Room with a view Alila Jabal Akhdar, Oman
Cox & Kings’ Katie Parsons flew out to Oman for a sneak preview of the new Alila Jabal Akhdar before it opened.
It’s often said that the journey can be more rewarding than the destination itself, and although the mountains of Jabal Akhdar – which means green mountains – are stunningly beautiful, the journey to get there made it all the more special.
Arriving in Muscat after dark, I drove for an hour along fast and flat dual carriageways. I reached a police checkpoint and from there began the long, winding and incredibly steep ascent into the mountains. Jabal Akhdar was, until the 1990s, a strictly military-only zone and vehicles are still stopped before entering. I could see the street lights marking out a snake-like road all the way up the mountain but was not prepared for the steep hairpin bends that awaited. A sign advised that only 4x4s could make the journey; it was evident why. It took another hour to finally arrive at the hotel, and after being escorted to my room it was 1am before I climbed into bed.
There’s definitely something magical about arriving somewhere in the dark, and then opening your curtains in the morning to see what awaits. Having seen a couple of photographs, I knew it was going to be special but I was blown away. My room was perching on the edge of a steep canyon, with an uninterrupted 180-degree view. What really struck me though, was the silence. It’s not often you can hear absolutely nothing, but I’m sure I could have heard a pin drop on the other side of the gorge. There was the occasional goat herder calling out and a braying donkey but otherwise … nothing.
The hotel has been built to maximise the views, and I could have lain on my terrace all day watching the sun changing the colours on the mountains, but I wanted to explore. Salim, head guide at the hotel, drove me around his home town and took me to abandoned villages where we walked through lush wadis (valleys) where water is channelled to allow pomegranate and walnut trees to grow along with date palms. I went to the village of Ash Shirayjah to see the rose plantations – best seen in early April – and bought rosewater from a nearby cooperative. Diana’s Point, where Diana, Princess of Wales, and Dodi Fayed camped out for a night, is at the edge of a promontory overlooking the rose plantation and with such magnificent panoramic views it’s easy to see why they picked that spot.
Away from Jabal Akhdar, I explored Nizwa. A 90-minute drive back down the mountain to sea level, daytime temperatures soared to 40C. The immense circular 17th-century fort is impressive, although perhaps over-restored and on the point of losing its authenticity. A climb to the top of the tower gave good views across the town, which is dotted with date palms, and showed the fort’s murder holes: the aptly named holes that soldiers could pour boiling date syrup down on to unsuspecting intruders. After a morning under the intense sun, I was ready to wind back up to the more pleasant temperatures in the mountains and watched the car’s thermometer drop by 10 degrees by the time I arrived. A cooler breeze made the intensity very pleasant and hours could be whiled away by the infinity-edged pool. It’s not quite on the canyon edge, but not far off!
Otherwise, you can indulge in a treatment in the excellent spa. The predominantly Balinese spa treatments use some Omani fragrances and are a perfect way to relax after a day’s exploration.
On my final afternoon at the hotel, I took a hike up a nearby ‘hill’ to a weather station. Jork, the hotel’s general manager, had run up it the day before and assured me that it was relatively easy. Steep in places, but a gravel track all the way, it wasn’t a challenging hike but at an altitude of around 2,500-2,800 metres – no one seems to be quite sure – I was definitely feeling the lack of oxygen. Once at the top, the views were quite literally breathtaking. The landscapes of Jabal Akhdar can be compared to the Grand Canyon, but with very few other hotel options – although there are a couple in the pipeline – there are very few other tourists, and certainly no big tour buses. Apart from a group of workers at the top, who were finishing building the weather station, Jork and I had the whole view to ourselves. As we reached the top, one of the workers asked if we needed water. With an adequate supply we declined, so they ran over with hot coffee and halwa, a sugary jelly-like sweet for us. True Omani hospitality.
The new addition to Oman’s luxury hotel collection surpassed my expectations and although it could be visited as a single-centre long weekend trip from the UK, I would love to return and combine this beautiful mountain escape with some time on the beach and a night in the desert.
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