Entering my room at the Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar in Oman, it’s the mystique of Arabian Nights that comes to mind; smooth walls are patterned with illuminations from cutwork lamps and a studded dark wood dresser is laden with fruit. On the wall by my bed hangs a huge bronze plate and I can’t help but look for a mallet with which to strike it; surely it’s actually a gong with which to summon assistance?
A modern form of room service - the telephone - may be far less evocative, but it’s super efficient nonetheless, and I’m soon happily ensconced with food and a glass of wine on a chaise longue in the corner of the room, peering fruitlessly into the darkness outside. It was dark when we arrived and I’m eager to see the views from this canyon-edge resort; with that in mind, I leave the curtains flung open when I eventually throw myself on to the wide, white bed to sleep.
Impatient I may have been, but it’s worth the wait because when the pale rose pink of sunrise pulls me over to the window the next morning, what lies beyond is nothing short of epic: a huge bowl of chalky limestone and jagged rock, terraced with green farming land in some parts and almost lunar in appearance in others. Located over 2,000m above sea level, the Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar is the Middle East’s highest five-star resort, in every way worthy of a princess.
Sadly, for one particular princess, the resort was not here when she visited back in 1986 - and nor were the increasingly steep and winding roads on which we made our way from Muscat last night. Dropped in these wild and unforgiving elements by helicopter for a six-hour sojourn with her husband Charles, Diana is immortalised in the hotel’s Diana’s Point, where a nightly throng of cocktail-drinking guests gather in front of a blazing fire drum, to take in the spectacle of sunset over the landscape, often with clouds drifting in below and all but obscuring the village at the canyon’s base.
Other ways to enjoy the staggering views abound - from the cliff-edge infinity pool and hot tubs, to sunrise yoga on Diana’s Point - while those wishing to know more about the area and its history can take a guided hike around the all-but-deserted villages that cling to the inside of the canyon.
Accompanied by an Omani local, we learn about the ancient system of irrigation - called falaj - that inhabitants have developed over millennia to combat the water shortages from which the area, despite its elevation, suffers. Following the course of one such channel from a waterfall, we pass fruit trees which, in season, are hung with pomegranates, apricots and pears, as well as the rows of bushes from which the Damask rose petals, used for making the famed Omani rosewater, are harvested in the March-May season. Used for cosmetic purposes, this intoxicatingly scented liquid, along with saffron and cardamom, also flavours the Omani coffee that we take in one of the villages; fudgy, squidgy dates are served alongside to provide the missing sugar-sweetness. Although few people now live in the villages - they have relocated to the nearby ‘New Town’ where running water, education and medical care are more readily accessible - these atmospheric doorways and laneways have by no means been abandoned, and home owners still walk the steep inclines and rugged paths to check in on their properties and tend to their crops and animals.
For those who dare, the resort’s Ultimate Activity Wall offers an opportunity to immerse yourself - almost literally - in the jagged landscape of the canyon. Accompanied by a qualified guide, we are secured by way of a locked carabiner to a cable line that spans a via ferrata for some 200m along the inside wall of the canyon, our feet tiptoeing along knife edge ledges, while our sweat-dampened hands clutch at overhanging lips and metal pegs. Beneath us, the world falls away, a pale collage of ragged cloud and rugged limestone, with huge boulders poised as if in mid-fall on the lower reaches of the canyon bowl. The course ends with a series of zip wires strung across the canyon, across which we whoop and glide, our legs, freed from the pressures of finding footholds, now dangling joyfully in mid air.
There’s only one thing that someone who has come down off the adrenaline of such an experience deserves, and that’s some quality time in the Spa, where tranquility is the order of the day from the moment you set foot within its graceful walls. Treatments incorporate local flavours and scents, with rosewater and pomegranate providing their soothing properties in a menu of rituals for face and body. Separate suites for men and women include sauna and steam rooms, experience showers, relaxation chambers, outdoor gardens with loungers and refreshment stations at which to snack on dried fruits and nuts, whilst rehydrating with a herbal tea.
As delicious as dried fruits and nuts are, beyond the spa, a world of edible delights awaits, from the daily breakfast buffet in Al Maisan (the name means ‘Amazing Star’ in Arabic) where guests can choose from an array of temptations, to the casual elegance of Bella Vista which, located by the pool with access to Diana’s Point, offers homestyle Italian cuisine - perfect carb-loading after a morning of adventure. For that genuine ‘princess in a castle’ feeling, head to the striking tower at the far end of the main building to enjoy cocktails at Al Burj, its upper level, before descending the lantern-lit staircase to Al Qalaa, which specialises in authentic Omani and Middle Eastern recipes, beautifully served in locally-crafted ceramics.
As as been the case with every Anantara I’ve ever had the pleasure of staying at, the level of service here exceeds exceptional, with genuine warmth, as well as efficiency and capability, infusing every interaction. The Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar featured in BBC2’s ‘Amazing Hotels: Life Beyond the Lobby’ which saw Giles Coren and Monica Galetti experience its fortress-inspired walls. Coren’s blatant fear of heights meant that he wasn’t a fan of the Activity Wall, but even with that fact potentially clouding his judgement, he couldn’t fault the resort. The fact that I loved the vertiginous thrill of it can surely only mean that I rate the Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar even more highly than he did.
Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar Resort
Al Jabal Al Akhdar
A summary of our stay at Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar
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