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By Maryan Abdinur
Killer views and charming surroundings are enough to lure us into this quiet corner of southern Oman known for it’s rugged vistas and hidden oases. Enticingly off the beaten track, the Alila Jabal Akhdar requires some extra effort to reach.
Accessible only by four wheel drive, travellers should expect an hours drive from Muscat International Airport, while those trekking from neighboring Dubai may take up to six hours to arrive. However, the intricate blending of remote environs and impeccable design emerges as a bonus. One that fulfills the needs of contemporary travellers after space, serenity and sustainable travel.
Those new to the Alila brand should be well aware that unique landscapes are a hallmark of the boutique hotelier. After all Alila does mean ‘surprise’ in Sanskrit, and this is something the five star brand seems to relish. From secluded villas in Ubud to romantic getaways in Goa, Alila is all about premiere escapes tailored to the tastes of eco-conscious adventure travellers and nature lovers.
Co-founded by Mark Edelson, a veteran in the luxury market, Alila’s brand affiliation with heavenly hideaways, urban retreats and eco-sanctuaries spans over 15 years. The South East Asian hotel and resort chain’s reputation amongst in-the-know travellers has landed it on several enviable industry lists, including TTG Luxury Asia’s top 40 and Best Suite at The International Hotel & Property Awards 2015.
Precisely why the serene evening drive up the Hajjar Mountains with Alila’s enthusiastic driver is a thrilling prelude to the ‘surprise’ awaiting us 2, 000 meters above sea level. Even before laying eyes on our final destination we have our next few days envisioned. His affection for the company that employs him is as certain as it is infectious.
Perched on a panoramic cliffside, Alila Jabal Akhdar is most definitely a destination hotel. It’s 78 suits and two mountain villas all offer prime positioning, overlooking a dramatic gorge and an out of this world infinity pool. Depending on the season, visitors can enjoy picturesque scenes of wild terrain, green plateaus and juniper trees. If the quieter pace is not a draw alone the refreshingly cooler climate serves as a needed reprieve from the desert heat. Indeed temperatures can dip 15-20 degrees cooler than elsewhere in the GCC, drawing a variable mix of residents and international travellers.
Translating to “The Green Mountain” in Arabic, A’Dakhiliya’s mighty Jabal Akhdar marks Alila’s debut into the Middle East. Upon arrival it is easy to recognize the effort made to respect the local environment and fit harmoniously with its settings. Indeed, Alila Jabal Akhdar looks to have been carved into the landscape itself, melding perfectly into the mountain range. With the region’s heritage as its inspiration, W.S Atkins, the UK based architecture firm commissioned by the hotel, seamlessly incorporate traditional Omani architecture techniques into the design. A combination of local stonework and contemporary design aesthetics creates a minimalist space with a nod to the country’s identity. The end result is a rustic aesthetic that looks as if it naturally belongs.
Inside, the journey into Oman’s past is as nuanced as its exteriors suggest. Tapped to bring ethnic influences to life, Thai interior design firm P49 Deesign infuse colour to the stone dwellings. Dark wood flooring and furniture throughout the suites fit exquisitely with classic fine linens and warmly toned textiles reminiscent of a walk in the souk. Elsewhere, authentic elements of Omani design decorate the hotel: hand painted junipers, copper ornaments, fort-like doors of solid wood and traditional pottery.
Signature features such as these can be found throughout the hotel. Even with modern facilities and extraordinary levels of attention to detail, it is Alila’s savvy ability to integrate rich cultural influences that heightens guest experience. A walk through the lobby immerses visitors in village life; a traditional majlis invites a moment of zen, while rose pattern work pays homage to the damask roses endemic to the region’s Wadis. Outside, the bubbling aflaj water system creates a meditative ambience for those enjoying some quiet time on the terrace. It all proves to be an alluring blend, packaged quite beautifully.
A Perfect Pairing
While the rocky terrain offers dramatic jaw dropping views, it’s easy to cast Jabal Akhdar as appearing quite barren on first impression. In fact, it’s the complete opposite. Standing just a thousand feet from the highest point in all of Eastern Arabia, Jabal Akhdar receives around 300 mm of rainfall annually. The moist Mediterranean climate lends itself to the region’s ‘green’ status where pomegranates, figs, walnuts and the famous damask rose have been harvested for centuries.
Alila’s stance on sustainable tourism makes it the perfect fit for the area recently designated a natural reserve by the Sultanate of Oman. In support of sustainable tourism, Alila hotels adopt EarthCheck operating standards, integrating the natural, physical and cultural elements of their environments.
The peaceful design is all in accordance with international LEED design principles. Developed by the Oman Tourism Development Company SAOC (Omran), the hotel is the first in the country to receive such certification, rating Silver for its achievements in green building. The eco chic boutique embeds sustainable practices without a blip to the overall levels of comfort. In addition to incorporating a re-use policy for local building material during construction, Alila’s green initiatives include innovative water treatment facilities for use in irrigation and landscaping, energy saving lighting and thermal control systems and solar paneling. Alila’s concierge team stresses the importance of this last design element, which is used to heat 60-70% of the hotels hot water supply; an insight that enhances any rain shower experience in our opinion.
A Surprise Awaits
While the five star resort may register to some as yet another addition to the high end tourist destinations in the Gulf, Alila Jabal Akhdar re-interprets such a designation for the well oiled eco-traveller. The guiding principles of the hotel ultimately rest on its ethos of responsibility and an ability to create emotional memories.
As we enter our Mountain View suite at dusk, tired from our journey, Alila does just that, awakening our earlier excitement with a ready personalized bath of milk and roses. Rose essential oils, rose water, virgin coconut oil and a whole milk infusion awaits us in a 800 kg single piece stone bath – we’re left sighing ‘Shukran jazeelan’ as we sink in, a naughty bite full of delicious chocolate cake already devoured.
Dining & Adventure
After a deeply relieving sleep, and a gorgeous sunrise on Alila’s balcony, a new day is awaited with excitement. Breakfast is a mix of staples and Arabic delights at all around dining destination Juniper Restaurant. The buffet area offers a delightful array of buttery pastries as well as fresh and dried fruits, nuts, juices and granola while the la Carte selections boasts tempting seasonal produce and locally sourced ingredients.
For those seeking adventure, it’s necessary to tuck in; you will need the energy. The resort’s knowledgeable Leisure Concierges are an invaluable resource, crafting one of a kind moments for nature lovers. A glance through the Signature Alila Experiences menu reveals the mountain is much more than an ethereal backdrop. Indeed, authentic destination geared excursions are meant to connect us to the region’s vibrant heritage. Guests can participate in a variety of hikes, wander through fruit groves and rose terraces, visit Omani Forts and Castles or even dabble in cooking classes. Here is where the ‘surprisingly different’ philosophy shines best.
After an afternoon of cultural immersion, it’s back to Juniper for a gorgeous starlit supper. The terrace at Juniper buzzes with renewed energy come dinner. The exceptionally hardy menu inspired by the golden age of Arabic cuisine is influenced by trade routes stretching across the Middle East to the Mediterranean. Lovers of Arabic mezzes, meats, and seafood platters can still enjoy a variety of cuisines, including those of the desert variety, where gluten free options are on offer. Eluxe tucks into a colorful mixed salad of lettuce with Omani pomegranates and Feta cheese, enhanced with mountain Honey vinaigrette. It’s a true fusion of flavours for the main as well: North African inspired beef tagine braised with orange, carrots, celery, raisin, and olive couscous. The dish is absolutely spectacular.
Down time at Spa Alila begins with ginger and zaatar infused tea. It’s time to soak our worries away at the hands of our smiling therapist. Opting for a Balinese Massage, expert hands practiced at this tension dissolving ancient ritual quickly relieve and unravel our stresses. The aromas of virgin coconut, sweet almond and kukui nut used in the oils fill our little sanctuary. Rich in healing, nutritive and aromatherapeutic qualities, the spa’s treatment products are all natural and organic.
In fact, the hotel’s own product range ‘Alila Living’ is free from parabens, sodium laurel sulphate, petrochemicals, synthetic substances, and artificial colours and fragrances. The natural range includes therapeutic skin care products for both him and her, from massage oils and body scrubs to body milk, lip balm, facial toners and natural insect repellent. Visitors can score green beauty products from the spa boutique. We leave feeling reconnected, balanced and totally rejuvenated.
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