2019/06/28

Oman’s Jabal Akhdar – Spectacular mountain experience

Location

Where to stay in style & what to do on three-night stay

As indicated in my overview of Oman – where I informed of all major places to go, tasteful lodging options and when to visit –, I would like to report in more detail on two regions where I stayed for the first time on my recent visit together with my husband and friends, the mountain area of Jabal Akhdar near Nizwa and the far south around Oman’s second-largest city of Salalah. Topics will be recommendations where to stay in style and what to do. In this post, I will cover Jabal Akhdar, my next one will be dedicated to Salalah.

General

Oman has – as I pointed out in my mentioned overview – an astonishingly diverse landscape, from stunning coastal areas to sandy deserts, tropical-like regions and breathtaking mountains. One of the latter is Jabal Akhdar (also Jebel Akhdar), “The Green Mountain”, offering wadis (dry river beds except in the rainy season), terrace plantations, fantastic high mountain scenery and old villages.

It is part of the Hajar mountain range on the Saiq plateau at 2,000 m (6,600 ft). It is the highest and wildest terrain in the country. As hinted before, you find here – in spite of the generally dry landscape – a fertile area home to fruit plantations (apricots, plums, grapes, pears, pomegranates, among others), rose gardens as well as woodland with trees such as the fig and wild olive.
It is only in recent years that this area has been open to the public. In 2011, Jabal Akhdar was designated a nature reserve in order to conserve its unique biodiversity. The mountain is also dotted with numerous idyllic Omani villages where the inhabitants have dug terraces in some parts for growing crops.

Best time to go

Temperatures in Jabal Akhdar are normally 10 – 15 degrees Celsius (50 – 59 degrees Fahrenheit) cooler than in Muscat or Nizwa, so it is the perfect place for an escape from the heat, especially in the months from April to October, but please note that from December to February temperatures might be not warm enough for sun bathing.

Get in & get around

Jabal Akhdar can be reached from Muscat in a two-hour drive and from Nizwa in just under an hour. As per government regulations, a 4x4 is required to access the mountain. A driver’s license and car registration documents must be presented at the checkpoint before climbing up the hill. The Jabal Akhdar Road is in very good condition but extremely steep (much steeper than in the Swiss Alps for example …).

In case you do not have a rental car, it is possible to arrange chauffeur transfers between Muscat Airport and both hotels mentioned before via the resorts in question. For getting around in the area it is not necessary to have a rental car as you are able to book trips with the hotels however it might cost you more.



Activities

There are plentiful walking opportunities here, either around the small villages, which are interesting to visit to get a taste of local Omani life, or in the wilderness.
As already mentioned in my Oman overview, you may use the mountain area of Jabal Akhdar as a base to explore the cultural heart of Oman around Nizwa, too.

In the chapter after next I will go into what one can do when spending three days here. Before that I will report on where to stay here when seeking truly luxurious accommodations.

Where to stay in style

To my surprise, you are spoilt for choice here when looking for staying at a luxury hotel because there are two of them! As I can judge it from my research as well as from my stay at one of them and a visit to the other, both are true first-rate lodgings for a discerning clientele.

First to the one where we paid a short visit to, the Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar Resort, opened in 2016. It is perched on the rim of a grand canyon with a total of 115 rooms, many of which with a great view of the stunning mountain scenery. Some of the rooms even boast a private pool. In addition, there is a viewing platform where Princess Diana once stood, probably in awe of the breathtaking panorama!

There are all the amenities you would expect from such a top hotel including two restaurants. A comprehensive range of activities keep the guests (also the kids) on their toes.
In my view, the property is beautiful. Compared to the hotel where we stayed (Alila Jabel Akhar), I preferred here that it is situated closer to Muscat resp. Nizwa (the drive is half an hour shorter). What suited me less, is its location adjacent to a village as the hotel of my choice is very secluded.
Now to the hotel where we had a wonderful three-day stay!

Location

To reach it, you pass the before mentioned Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar Resort and drive on for just under half an hour. And there it is, sitting on a cliff overlooking a dramatic gorge, clad in jagged stones blending seamlessly into the surrounding wilderness.

Rooms

Alila Jabal Akhdar, opened 2014, has 86 rooms, including two villas, in different buildings scattered around the grounds. All of them boast mesmerizing views of the cliff and mountains and are luxuriously appointed.

We opted for a Ridge View Suite, having a secluded location and best vistas onsite. I found the room appealing especially the large balcony with its killer view
and the spacious bathroom with the freestanding bathtub.
The bedroom’s décor distinctively reflects the area’s heritage although it is a bit too rustic for my taste, a minus is also that the bedroom is only separated by a curtain from the bathroom.

Facilities

When it comes to the hotel’s public spaces, I was more taken with their design than with the bedrooms. I absolutely loved the reception area, where you find a huge fireplace,
also the library is a jewel!
And the hotel entrance is a real beauty, I fell in love with the stunning exteriors, made of local stone …
The pool is lovely,
although the number of sun loungers is a bit tight in case the hotel is fully booked as it seemed to be when we stayed here shortly before Easter. Apart from the outdoor infinity pool there is also an indoor heated pool; a spa is at your disposal, too.

Food

In terms of restaurants, there is Juniper Restaurant,
the main dining spot where a daily changing offer of international
and Arabian food
is available, and everything is immaculately prepared and arranged, served by friendly and competitive staff; it was always a pleasure to dine here. And do not miss to taste the tasty Omani bread,
it is heavenly! The Rose Lounge
is the place for light bites as well for afternoon tea and pre-dinner drink; the latter complete with (complimentary) nibbles from a buffet.

Activities

In case you wonder what do here, the leisure concierge at Alila Jabal Akhdar is more than ready to make proposals. There are also leaflets available describing a myriad of hikes, which can be done on your own or with a guide. I will go into one that our party of four did in the next chapter. There is a daily changing offer of guest activities covering the topics of cultural learning, conscious living, outdoor sporting pursuits (e.g. sunrise yoga
on a top level, I participated once) and culinary delights. Various sorts of things to do are possible for kids as well.

Overall

Compared to the before mentioned Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar Resort, I preferred the setting of Alila Jabal Akdhar as it is not only very secluded but also incredibly beautiful. Not only does the hotel stand on a stunning patch of earth but its architecture is simply amazing! Due to the marvelous stonework the property is practically seamless with its surroundings.
I also thought the Alila resort is more suitable to my needs in terms of size as it is a bit smaller than its competitor. Less beneficial is the fact that the drive to this hotel is about half an hour longer than to the Anantara resort. This is especially a drawback if you want to use it as a base to explore Nizwa and its surroundings.


What to do on a three-night stay

Day 1

Your first day in Jabal Akhdar is best dedicated to the exploration of Saiq (or Sayk) and its villages. This is best done by foot. The starting point for this walk is just next to the Anantara hotel that I went into in the previous chapter. When being in the area, it is recommended to visit Diana’s Point,
a viewing point where Lady Diana once stood, evidently reading a book … The platform can be reached by crossing Anantara resort’s property. This allows you to catch a glimpse of this hotel too in case you are interested.

Back to the walk …Before reaching the hotel, take a right turn towards Al Aqr (or Al-Al Aqur) and follow the yellow-white-red markers. This wonderful walk leads through the villages built into the cliffs and their fruit and rose plantations.
When you are here in March or April, you have the chance to witness Damask roses in full bloom
and to have a look into a family-owned rose water distillery.
The walk continues to a second village (Al-Ayn) and a third one (Ash Shirayjah) and is supposed to take about an hour. When getting here, return or ascend to the Saiq plateau. We only got to the village of Al-Ayn where we were picked up by car from our guide (we were lucky enough to have the trip included in our package at the Alila hotel).

Another highlight here on the Saiq plateau is the picturesque abandoned village of Wadi Bani Habib.
It can be reached either by car or by walking (supposedly about one hour from central Saiq plateau). Here an ancient village awaits you. It is in pretty good shape although uninhabitable. Make a tour here, have a look at collapsed roofs, crumpled walls and missing doors.
Some of the buildings are amazingly complex with several floors, nested into one another and interconnected by staircases and tunnels. Return via a loop trough the orchards encountering pomegranate trees, grapevines and even giant walnut trees – at least by Omani standards. In case you are still in an adventurous mood, there is a path towards another abandoned village, the one of As Sab …

Day 2

On our second day, we decided to go on a hike in the area. Our hotel, Alila Jabal Akhdar, has a wide choice of hiking proposals for every level of difficulty. Upon request with the leisure concierge, you will be handed out leaflets which describe the individual hikes in detail. It is also possible to book a guided tour.

Our party of four opted for a moderate three-hour hike (undulating, height difference 200 m/656 ft) starting right by the hotel, called “Miracle in the Mountains”. We strapped on our hiking boots (Recommended!) and set off on our own.

The start to the hike is across the road from Alila Jabal Akhdar’s gatehouse. After crossing a small wadi, you come to another one you follow for about an hour. While this wadi is generally dry, it was different in our case. Due to quite heavy rainfall a few days earlier, some pools were full.
So we were lucky to experience the walk at its most beautiful. Please be aware that although the hike is rated moderate, you will encounter rocky wadi bottom and loose sections. It is imperative to wear sturdy shoes to master partly difficult passages.

At the end of the wadi you come to a small dam, which is nice to look at and the perfect spot for a short rest.
Then it is time for the return route, this time not through the wadi floor but along the hill on the opposite side of the wadi. Not long and you come to the abandoned village of As Sarab.
Shortly afterwards, the path joins a dirt road. You can either follow it for a quicker and easier route back to the starting point or you cross it and follow the markers back down into the wadi bottom for a more pleasant yet longer way back (rejoining the path you came from).

I was pleasantly surprised how scenic the walk was with lots of Mediterranean vegetation, pools full of water and some wildlife (we saw quite a few frogs).

Day 3 (or possibly 1)

In case you plan to use your hotel in Jabel Akdhar as base to explore the ancient city of Nizwa,
then I suggest that you do this either on the day of arrival or departure depending on your schedule. This in order to avoid long travel times as the drive from Alila Jabal Akhdar to the old town of Nizwa is just under one and half an hour (just under one hour from Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar). Our party of four paid this area a visit on our departure day as we continued further on to a Muscat hotel afterwards. This gave us ample time to revisit Nizwa’s city center on the onward journey.

Highlights in Nizwa include Nizwa Fort
and its many different souks,
worthwhile sights in Nizwa’s surroundings are Bahla Fort,
Jabrin Castle
and the mountain village of Misfah.

Overall

Who would have thought that there was such a green paradise in Oman at 2,000 m (6,600 ft) above sea level where Mediterranean crops could be found? Certainly not me. In addition, there are picturesque villages, a fantastic mountain scenery, many hiking opportunities, moderate temperatures and – important for travelers appreciating the finer things in life just like me – two fantastic luxury hotels.

Date of last visit: April 2019



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The post Oman’s Jabal Akhdar – Spectacular mountain experience first appeared on Swiss Traveler

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