According to the tourist adverts, the Austria lake resort of Zell am See is: “Paradise as the Quran intended”.
The slogan is a calculated attempt to attract Middle Eastern visitors, especially from the Arabian Gulf, to a landscape of snow-capped mountains, green fields and forests and the clear lake waters that reflect it all.
And it seems to have succeeded.
As photographer Marieke Van Der Velden and writer Saskia Adriaens discovered, around 70,000 Arab visitors now flock to the Alpine resort during the summer months, escaping the heat at home.
Locals have become accustomed to the sight of niqab-wearing tourists since the first Arabs arrived 10 years ago. They walk among the trees, enjoy boat trips on the lake and take a chair lift to the 3,203 metre high Kirzsteinhorn glacier where there is snow even in July and August. Several restuarants now specialist in Middle Eastern dishes, while honey sales for souvenirs has soared.
“What New York is to westerners, Zell am See is for the Arabs. Here is where you must go and then proudly tell that to your friends and family,” says Hatam, a lawyer from Oman on holiday with his wife, Fouzia. “On Facebook and Twitter this place is promoted. Everyone wants to come here.”
Nouri, from Saudi Arabia, is sledding with her sons and enjoys the experience more than her children.
“They just think that it is cold here,” she says, with a laugh. “I think it is wonderful because in my country it is now 50 degrees and in the summertime all you can do is stay inside.”