Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar Resort, Oman
Anantara's Al Jabal Al Akhdar resort is spectacularly located, 2000 metres above sea level, on the rim of a canyon that plummets down from Oman's Saiq plateau, in the Hajar mountain range. Opened in October 2016, the Anantara is the highest luxury resort in the Middle East. Its Arabic name means "the green mountain" and it is surrounded by gnarly peaks and agricultural terraces hewn out of the cliffs and fed by an ancient falaj irrigation system, which produce pomegranates, dates, peaches, apricots and rosewater. The resort encompasses "Diana's Point", where the erstwhile princess sat and read while Prince Charles painted during a visit to Oman in 1986. Two hours by road from the capital Muscat and the international airport, the final part of the journey involves a climb that's as curling and beautiful as Arabic script and requires a four-wheel drive.
Echoing the many citadels found in northern Oman, Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar is as imposing, strategically placed and sprawling as a historic fort complex lording it over the mountains. Built from local stone using traditional techniques and predominantly a sand-brown colour, it achieves a strong sense of belonging, accentuated by the village feel within its walls. Once inside, a large open courtyard with central fireplace – particularly atmospheric at night with its ornate lanterns and Omani music wafting across it – is at the core of the resort. Lounges, a bar, boutique, a shisha terrace and the resort's signature restaurant, set in a free-standing tower, are grouped around this. From here stone paths weave through gardens to rooms, villas and to the Bella Vista restaurant and infinity pool, on the lip of the gorge. Landscaping within the enclave is a work of art, with al falaj-style watercourses dissecting beds full of rose bushes and fruit trees, as is the elaborate detail in archways, heavy wooden doors and latticework, throughout the complex. Designed by French-Moroccan architect Lotfi Sidirahal, it incorporates both careful research into local heritage and North African curlicues.
Most of the resort's 115 rooms and villas are positioned to take full advantage of those canyon views. There is no stinting on space in the 82 deluxe rooms, complete with spa-like bathrooms, and it is amplified by the vista. But to feel most like a sultan, book into one of the eleven cliff-top villas, with exclusive infinity pool, outside deck with loungers, living room and a king-sized bedroom with double walk-ins and lavish bathroom with twin tubs, separate rainshower, toilet and luxury tub. You may need your villa butler to direct you around or provide instructions for the interactive LED TVs.
Breakfast, upstairs on the terrace of Al Maisan, overlooking the grounds, is a mesmeric spread of western, Asian and local favourites, comprising a multicoloured array of fruit and juices, a central hotplate station and delectable pastries and crepes off to one side. Service is super-attentive and the coffee is up to Melbourne standards. Lunch and dinner menus reflect the Anantara's south-east Asian provenance but include local favourites like marinated lamb shewa and other international dishes. Bella Vista, beside the resort infinity pool, is perfect for delicate pasta dishes and Italian mains, with a glass of wine, while feasting on canyon and mountain views, particularly at sunset.
The resort goes to great lengths to connect guests with the surroundings, with treks to nearby, 700-year-old, villages led by "mountain gurus", a climbing and abseiling wall at the edge of the property providing nerve-racking but inspiring thrills, and excursions to Oman's former capital, Nizwa, with its Friday-morning goat and cattle market, c17th century fort and rambling souk. The mountain weather is much cooler year-around than most of this region, so the Al Jabal Al Akhdar is a refuge from stifling temperatures between May and September. Families are well catered for with separate kids and teens clubs, bikes on which to explore mountain trails and indoor and outdoor climbing walls.
The setting and the view, the Omani and North African detail in the design and the Anantara spa, with its hammam rituals and signature massages incorporating local rosewater, that will take you to Jannah, Islamic paradise.
There are "gurus" on site for everything from croissants to "sunshine" (pool butlers), so you can hardly put your fork down without staff offering help. Yet, for all that attention, I asked twice to borrow an iPhone charger, but none appeared.
Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar, Nizwa, Sultanate of Oman. Canyon View Room rates start from $593 a night, breakfast included. One-bedroom pool villas start from $881 a night.
Daniel Scott was a guest of Anantara Hotels.