We spent an incredible 10 days in Oman and will have a full itinerary coming soon, but in the meantime I wanted to highlight a couple of our favorite Omani adventures. After a night in the capital to adjust to the time zone, we headed for the mountains for some luxury and relaxation. The drive is easy, only about 2.5 hours from Muscat, but it does require an SUV for the last part. After passing a security checkpoint, the road curves steeply up for the last 45 minutes before you reach the Alila Jabal Akhdar, which sits at 2,000 meters above sea level.
The designer retreat is located high in Al Jabal Al Akhdar translated as Green Mountain, which is a bit misleading as it is mainly barren, rocky limestone. There are, however, a handful of villages on the plateau that live up to this name and are extremely fertile producing pomegranates, roses, figs, almonds, apricots, apples, grapes, lemons, peaches, and walnuts. The most notable thing when you arrive here and step out of the car is the more comfortable temperatures-at night there was even a slight chill in the air. We had only been in Oman for one night, but the more comfortable temperatures were definitely welcome! I can imagine this must be quite an escape in the height of summer.
When we arrived, we were welcomed in traditional Omani fashion with kawha, a strong and bitter coffee flavored with cardamom, and dates. Then it was time for a tour of the stunning surrounds. The hotel is set on the edge of a canyon with jaw dropping views down into the gorge and across the Hajar Mountains. The remote location of the hotel only adds to the magical and exotic feeling of the place.
The hotel has 86 rooms (suites and villas only), but still manages to feel small and intimate. We were shown to our canyon view suite and immediately decided we’d be happy to stay for the remainder of our trip in this calm and blissful setting. Unfortunately, that wasn’t in the plans or the budget so we decided to make the most of our 24 hours here!
Our first mission was to hit the pool and this infinity pool with canyon views was just perfect. I had read reviews about the water being cold, but that issue seems to have been resolved as the water was a very comfortable temperature. There was also an indoor heated pool with jets, like a large jacuzzi. Sun beds, loungers, and drinks from the bar or your in-room mini bar made this a pool you could hang out at for a while!
After a fun afternoon of swimming, the boys had a chance for bath time in the beautiful soaking tub before dinner. Who wouldn’t love to relax in this tub?!
We watched a gorgeous sunset over the canyon and then headed to dinner at the hotel’s restaurant, Juniper, named for the juniper trees that grow in the mountains of Jabal Akhdar. Our booking included half board, but thankfully the food was not buffet style-you could either order a la carte or share the tasting menu. We opted for the tasting menu and two kids meals and everything was good and well presented.
The kids had already stayed up past their bedtime so we didn’t have a chance to stop in the bar for a night cap, but I loved the design. We went to bed along with the kids because I had plans the next morning to get up early for sunrise yoga. The spa offers free yoga at 7 am on certain days-generally on the weekends, but since the hotel was quite full for the Easter holidays they offered it all week.
This was one of the highlights of the trip for me! I love yoga anyway, so having a yoga class on a deck overlooking the canyon listening to the birds chirping was just incredible. Yoga mats, towels, and bottled water were provided and after the class there was fresh fruit and hot tea.
The other bonus of getting up early was watching the sunrise in this stunning location. After some sunrise photos and getting zen’d out at yoga, I read on our balcony with some coffee while waiting for the guys to wake up for breakfast. I can’t imagine a more perfect morning!
Breakfast was a nice mix of a small buffet and an a la carte menu along with lots of yummy fresh juices. After breakfast we had promised the kids they could check out the kids club so we dropped them off for an hour and went for some gym/pool time. The kids club included tons of toys, dress up costumes, art supplies, a foosball and air hockey table, xbox, and movie room and they also organize activities like walks around the area throughout the day. Our two didn’t want to leave!
The hotel also does a cute little ‘passport’ for the kids, that looks just like a real passport. The kids collect stamps for different things-checking in, kids club, eating a good dinner, etc., and when they fill a page they get a treat from the restaurant-either cookies or a milk shake. They loved it!
There is an almost 3 km trail completely within the grounds of the hotel called the Butterfly Trail that we wanted to explore, so after checking out, we loaded up the car and hit the trail. The scenery was incredible and there were fun stops along the way for the kids including the traditional hanging clay jugs to drink water from, view points, and play grounds. The kids also loved finding the painted white butterfly trail markers.
While certainly on the pricey side (especially at the Easter holidays), this was probably the most incredible hotel we have stayed at. After seeing pictures and write ups, we decided it was worth the splurge for one night and I’m so glad we did.
The only thing I didn’t like about the hotel was that before arrival they ask you to fill out a checklist of your preferences. I completed the online questionnaire about a month before our stay (long enough to completely forget about it) and there were questions about everything from pillow to bath to food preferences. I didn’t think much of it and then upon arrival, the coffee table in our room was completely decked out with snacks and drinks. We realized that the alcohol was not complimentary is it was a good sized bottle of gin and the price was listed on the mini bar menu, however there was no pricing information anywhere for the food. We assumed it was complimentary and then at check out found the charge for the “welcome snack platter.” A bit cheeky of the hotel since we had never ordered it, simply answered their questions about what snacks we like.
Other than that, we enjoyed everything else about our stay and would definitely recommend the hotel for a very unique luxury experience!
The juniper tree the restaurant is named after.
After we checked out of the hotel we made our way to the nearby Diana’s view point, which is famous for Princess Diana’s visit to the spot in 1986 and now currently inside the grounds of the newly built Anantara Hotel. The view is of the terraced villages that produce the roses and fruits mentioned at the top of this post and of the canyon and surrounding mountains. The views are absolutely stunning and we had decided that we would also stay and have lunch at the hotel.
We had been tempted to stay at this hotel instead of the Alila as their introductory prices were better than prices at Alila, but once we visited we knew we had made the right decision. We preferred the smaller, more intimate feel at the Alila. The food at lunch was good, but the service was incredibly slow, and very expensive. The views however, really are amazing and the location is well suited for trekking and hiking on the nearby terraces.
It was a wonderful start to our trip and in the next post I’ll share the details about our overnight adventure in the desert!