Alila Jabal Akhdar: Luxury on a Mountain Precipice (Oman)
Visited - April 2017
Location - Jebel Shams, 2 hours drive from Muscat, Oman.
We are only slightly embarrassed to say the reason Oman suddenly rocketed up our travel "Must See" list was largely due to our discovery of the Alila Jabal Akhdar.
Our first experience of the luxury Alila brand was in the Maldives and our love affair with all they have to offer blossomed (unfortunately they no longer operate the island hotel we visited).
In our experience, including A's usual exhaustive research, Alila Jabal Akhdar is "the" place to stay in Oman, and no luxury visit to this surprising country would be complete without a stay at this breathtaking mountain wonder.
Clifftop Luxury At Alila Jabal Akhdar
The white-knuckled ascent to Alila Jabal Akhdar can only be attempted by 4WD. Fifty minutes of precipice-hugging switchbacks and vertiginous ridge-top roads leaves us exhilarated if slightly drained. But all tension soon evaporates inside the lobby of Alila Jabal Akhdar - quickly dissolved by a fragrant cold towel, a mint and lemon welcome drink, a seamless welcome, and views across the infinity pool to the sun setting over the gorge.
The word "stunning" can be overused, but Alila Jabal Akhdar truly does stun the senses. The location is sublime - perched right on the edge of a V-shaped promontory dangling over the edge of the gorge, its two wings of villas hang surprisingly close to the near vertical drop into the canyon below. Views out over the gorge are breathtaking, and almost impossible to capture without the widest of lenses. But any budding photographer can easily capture the beauty of the Omani sun reflecting in the resort pool, the white cotton shade curtains of the daybeds fluttering in the gentle mountain breeze, and the natural stone facades of the buildings blending harmoniously into the surrounding stark desert beauty.
Alila Jabal Akhdar is a larger resort than we would usually seek out, with 85 rooms distributed between the central main building and the smaller outlying buildings each containing four to six suites. But Alila "had-me-at-hello" with images of their Jabal Terrace Suite, a 104 sqm sanctuary with a massive rooftop terrace with views over the canyon and mountains towards the setting sun. Rooms are modern and full of light, and stylishly decorated with traditional Omani elements. The bathroom is as generously proportioned as the bedroom, complete with a huge freestanding stone bath by the windows, for soaking with a view. The Alila signature amenities are, as always, exquisite (although a (commendable) focus on environmental sustainability means they are now provided in refillable canisters, and unfortunately cannot find their way into my luggage for my bathroom back home :( ).
The restaurant, pool and bar of the hotel are all encompassed in the main building, and all make the most of the stunning views. The cooler clime of the mountains makes outdoor dining delightful, at a pleasant 26 degrees, rather than the searing 42-47 degrees (at the time of our visit) of the surrounding plateau. Food was consistently excellent, particularly the traditional offerings, with fabulous arabic mezze selections, and a daily Omani tasting menu - a five course extravaganza of local favourites, including the delectable shuwa (a slow roasted lamb dish). Dates and pomegranates decorate many mains and sides, and fragrant spices, familiar and foreign, instil the food with warmth and depth of flavour.
The hotel is keen for visitors to explore the local region, and provides a weighty "Experiences" brochure that will provoke palpitations in the hearts of many fellow FOMO sufferers. From the via ferrata climbs near the resort, to the visits to the local villages and rose plantations, the clifftop walks of the nearby Jebel Shams, the nearby forts and souqs of Bahla and Nizwa, and the ancient beehive tombs of Bat and Al Ayn, there is enough to fill many days. But we would also highly recommend factoring in a serious amount of down-time at this beautiful resort - it is hard to get enough of those stunning clifftop views.
Many Alila Jabal Akhdar visitors come directly from Muscat International Airport, as the number of lobby cases still with airline bag-tags attached would attest to. As a luxurious one-stop mini-break in Oman, this cannot be sneezed at. But to experience more of Oman, and all the wonders it has to offer, we would highly recommend road tripping elsewhere in Oman first, and saving Alila for a final sublime indulgence. Our Omani road-trip post describes a classic itinerary...
Go there for ...
- Ever reliable Alila luxury,
- Those views!
- The drive to the resort - an experience in itself.
Stay there for ...
- The Alila Spa - stylish, sensuous, and those signature Alila products are sublime,
- The infinity pool, fine dining and a well stocked bar, with an emphasis on gin, (including an obvious tie-up with Hendricks of Scotland (D's go-to gin)). The bar at Alila Jabal Akhdar is even more important than at most other destinations, as outside the airport duty free, it is almost impossible to purchase liquor throughout the country. The bar team mix a mean cocktail, but are still prepared to consider requests and personalised recipe suggestions.
- Rambling through nearby ancient villages (you can go it alone or the hotel can provide a guide), and slightly further afield, other amazing sights including the Beehive Tombs at Al Ayn and Bat, the historic village of Misfah, Jebel Shams (the highest peak in Oman - you can drive to the top) and from there the view into Wadi Ghul (Oman's answer to the Grand Canyon).
Getting there ...
From Muscat, it is 130km (approximately 1.25 hours) on a motorway to the village of Birkat al Mouz at the base of the Al Hajar mountains. Shortly beyond this village is the checkpoint from which onwards it is 4WD only. A twisting, turning, hair-raising journey of approximately 50 minutes sees you ascend 1500m in 54km, arriving finally at the welcoming gates of Alila Jabal Akhdar.
Must knows ...
As mentioned above, if you are self-driving around Oman, we highly recommend a 4WD for numerous reasons, not least of which without one you will be required to leave your vehicle at the base of the mountain and take a bus service to the hotel (the same applies for all hotels on the mountain, even though the road is paved and well maintained, it is 4WD only!).
The mountain is certainly cooler than the rest of Oman, so ensure you have at least one warmer outfit.
Suite 80 is our pick, and the one from which most room images on marketing material are taken from. This is because it has an outdoor terrace which faces the direction of the consistently jaw dropping sunsets.
Entry level rooms are currently from around AUD $450 per night including dinner via Mr and Mrs Smith. The Jabal Terrace (including Suite 80) on half board (breakfast and dinner) are around the AUD $900 mark.