A mountain resort set in the midst of an Omani food bowl provides a luxurious experience for its guests.
When you peer over the lip of an infinity pool in our part of the world, you're usually looking at a scenic jungle or a wide blue ocean. Maybe both.
Not at Jabal Akhdar, 2000 metres above sea level in the Al Hajar mountains of Oman. Within eyeshot of pool's edge at the new Alila Jabal Akhdar resort, opened in May, there's almost no greenery at all. Instead, I'm looking down into a spectacular gorge which drops more than 400 metres between bare rocky slopes.
This landscape has been favourably compared with the Grand Canyon in the United States, and though that sounds like a reach, I can see the justice of it from my aquatic vantage point. It's a remarkably rugged vista, the sharply angled grey-green stone dramatic and bare.
It's hard to believe such countryside could support any agriculture, but Jabal Akhdar ("Green Mountain" in Arabic) is in fact a food bowl. The cooler Mediterranean climate in the mountains means that walnuts, pomegranates and damask roses have long been grown and harvested here.
After ordering a poolside drink or two, I strike up a conversation with the waiter, an Indian whose career in hospitality has taken him around the world. Our easy interaction seems typical of the service here – efficient and warm, without the aloof servility that sometimes characterises top-end accommodation.
There's a strong connection with nature.Tim Richards
The resort took over three years to construct to LEED certification standards, an international benchmark for environmental sustainability. The exterior of the main building and the surrounding villas are layered with hand-chipped local stone, creating a patchwork of pinks and greys.
It's a clever effect, making the resort seem as if it's been grown from the mountains. Add to this the timber furniture and decking overlooking the view, and there's a strong connection with nature. It looks like a design which will age well, blending with the backdrop as it matures.
In the lobby, the stony look is softened by a rose motif. This lofty space with its huge doors, evoking those of an old Omani fort through which a horse could be ridden, is decorated with local handicrafts.
The rooms range from the entry-level Mountain View suites, to the vast stand-alone splendour of the Jabal Villa, which contains a bathroom rivalling my entire Melbourne apartment in size.
My Horizon View suite is in a cluster of four, a short walk from the main building. The 52-square-metre interior is dotted with timber furniture and local design touches, such as the juniper branch painted across the wall by artist Juma Al Harthy, a feature seen in all the rooms.
The highlight of the large bathroom is the 800-kilogram bathtub cut from a single stone. There's a generous timber deck outside the suite, also overlooking a section of the gorge.
Over the two days I'm in residence on the resort's opening weekend, I notice a couple of flaws – the hot water is a little erratic and the door to the deck lacks a means of fastening it open – but otherwise it's a highly comfortable, semi-secluded space.
For my money though, I'd be just as happy with the Mountain View suite for the lower rate. Though it's noticeably smaller than my room, the one I inspect has a more impressive view, and easy access to the restaurant, bar and pool in the main building.
The Juniper Restaurant is a beautiful space, with stone-clad pillars, gnarled branches hanging off the walls, and a deck overlooking the gorge. The menu is a clever melding of Arabian cuisine, wider regional influences and international dishes.
Its diversity is something the staff seem proud of – my waiter on the first night enthusiastically explains the dishes, confident I'll be impressed.
He's right. To start, I'm served a pumpkin soup lifted out of the ordinary by a lacing of crushed pistachios, cashews and almonds. Following this is a delicious chicken biryani made with sticky rice and a mint yoghurt dressing.
The dessert is a Middle Eastern classic: mahalabiya , a milk pudding which has been raised from its humble beginnings by being served in a cocktail glass, accompanied by walnut ice cream.
The resort offers a variety of tailor-made excursions to places of interest in the nearby area, including walks, cave visits and a stroll among rose terraces when the blooms are in season.
The former Omani capital of Nizwa, with its impressive fort and adjoining souq, is also within reach for a day trip, though note that a 4WD vehicle is necessary when driving in the Jabal Akhdar region.
If you're not feeling energetic, however, the resort also houses a spa centre offering Balinese-style treatments.
After a massage, there's always that pool in which to bob around and ponder the ancient message of the mountains.
Tim Richards travelled courtesy of Oman Tourism.
Emirates (emirates.com) connects from Australia to Muscat via Dubai.
The Mountain View suite costs from $350 anight, with the Horizon View suite from $400 a night and the Ridge View suite from $450 a night. You won't get much change from $2000 a night for one of the top-of-the-range Jabal Villas. See alilahotels.com/jabalakhdar.