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