On top of the world
Sand is typically what one associates with Oman. Bounded on the north by the Gulf of Oman and on the east by the Arabian Sea, this is where the wet ends. Beyond the shores are Oman’s deserts, vast dunes of sand that stretch endlessly all the way into the enigmatically-named Empty Quarter. Some 100km from the capital Muscat, however, the earth begins to thrust up some 2,000m above sea level. Nestled within this spectacular sea of peaks and crags and rocky spires known as the Al Hajar range is Jabal Akhdar, a vast mountain plateau, where water is once again (seasonally) abundant, justifying its name. Jabal Akhdar means ‘Green Mountain’ in Arabic.
From the edges of the ragged cliffs that delineate Jabal Akhdar, the earth plunges and swoops dramatically, tracing the courses of rivers long forgotten and rivers that revive during the rainy season. Falcons – prized in this part of the world for their regal poise and sharp senses – soar around, chasing wind thermals and occasionally diving vertically in startling acceleration in search of a meaty prize. Hardy shrubs persist with flowers and fruit even in the dry season, attracting herds of mountain goats and donkeys that stray from the few villages that speckle the Jabal Akhdar ridges. This is the site of the Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar. Opened in late 2016, the resort (together with its sibling Al Baleed Resort Salalah by Anantara down south by the sea) is part of a luxury hospitality property wave that is quickly elevating the Sultanate to the upper echelons of high-end travel destination.
Spatially, the Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar wraps around the edge of a cliff. A location this spectacular requires an adventurous spirit to appreciate; the vista here begs to be explored and discovered. There is a physical point where this appeal converges; it is called Diana’s Point. Reputedly the spot where the late Princess of Wales once stood on a trip to Oman, it has been fashioned into viewing deck with a roaring fire in the evening and morning yoga as the sun rises, allow access to the same view she once appreciated. To the left, the resort’s second rock climbing and abseiling course is being put in place. To the right, farm terraces that explode with the green of pomegranate trees and scent of roses in the summer, linked by a phalanx of narrow paths. In front, the cliff plunges steeply almost a kilometre towards the city Nizwa, a route that once took villagers six hours to traverse as they brought their produce to market and back. In a 4×4, this becomes a thrilling obstacle course, inches away from either sheer rock faces and bare air. Facing all of this glory is the resort, positioned to watch the sun trace its way in an east to west parabola.
Resembling an Omani castle, the resort blends into the landscape with its burnt siena exterior. Divided between 82 rooms and 33 private pool villas, the resort is sprawling, connected by winding paths flanked by endemic plants and flowers. Many of these – roses, olives and pomegranates – make an appearance in the Anantara Spa, where the Revitalising Pomegranate Journey treatment is a lovely way to recover after a long day of traipsing through the resort’s Three Village Culture Walk. Additional minutes (or hours) of steam-powered leisure can be found in the Spa’s hammam – a facility that is de rigeur in this part of the world.
The rooms themselves face the canyon, each with a private balcony to lounge about in without a care. Effort has been taken to avoid veering too far into decorative extravagance; French interior designers Atelier POD (which also served as architects) have gone for a more sparing approach, allowing the careful use of Arabic motifs in the furniture and fabrics to stand out. A cream palette accented with dark timber creates a sunny atmosphere, with soft furnishings in bronze, green and orange adding a summery touch. Some villas have private gardens and some face the canyon; all have their own private pool. For more space, the main infinity pool beckons. Stretching out as a mirrored sheen, the water and view work together as a sensory dampener – it is so easy to slip into a meditative zone here. At least until a herd of goats skipping along in search of lunch jolts one out of their reverie with a smile.
In the evening, the elevation of Jabal Akhdar reveals a sky full of stars. That motif is present at the Anantara’s dining outlets, from rustic Italian dishes under the stars near Diana’s Point at Bella Vista to the pinpricks of lights embedded into the pool surrounding the all-day dining Al Maisan, Arabic for ‘amazing star’. At the Al Burj lounge, a constellation of glimmering lamps hung at the bar showers the diners one floor below at the signature Omani restaurant Al Qalaa with twinkles, as they dine on grilled meats and (suprisingly) incredible fresh seafood. Appropriate then that this building also houses a rooftop open air observatory one floor above Al Burj, piled with beanbags and cushions for a spot of star-gazing.
The aura here is unmistakably mystical. It accompanies guests back to their dwellings, where the bright airy interiors have taken on a more magical atmosphere at night, as shadows cast by latticed lamps decorate the walls. In the cliff-facing villas, this takes on a new dimension; the villa pools overlooking an inky tranquillity become is the perfect setting for a romantic nightcap. Come dawn, that twilight gives way to a rose-hued panorama that invigorates. It is another day, for adventure and amusement at the Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar.