“Beauty has an address.” Oman Tourist Board
When you book an impromptu mini break to one of the world’s top ten most instagrammable hotels you can’t help but have high expectations. Luckily on this occasion our expectations were blown away by the jaw dropping reality of the remote and spectacular, Alila Jabal Akhdar mountain top retreat.
The other half loves Oman and driving through it’s scenic mountains so I booked a three night stay at Jabal Akhdar, also known as The Green Mountain in Arabic, part of the Al Hajar mountain range accessible by four-wheel drive vehicle only. Collected at sunset from the base of the mountain from the Birkat Al Mouz checkpoint (everyone has to register at the base for safety purposes), we were whisked up the steep winding roads by one of the hotel’s drivers to 2,000 meters above sea level, the temperature gauge dropping with every twist and turn. The multi award-winning Alila Jabal Akhdar sits proudly atop the mountain overlooking a dramatic steep gorge, the scenery is quite simply breathtaking and reminded me of our visit to the Grand Canyon.
First impressions were good, it’s not only the stunning views that are impressive at this luxurious hotel but also the attention to detail in every aspect of the property. Its overall design and interiors perfectly reflect the property’s unique location and embrace the local culture, the facilities and cuisine are first-rate, the service is impeccable and the hotel is fully committed to sustainability and eco-tourism. Like all Alila hotels, the Oman property adopts EarthCheck operating standards that integrate the natural, physical and cultural elements of its environment.
The large lobby features an impressive oversized centralised fireplace reminiscent of a high-end ski lodge, I wanted to take ALL the rugs home (a detour on the way home to the Nizwa souk to purchase one proved to be disappointedly futile and rather sweaty). The roaring fire is surrounded by seating and shelving displaying age-old coffee pots and local Bahla ceramics, a small cultural corner offers traditional floor cushions and lanterns. There is also a library, majlis and the small Alila Living retail boutique.
In all honestly I was already impressed prior to our visit when I received a pre-arrival questionnaire designed to personalised our our stay. All of the eighty-six traditional Omani style suites and villas are arranged in clusters along the cliff top, the rugged style buildings are constructed from local stone that blend seamlessly with the surrounding rocky terrain.
Each accommodation comes with its own balcony or terrace, a little private sanctuary to relax and watch the dramatic sunrises (I even got up at 5am to witness it), colourful sunsets and are perfect for some stargazing too in the sky free of light pollution. It’s so peaceful, the air is fresh and the mountain breezes are most welcomed at this time of year.
Whilst it’s roasting hot at the base of the mountain it’s fifteen degrees cooler at the top which is a great selling point for those looking to escape the UAE’s summer temperatures. We stayed in a ground floor spacious Horizon suite, a charming contemporary space filled with environmentally friendly touches and traditional Omani textiles and accessories.
The comfortable king size bed was framed by a hand painted tree wall mural and storm lanterns. A separate corner seating area and walk-in dressing room were dressed with rustic warm toned and bold red textiles, vintage trunks and wall hangings. A most fabulous freestanding marble bathtub located in the window offerings an indulgent bubble bath with an uninterrupted view.
The separate toilet, walk-in rain shower and double sinks completed the enormous light filled bathroom separated from the main space by curtains in lieu of a door. The Alila Jabal Akhdar is an eco-friendly and sustainable resort that offers house water in glass bottles, 100% natural Juniper Berry and Rose Handmade Soap and Alila products, binoculars and a pillow menu.
The Juniper restaurant, named after the trees that are symbolic of the mountain and feature heavily throughout the resort, offers breakfast, lunch and dinner. The menus combine traditional Omani cuisine with Mediterranean flavours using fresh seasonal organic produce grown on the mountain and sourced from local farmers.
Jabal Akhdar is known as ‘the fruit bowl of Oman’ where pomegranates, walnut, and olives are in plentiful supply, the healthy menu that changes daily certainly reflects the region. The other half gorged on the Omani tasting menu that showcased marinated meats, seafood, curries, soups, salads and pide (akin to a pizza), while I choose the a la carte option.
Our half board package included daily breakfast and an impressive three-course dinner, the portions were generous, beautifully presented and quite delicious. The outdoor terrace is flanked by a water feature recreating the historic falaj irrigation system, a great alfresco dining spot that was sadly also a favourite of pesky mosquitoes, but customer comfort is key at this hotel so repellant is provided.
The restaurant staff, like everyone we encountered throughout the resort, were friendly and accommodating, we were most impressed with our dining experience, the recommendations and service we received and the personalised vegetarian dishes that I enjoyed. Unfortunately the beautifully rustic Rose Lounge, that’s adorned with hanging lanterns, was closed during Ramadan, yet another reason to return on another occasion.
Part of our package were spa credits at Spa Alila, a serene space with seven rooms offering a wide variety of treatments. I had a 75-minute Alila HER facial that included a full back and shoulder massage, foot scrub along with the actual facial itself, a relaxing and rejuvenating treatment with a skilled therapist. My face was glowing after the several stages of the facial that included cleansing, a detoxifying French red clay followed by toning using rejuvenating oils of rose and lemon.
The spa is a sanctuary dedicated to total well-being, the space and treatments reflect the essence of the mountain as does the products that are infused with juniper berries and rosewater. A smaller menu of treatments was also available at the curtained poolside cabanas.Bikes are also available to explore the area on two wheels, swimmers have the choice of the heated indoor pool or outdoor infinity pool, there’s a gym and yoga classes are available at weekends.The other half not only loves Oman and its unspoilt natural landscapes but has in more recent years lovesd a trek/hike and has literally dragged me up a volcano in Bali at sunrise and a hike across the top of Oman’s highest mountain Jabal Shams, this trip proved no exception. A gentle 3km walk following the marked butterfly trail within the hotel’s grounds took us up to the perimeter fences and transversed back across the gardens. It’s a family friendly affair with children’s activities at various points as well as great viewpoints across the mountain and into the canyon. All the trees and vegetation are named en route, you pass by the hotel’s beehives and through the garden where vegetables and herbs are grown on site in poly tunnels.
We did venture out on the 6k Mirage of the Mountains trek also accessible on foot from the hotel’s main entrance. After a fairly easy start there was a steep decline down the rocky mountain face into the wadi which was rather tricky, I may have had a slight sense of humour failure at this point, but after climbing back up the facing incline the mountainous scenery was kinda worth it. Things then went wrong when we couldn’t find anymore markers and got lost, cue self mapped precarious route back to the hotel luckily unscathed and without too much climbing. Our wayward route meant we missed the local ‘mirage’ part of the abandoned village of Sarab and the dam but we did meet some local inhabitants, a couple of non plussed grazing donkeys.
The other half was hoping to satisfy his inner thrill-seeker with the Via Ferrata cave experience but as the local resort guides are fasting over Ramadan this was not possible during this trip. For those unfamiliar with this activity it’s the highest protected climbing path in the region that involves ascending up a steep ravine, walking across an exposed cave mouth, traversing along the canyon and crossing an exposed wire bridge. It certainly looked pretty daunting from what I saw looking over the mountain top, definitely not for the faint hearted or those not keen on heights (me). It requires a fitness test before you can participate as it’s one of the more challenging activities available, we will return to try this out (him) another time, you will find me in the spa.
Sadly we had just missed the famous damask roses of Al-Jabal Al-Akhdar that blossom from mid-March to the end of May, the flowers cover the mountain in a bright pink blanket and fill the air with their fragrance. Once harvested they are made into the Omani household staple of rosewater that we got to sample mixed with fresh pomegranate juice, the water is also used throughout the resort in various guises including the spa treatments. Striking wall art that decorates the lobby walls honours the roses and its significance in the local culture.
Alila Jabal Akhdar is as much a place for an adventurer who wants to get out and explore the mountainous terrain as someone who wants a relaxing haven. The epitome of old-world Omani charm and modern luxury it offers something for everyone. Whether you are a nature lover, an active hiker, prefer chilling with your book by the infinity pool, partaking in a cooking class or being pampered at the spa you will not be disappointed.
I cannot recommend a visit to this resort highly enough, the long drive from Abu Dhabi is worthwhile to enjoy the mountainous locale, you can of course opt to fly to Muscat and travel just 2 ½ hours by car instead. There are currently some amazing summer offers that include many extras to encourage you to escape the heat, bear in mind however that activities and alcohol are restricted during Ramadan and apparently they are already fully booked for Eid.
The Nitty Gritty
Alila Jabal Akhdar, Plot No.4 Al Roose Jabal Al Akhdar, Nizwa, Sultanate of Oman
Telephone: +968 2534 4200
Check-out: 12 noon
Jaw dropping location and scenery
Stunning design and interiors
Spacious and comfortable suites
Delicious seasonal cuisine with daily changing menus
The Not so Good…..
Slow and intermittent wifi
You need a four-wheel drive vehicle or you pay a hefty transportation charge
We booked our stay at Alila Jabal Akhdar through Booking.com All views are my own based on my experience. Unless otherwise stated all photos © Jo Brett 2017. All rights reserved. Two additional photos used with courtesy of www.alilahotels.com/jabalakhdar