Days and nights at the oasis
A tale of two mountain redoubts in Oman
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