A cultural journey: absorb the history of the Jebel Akhdar mountains during your stay at Oman’s Anantara
It’s not all stunning views and luxury; your stay at Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar will offer so much more
As I climb into the car that is awaiting me upon arrival at Muscat airport, Oman, my mind cannot help but reference Sex and the City 2, as the girls are greeted by private cars in Abu Dhabi. I decide I’ll assume the role of Carrie, as I sink into immediate luxury, en route to my destination: the Anantara Al Jabal Al Akhdar resort. It’s the small things but comforts such as ice-cold water and sugary snacks being available really soothe me on the two-hour drive to the resort.
This kind hospitality is extended once more I enter the hotel grounds. Hot towels are a refreshing welcome, having been on a seven hour flight, followed by the drive to Anantara. More snacks come my way and I am both surprised and thankful when it is announced that room service will be at my disposal – full from the sugar but craving something savoury before bed. The resort is dark so there is nothing that entices me more than a hot shower and a mezze platter on the way. A mezze platter which, by the way, comprises of the creamiest hummus I may have ever tasted and tabbouleh I would travel back to Anantara just to spoon-feed myself another mouthful. High praise from a foodie and restaurant features writer. But credit given where credit is due.
I wake up to the most incredible view – leaving my curtains open the night before was good move on my jet-lagged brain’s part – and it is immediately obvious that I am, indeed, 2,095m above sea level; the drop of the canyon leaving me in awe. A caramel pool of light fills the room and draws my attention to the even more remote-seeming clusters of buildings dotted along and inside the canyon.
Some might worry that being in a remote resort might be to elude from the culture of the country and the Omani people. But it is certainly not the case at the Anantara here. In addition to recreational activities such as hiking and the high-inducing Ultimate Jabal Activity Wall, a guided walk of the Three Villages – neighbouring the Anantara resort in the Jebel Akhdar mountains – is offered. What better way to connect with the culture than to be told its history by one of its own? >>
My attire is not quite ideal - the paths are rather rocky - but my realisation that I am embarking on some mild form of Duke of Edinburgh’s expedition in a maxi dress, clutching two phones and a water bottle does provide some amusement to myself and the rest of my group. Our guide is extremely knowledgeable, setting the scene of the villages embedded into the canyon’s cliffside. The three villages we visit were once inhabited but the Omani people moved to the new town some fifteen to twenty years ago. With the smallest family being six people and more jobs from the hotels and schools in the new town, this is unsurprising.
I am fascinated to learn that many of the 10,000 people who live in the new town still own their old houses in their villages and that they hope to return home someday. Whilst the villages themselves appear to be ghost towns, with the first being home to just one family, the second to two and the third being fully abandoned, the Omani people still revisit their homes to attend to their crops and to renovate the buildings. Whilst I personally do not feel the affinity with the rocky terrain, the colourful and patterned doors that line the pathways do catch my eye, each unique in their own way.
I learn of the irrigation system in place, called ‘al falaj’; essential in combatting the water shortages in the area. This water system is, in fact, emulated in the grounds of Anantara, with the stone brought from the surrounding mountains blending Oman’s history and culture within the resort. These water features mirror the pathways from any of the 115 rooms and villas to the six restaurants and lounges, as well as the recreation centre, lobby and infinity pool area. A simple feature that also combines the tradition of the area with the new, grand design of an Anantara hotel. >>
The ‘al falaj’ is more evident in the final village, where the channel links to a waterfall - the village is, in fact, named ‘al chariga’, meaning ‘small waterfall’ - and fruit trees which, when in season, would bear pomegranates. A favourite fruit of mine, I make a mental note to return when it is in season. Luckily, what are in season are the sticky dates that grow down in the city of Nizwa; we sample these squidgy treats with a cup of coffee. It’s a hot day so we originally decline the offering from our guide but upon hearing that it is flavoured with saffron, cardamom and rosewater, decisions change and we all sip the fragranced liquid with simultaneous haste and appreciation.
A post-trek spa treatment is exactly what is needed and I gratefully indulge in an hour-long massage, fully relieving the tension of the day’s walk and climbing wall activities. I later return to the spa for a dip in the jacuzzi - okay, a long soak - and a session in the steam room, to fully ready me for bed.
Something for everyone, a bespoke kind of luxury is offered here. For some it will be the cliff view villas, complete with private pools, for others, it will be the quality of the food and uniqueness of the cocktails. Myself? I’ve come away rich with an insight into Omani culture and the history of the residents of the Jebel Akhdar mountains.
Anantara nightly rates start from £203. Oman Air flies to Muscat twice a day from Heathrow and Manchester, with return fares starting from £2450 business class per person.