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Adventures in Arabia: Laure Boulleau and Jean Imbert travel to an unknown land

New personalities, new programme, same formula. This time, former PSG and French national team footballer Laure Boulleau and Plaza Athénée chef Jean Imbert travel to Saudi Arabia to discover a little-known culture, followed by Antonin Broutard’s cameras. “Aventures d’Arabie” is a documentary full of surprises, fully available on YouTube, on the Discovery UK and Food Network UK channels.

After immortalising Pierre Sang and Cédric Grolet’s trip to the west coast of the country last year, film-maker Antonin Broutard is back for a second documentary, this time accompanying former footballer Laure Boulleau to one of the world’s least-known countries, Saudi Arabia, where she will soon be joined by Michelin-starred chef Jean Imbert. A series of encounters and an itinerary based on themes dear to both protagonists: sport and gastronomy.



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Taming the capital

This time, the adventure begins in Riyadh, the country’s capital. Among the gleaming towers of the King Abdullah Financial District, the business district, a few young women are playing ball. Among them, it’s easy to spot the blonde mane of the former France left-back. But she is not alone. “I’ve already had the opportunity to come to Arabia and meet the players of the Saudi national football team. It’s a real pleasure to meet them again today, to talk to them again. Football is a universal language.

These players are from one of the country’s leading clubs: Al-Hilal. Invited to their stronghold for a relaxing game of football, the Frenchwoman got some news, and the news was good. And the news is good, reflecting the wind of change blowing through the country’s youth. “We’ve just joined the very first women’s league in Saudi Arabia. It’s immensely satisfying to know that we’re helping to write the country’s history. Our goal in a few years’ time is to go to the World Cup!

And while the women are playing football, the men are in the kitchen! In Diriyah, the quiet historic district on the outskirts of the bustling capital, Jean Imbert met Hadeel AlMutawa, the owner of the Takya restaurant, a milestone in Riyadh gastronomy, where tradition meets modernity. “I love the fact that the cuisine here is authentic, full of flavour and reminds me of my grandmother’s,” he says.



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The bivouac, a Saudi tradition if ever there was one

After this first stop, he meets up with Saudi chef Douha Abdullah Al Otaishan, who takes him to lose himself in the local markets. Arms full of victuals, from sun-drenched vegetables to thin slices of local bread, they head off into the neighbouring desert to bivouac and prepare the traditional recipe for Margug, a hearty lamb and vegetable stew seasoned with various spices and dried limes, to which disks of bread dough are added to make the dish creamier.

Gathering around a campfire in the middle of the desert is one of the most deeply rooted traditions in Saudi society. An ancestral practice, elevated to the rank of an art form, it is known as Kashta, and it persists despite the country’s meteoric modernisation.

Getting lost in the green mountains

Next stop, the Asir mountains, and more specifically the village of Rijal Almaa, in the south-west of the country. This is one of the most picturesque places in the world, in the middle of a mountain range that is as dazzlingly green as it is unexpected, in a country best known for its vast deserts.

On the programme: walking and cycling for the sportswoman, sometimes accompanied by the Abha biking club, sometimes by guide and influencer Aziz Walks. And for the chef, more and more culinary experiences, discovering the ancestral cooking techniques of the local populations, or the many varieties of honey produced by Saudi artisans.

With barely enough time to soak up the typical architecture of this small mountain village, with its stone houses, quartz decorations and multicoloured wall paintings, it’s already time to set off again. For Jean Imbert, it’s off to Paris, with a head full of new ideas, and for Laure Boulleau, it’s on to Riyadh, where a genuine ersatz of the Saudi way of life awaits her: outdoor activities in the desert!



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The desert, or the power of infinity

In every direction, sand as far as the eye can see. Speechless, the young woman ponders the immensity. Her guide, who is taking her buggy-riding in the dunes, reassures her. “We Saudis have to learn to tame the desert because it is part of our culture, part of our identity. Sometimes, even often, we get lost, but this time we have no fear, I know exactly where we are and how to get back.

After this thrilling episode, Laure Boulleau headed for one of the Kingdom’s most beautiful panoramas, located in the middle of the desert just a stone’s throw from Riyadh: the “Edge of the World” cliffs. Here, Laure Boulleau meets up with Raha Moharrak, the first Saudi woman to have climbed Everest, for a hike along these vertiginous cliffs, a final experience of the Saudi way of life before heading back to Paris with stars in her eyes.

The documentary Arabian Adventures, starring Laure Boulleau and Jean Imbert, is fully available on YouTube, on the Discovery UK and Food Network UK channels.

See also

‘Climatonauts’ put to the test in the Saudi desert

Published on 2 June 2023

#Arabie Saoudite

#Saudi Arabia