Days and nights at the oa­sis

A tale of two moun­tain re­doubts in Oman

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - SU­SAN KUROSAWA

The stony, weather-beaten lo­ca­tion and mon­u­men­tal pro­por­tions of Anan­tara Al Ja­bal Al Akhdar look set­dressed for a pe­riod drama. At any tick, war­riors will ride their horses through those high cer­e­mo­nial doors and cause havoc along the colon­nades, whisk­ing away protest­ing maid­ens and smash­ing ev­ery clay urn in sight. It’s easy to en­ter­tain such fan­tasies at this moun­tain re­doubt south­west of Mus­cat that opened late last year. A ver­i­ta­ble mi­rage atop the Saiq Plateau, in the western Ha­jar Moun­tains, here is a place with its chest puffed out, hold­ing fast to a plateau on the curved edge of a canyon at more than 2000m above sea level.

French-Moroc­can ar­chi­tect Lotfi Sidi­ra­hal of Paris’s Ate­lier PoD, a favourite col­lab­o­ra­tor of the Thai-owned Anan­tara man­age­ment group, has won the UNESCO Ver­sailles Prize for best ho­tel in Africa and West Asia for this re­mark­able il­lu­sion of a cas­tle of old, all tur­rets and para­pets, its saf­fron pal­ette res­onat­ing with the sands of the plains be­low, its build­ing ma­te­ri­als sourced from the oblig­ingly rocky neigh­bour­hood.

Pub­lic spa­ces flow around court­yards, slen­der chan­nels run with wa­ter in the style of the her­itage-listed falaj ir­ri­ga­tion meth­ods still used by farm­ers. Gar­dens are planted with Oman’s sig­na­ture damask rose bushes and in­dige­nous fruit trees. The guest-ar­rival process in th­ese clear, cool climes mim­ics the hos­pi­tal­ity ex­pected at ev­ery Omani home. Cof­fee is poured from a sil­ver pot into tiny cups and a plat­ter the size of a shield piled with dates is passed around our lit­tle trav­el­ling party. “You can’t check in un­til you have eaten them all,” says an un­der-man­ager, and we ex­change covert looks as we’re not quite sure if he’s jok­ing.

Dou­ble-storey blocks in two wings with ex­ter­nal breeze­ways fea­ture 82 gue­strooms, some with in­ter­con­nect­ing op­tions, which face the dra­matic dip and rise of the land­scape. Th­ese are spa­cious cham­bers with high thread-count bed linens, com­fort­ably fur­nished ter­races, striped rugs in earthy colours, and brass-stud­ded chests. Big bath­rooms fea­ture large tubs, there are Ne­spresso ma­chines, and work spa­ces and all the smart func­tion­al­ity of an ur­ban ho­tel with the bonus of that empty, sur­re­al­is­tic view be­yond. Hand-thrown clay bowls are from the World Her­itage-listed town of Bahla, where it’s said the pot­ters have magic in their fin­gers. Through­out the re­sort, there’s a sense of the con­ceal­ment and in­trigue of time­less Ara­bic ar­chi­tec­ture and cer­tain con­stants are el­e­men­tal to the decor, such as lat­ticed brass lights that cre­ate span­gled shad­ows, dec­o­ra­tive arch­ways, and re­cur­ring mo­tifs of spi­rals and scrolls, mim­ick­ing curlicued script.

Thirty-three pool vil­las, in as­cend­ing price from gar­den court­yard to the three-bed­room, two-storey Royal Moun­tain Villa, are oases of style, much favoured by Omani and Emi­rati guests. The two-bed­room gar­den con­fig­u­ra­tions are ideal for fam­i­lies and all of­fer com­plete pri­vacy. Three restau­rants, a bar and a deli keep guests well fed and wa­tered. All-day diner Al Maisan, perched above the lobby and cen­tral court­yard, fea­tures top-to-toe glass walls, in­door-out­door seat­ing ter­race and a break­fast buf­fet that in­cludes Ara­bic spe­cial­i­ties. Within the Mu­san­dam Tower, its ta­pered tur­ret and archers’ slit win­dows straight from a sto­ry­book fa­ble, Al Qalaa is all cool niches and a ver­i­ta­ble galaxy of sus­pended lights. Its cui­sine ranges across the Mid­dle East and North Africa, with hot and cold mezze plat­ters, grills from a char­coal oven com­plete with a choice of smoky and spiced salts, and desserts re­joic­ing in in­gre­di­ents such as frank­in­cense, rose­wa­ter and dried fruits.

The well-named Bella Vista — by the rim of Diana’s Point, where the then Princess of Wales paused in 1986 and con­tem­plated her lot — spe­cialises in Mediter­ranean cui­sine from a tal­ented south­ern Ital­ian chef, in­clud­ing wood-fired piz­zas. Then re­pair to the Al Shourfa shisha lounge, where the wa­ter-pipe menu in­cludes pome­gran­ate and wild peach flavours.

Guided vil­lage na­ture walks get guests out and about

Anan­tara Al Ja­bal Al Akhda, main; guided vil­lage walk, top left; premier canyon view gue­stroom, above

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