GRAND­EST CANYON

Be­yond Oman’s cap­i­tal, Mus­cat, the land­scapes are un­for­get­table

Sunday Herald Sun - Escape - - DESTINATION MIDDLE EAST - ROWENA RYAN

THIS MID­DLE EAST BEAUTY NEEDS TO GO STRAIGHT TO THE TOP OF YOUR HOL­I­DAY LIST

It’s called The Green Moun­tain but there’s barely a blade of grass or a tree in sight. It’s not un­til we step out of the car, more than 2000m above sea level on the precipice of an enor­mous canyon, that the al­lure of Oman’s Ja­bal Akhdar moun­tain re­gion makes sense. It’s un­likely you’ve seen any­thing as mag­nif­i­cent as this be­fore.

If you’ve dab­bled with the thought of vis­it­ing Oman I’m here to tell you that this Mid­dle East beauty needs to go straight to the top of your hol­i­day list. Oman’s his­tory is fas­ci­nat­ingly an­cient, but it’s the land­scape that will be for­ever im­printed in your mem­ory. Once you’ve “done” its cap­i­tal city, Mus­cat, here’s what you need to do next.

BE­YOND MUS­CAT

The Green Moun­tain is a 2½-hour drive south­west of Mus­cat and is the go-to spot for Oma­nis and neigh­bour­ing Emi­ratis dur­ing sum­mer to es­cape the blis­ter­ing heat.

Sit­ting high up in the western Ha­jar Moun­tains, this once in­ac­ces­si­ble re­gion is now eas­ily reached via well-paved roads that zigzag their way up into the moun­tains, trans­port­ing you to the spec­tac­u­lar Saiq Plateau. You’ll no­tice the temperature on the car dash­board has dropped at least 10 de­grees but what will re­ally open your eyes is the canyon of epic pro­por­tions stretch­ing out be­fore you. It’s other-worldly, and spec­tac­u­larly beau­ti­ful and it’s to be our view for the next three days.

WHERE TO STAY ALILA JA­BAL AKHDAR

Sit­ting on the Saiq Plateau on the edge of a 600m ravine over­look­ing the canyon is the in­cred­i­ble Alila Ja­bal Akhdar re­sort. Com­pletely re­mote, there’s not another build­ing, and barely another per­son, in sight. In­stead you’re sur­rounded by a land­scape strewn with rocks and boul­ders and shrub­bery.

This lux­ury prop­erty opened in 2014 and was built with rocks from the area us­ing a com­bi­na­tion of tra­di­tional Omani con­struc­tion tech­niques and con­tem­po­rary ar­chi­tec­ture. Guests are wel­comed in typ­i­cal Omani style with a small cup of spiced cof­fee and a plate of dates. It’s min­i­mal­ist in­te­ri­ors en­cap­su­late the bar­ren yet strik­ingly beau­ti­ful land­scape that sur­rounds you. Ac­com­mo­da­tion ranges from 86 suites named ac­cord­ing to their out­look, and pri­vate vil­las.

The most pop­u­lar way to pass the day is to take a spot by the in­fin­ity pool and soak in the mes­meris­ing views around you. It’s hard to be­lieve that in win­ter, tem­per­a­tures can drop to be­low freez­ing and a huge fire­place lights up the lobby dur­ing these months. ALILAHOTELS.COM

ANAN­TARA AL JA­BAL AL AKHDAR RE­SORT

Rem­i­nis­cent of an an­cient fort, this su­per-luxe re­sort opened late in 2016 and is built on a grand scale. Huge arches, ex­pan­sive grounds and enor­mous wooden doors dec­o­rate its solid foun­da­tions. Like Alila, this re­sort makes the most of the area’s unique view, perched on the edge of the canyon. It’s the same spot that Princess Diana vis­ited on a tour in 1986 and the re­sort has named the look­out Diana’s Point.

Ac­com­mo­da­tion is a mix of canyon view rooms and pri­vate pool vil­las that are sleek and bright, with hints of Ara­bian fur­nish­ings.

The star at­trac­tion is the cliff-edge in­fin­ity pool. Get there at sun­set and have a sun­downer at the Bella Vista restau­rant next door. One of the op­tional guest ac­tiv­i­ties is to take a guided walk through the three sur­round­ing cliff vil­lages. Perched on the edge of the canyon, you’ll pass aban­doned homes, nar­row al­ley­ways, old wooden doors and mosques. The vil­lages still use an an­cient ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tem called falaj to water its ter­raced farms that har­vest Da­mask roses, pomegranates, wal­nuts, pears, grapes, gar­lic and onions. JA­BAL-AKHDAR.ANAN­TARA.COM

NIZWA

A 30-minute drive from both re­sorts is the an­cient city of Nizwa that de­vel­oped around a lush, green oa­sis where the car­a­van routes from the north met those from the south. It is still an im­por­tant trad­ing site to­day and its souk is one of the most beau­ti­ful and boun­ti­ful in the coun­try selling spices, sil­ver­ware, clay pots and cop­per goods. The mighty Nizwa fort that stands over the city was built in the mid 1600s and is the big­gest in the Ara­bian Penin­sula. Fa­mous for its huge round guard tower, it’s a maze of twist­ing stair­cases, high­ceilinged halls, door­ways and rooms.

Look up and you’ll see holes where boil­ing date oil was poured onto would-be in­vaders. Re­stored to its for­mer glory, it’s also home to a mu­seum full of Omani his­tory and tra­di­tions.

FUN FACT

Lo­cals re­fer to lamb as Rea­gan. Ac­cord­ing to our guide, when sheep were first brought to Oman from the west, the most many Oma­nis knew about western coun­tries was that Ron­ald Rea­gan was pres­i­dent of the United States so they nick­named lamb “Rea­gan”.

THE WRITER WAS A GUEST OF BENCH AFRICA AND OMAN TOURISM

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