelweisen' in the park by the lake local residents come together to dance and show their traditional costumes and music to the tourists.
By the waterfall Maryam from Oman poses for the picture. She is here with her husband Saleh for a week's holiday before they head to Salzburg. 'Everyone talks about this place. For us, it is paradise.'
Fouzia (financial accountant) from Oman is here on holiday with her husband of eight years, Hatam. While other tourists are enjoying a beer, they are drinking hot chocolate topped with whipped cream.
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